Russian Language Blog

Why a Sportswear Ad Campaign Blew Up in Russia Posted by on Feb 28, 2019 in News

We are now hitting the “gender” holiday season in Russia. Defender of the Fatherland on February 23 is usually seen as “men’s day,” and March 8 is International Women’s Day. Incidentally, a recent ad campaign by Reebok has started a heated debate—and backlash—around the subject of gender roles, feminism, and appropriate behavio(u)r.

A couple of warnings are in order. While this post does not feature obscene language, it does mention risque themes in advertising. The post also mentions a specific brand only when it is relevant to the story—this is not meant to endorse any brand.

female weightlifter

Photo by John Arano on Unsplash

What Happened?

The exercise apparel brand Reebok was planning to adapt their BeMoreHuman ad campaign (рекла́мная кампа́ния) in Russia. A marketing manager for the Russian subsidiary got in touch with the blogger and activist Zalina Marshenkulova (Зали́на Маршенку́лова). Zalina is known for her Telegram channelЖе́нская власть” (loosely translated as “Girl Power”), where she criticizes sexism and objectification of women in advertising.

In the end, the campaign was adapted to feature female athletes and Zalina, who talked about how women can do anything. The Russian campaign was labeled with the hashtag “Ни в какие ра́мки” (“Out of line”). Here is the video that accompanied the campaign.

What’s Wrong With That?

One of the images that upset many commentators was one featuring the crouching Zalina and the slogan “Переся́дь с иглы́ мужско́го одобре́ния на мужско́е лицо́.” Let’s break down this phrase to see what the fuss is all about.

  • Переса́живаться/пересе́сть means to switch seats. As you may recall from our verbs with prefixes posts, пере– means to change or re-do. For example, перее́хать means to move house. Similarly, пересе́сть refers to moving to a different seat.
  • Игла́ literally means “needle.” A slang saying for being addicted to injectable drugs is сиде́ть на игле́, hence the reference to sitting with the verb пересесть. The Russian translation of the book and film Trainspotting was “На игле́” (more or less, “Addicted”).
  • Мужско́й means “men’s” or “male.” For instance, мужско́й род refers to the masculine gender in grammar, and мужска́я оде́жда refers to men’s clothes.
  • Одобре́ние is approval. The verb is одобря́ть.
  • Лицо́ is, of course, face.

So, putting it all together, the slogan literally means “Switch seats from the needle of male approval to a man’s face.” In other words, trade in trying to please men for… well, making sure you are sexually satisfied.

female surfer

Photo by Guy Kawasaki on Unsplash

The Backlash

The response on Russian social media was swift and ruthless. At the time of writing, the campaign video had 13 thousand dislikes on YouTube (and ten times fewer likes). Many commentators vowed to never buy Reebok again and to get rid of the brand’s products.

The campaign was swiftly pulled. The marketing manager in charge of the campaign, Aleksandr Golofast (Алекса́ндр Голофа́ст), said that top management had known about the Russian campaign and approved it. Golofast quit in protest. English-language coverage of this story is available in this opinion piece in the Moscow Times.

The Memes

However, the proverbial cat was out of the bag. The reaction to the campaign might have been negative, but other brands started imitating the controversial slogan. Social media users made multiple memes using the formula “переся́дь с … на …” Just search for #нивкакиерамки on Twitter to see some examples, or check out this collection of representative memes.

So, was the campaign a success? It sure seems like the company is facing a lot of backlash, and the Russian public has a strong visceral reaction to such explicit approaches to women’s empowerment. On the other hand, this ad got a lot of people to talk about feminism and gender roles, so perhaps that is the real outcome.

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. Doug:

    Great article! This is the sort of discussion that is really helpful for advanced students of Russian. The linguistic and cultural breakdown of the controversial sentence was very interesting.

    • Maria:

      @Doug Thank you, Doug! This campaign turned out to be a litmus test of sorts for all kinds of attitudes in Russia.

  2. John Baker:

    Sadly, this ad campaign and the attitudes behind it are destroying Russian Culture and Society just as they have so successfully done in the West. I am not at all surprised at the backlash from Russian people.

    • Mark:

      @John Baker @John Baker – How exactly does the idea that women can be more than objects and the property of men destroy any culture? What is sad is that there are men like you that are so threatened by strong women who “don’t know their place” that you feel the need to equate it with cultural destruction. And for record, nothing about strong women has destroyed Western culture, if anything is destroying Western culture, it is backwards attitudes that endeavor to hold anyone back who isn’t a white male.

    • Maria:

      @John Baker Thank you for sharing your perspective, John. We’ll keep sharing stories of contemporary Russian culture on this blog, so check back in soon.

  3. Maria:

    I’m glad to see the lively discussion under this post. Just please remember to attack ideas, not people.

  4. Fernando:

    These ads are not about real female empowerment. Money maker brands suddenly become altruistic? And always from the so “perfect” Western world like USA? Who can believe that? The ads are just social engineering, that tries to advance further, little by little, in shaping society to make it more manipulable. Look at how Western women are that liberated. In Spain, drinking, smoking and swear words are common place among even female teenagers. The more “feminist” the country, the more self-degrading their women. And of course, sex is almost always in the equation of these altruistic messages. I can’t understand how people can let his opinion be influenced by a brand devoted to making money with a few seconds lasting bunch of slogans. I want to believe that Russian women have enough dignity and brains not to be told what to think and to distinguish real abuse from tailored brainwashing campaigns.