With all this official talk about Russians having more babies, how strange it is that sex should disappear from most forms of advertising in the capital. Low-key promo activities still see scantily clad waifs drumming up interest in everything from mayonnaise to mobile phones, but traditional, broad-reaching advertising channels such as outdoor and television seem to have been stripped free of sex. Call it the new Late-Putin Era Puritanism.
There's something very interesting going on here. Similar to the "have more babies" campaign out now, the key trend is first laid-out by the authorities. The private sector then falls into line. The problem here is that the message comes out as "have more babies, but have less sex". Maybe it's a classic case of conflicting agendas within various departments.
I first realized what was going on while in Kiev several weeks back. I was driving past a billboard depicting a well-shaped young woman bending over in tight leopard-patterned hot pants. The ad was for furniture. It struck me that I hadn't seen its Russian equivalent in a long time.
This is not a rubber. And if it is, don't talk about it.
To get what's going on here, it helps to understand the way regulators approve advertising. In Russia, there's a committee that signs off on any ads that hit airwaves, billboards or magazines. Each ad is scrutinized by individuals from this committee and can be rejected depending on a single member's interpretation of guidelines, their mood, whatever. What's more, approval for these ads takes place after the ads are produced and submitted to media outlets for distribution and broadcast. This means that an ad can be pulled from broadcast days before it's scheduled to hit the airwaves. Since sexual advertising seems lately to rub censors the wrong way, so to speak, it's not surprising that advertisers have stayed clear of salacious themes. If you're spending $50,000 on a photo shoot or $200,000 on a TV spot, you're not going to risk that money by giving a Late-Putin Puritan on the approval board a reason to reject your investment, well after the production money has been spent. Instead, you will simply remove all sexual content at the creative stage.
With the trashy ads of the late 90s vanishing, I wistfully recall how several stretch ceiling manufacturers and distributors (for some reason, this was a big thing for them back in the day) used laughingly crude sexual content as a way to push their products. One company had a series of outdoor adverts across Moscow that depicted a woman in a miniskirt climbing a step ladder to inspect a ceiling. At the bottom of the ladder was a balding guy in a suit, checking out her action. Nothing but nostalgia, now.
Even campaigns of an inherently sexual nature seem to have been neutered. Condom manufacturers, for example, used the safe sex platform to both raise awareness for their product and educate the public about STDs. Some AIDS prevention NGOs even went so far as to manufacture private-label condoms. Last summer, the Moscow authorities decided to implement their own AIDS prevention PSAs, and plastered the city and airways with a Bush-esque abstention campaign. The message? Using condoms isn't a way to prevent AIDS because condoms break. The only way to prevent AIDS is to stop having sex altogether. Most NGOs and condom advertisers curbed their advertising activities altogether after that.
Next to be hit were the gentlemen's clubs, a battle still in progress. This summer, the Duma held a vote in an attempt to outlaw any advertising for clubs that seem sexual in nature. If passed, it would eliminate all advertising for strip joints, gentlemen's clubs, VIP saunas, etc. It is the logical culmination of a trend, the origins of which remain mysterious. Only thing I can say is that I'll be buying fewer stretch ceilings.