Jane Austin: why this slick bank ad from Russia is industry’s worst of 2016

Up to seven in ten women across the globe experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Despite decades of campaigning to combat the problem, it’s feared that under our current climate of fear and intolerance, it’s getting even worse.

So, in this season of giving and goodwill to all, what better way to celebrate Christmas than by putting out a long-form, cinematic-standard ad showing Santa Claus kidnapping a single mum, dragging her across snowy mountains and through mud, then threatening her with a knife?

The apparent message in the ad for Credit Bank of Moscow in Russia is that by terrifying the woman with the threat of death, rape and worse, she’ll be a better mother to her daughter and “think of the things that matter,” – the clip’s pay-off line. Presumably those “things” are a savings plan or an ISA.

As well as normalising violence against women, the underlying message is the trope that a mum who doesn’t stay at home looking after her children needs punishing.

The staggeringly distasteful ad was made by ad agency 3Sba – and its director doesn’t seem to understand why anyone would have a problem with it. In fact, he is completely unrepentant, despite stats that show one in three Russian women have experienced violence, and every 40 minutes a woman in Russia is killed by a family member.

The ad’s director Charley Stadler has released a long statement saying he was shocked people could “misinterpret” the film.

Stadler said: “Yes, the journey to get there is dirty, unsettling and ugly, but so is life at times. I believe many of us need to be led through the ‘mud’ to open our eyes. I chose the image of Santa pulling the mother by a rope as a metaphor for this, and of course it represents a safety line as they walking through rough nature. Once they reach the top and out of danger, Santa cuts her loose. Symbolically and figuratively, she went through a journey of her inner self crisis, an internal story of transformation.”

“As the famous Christmas song says, ‘He knows if you’ve been naughty. He knows if you’ve been nice. He knows if you’ve been bad or good …’ Well, our Santa knows about the mother, so you better watch out. Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Well yes he is, and he’s bearing a rope and a knife, as well as a bulging sack.

We live in terrifying times, where the inherently misogynistic alt-right and far right are increasingly dictating our culture, from the election of Donald Trump to Nigel Farage and his UKIP cronies.

A backlash against feminism has already started and is predicted to get worse in 2017, as Marian Salzman states in Havas’s annual trends report, ‘Blowback to the Future: The Trends That Will Shape 2017’.

So, tragically, the ad might be a timely fit for Putin’s Russia? Perhaps that would explain how it got past the Russian equivalent of the BACC.

Although advertising is sometimes accused of living in a bubble, no one involved in the production of this ad could have failed to notice that themes such as
diversity, equality, purpose and ‘advertising for good’ have been top of the ad press opinion pops this year.

And research released earlier this year, led by Rachel Pashley of J. Walter Thompson, explored the role of gender in marketing and found more gender-balanced marketing was vital to reach out to female consumers and to advance women’s empowerment towards equality.

Here’s some theories discussed with industry friends over the last few hours.

While advertising is not an echo chamber, elements of it behaves like it is.

There is the internal agency culture that suppresses the naysayers or the ones who utter: “Er. that’s not very good, I would be mindful of etc.”

The clique. The gang who safeguard their interests by drawing the wagons into a circle and repelling any change in attitude. We need Spartacus.

As long as the creative world keeps legitimising these dangerous depictions of people and does not challenge their inward-looking creative mentality, the problem is only going to get worse.

As Bill Bernbach once said: ‘We are so busy measuring public opinion we forget that we can mould it.”

This is heightened by the disorientated and disjointed nature of the industry;
an atmosphere of fear is not conducive to enlightened thinking.

And as far as the industry goes, what message does this send out to those wanting to enter it?

It’s all about a legacy of improved attitudes. We need to see more liberal and open-minded thinking in all the spec ads that students and young creatives hawk around the creative departments. But we also need the same training and thinking for clients, suits, strategists, comms people and censors.

The commercial creative world, and by creative, I mean all who work in the industry, has a duty to challenge the regressive nature of what is currently happening in the world, not enforce it with old and dangerous stereotypes.

Clearly, those who made the ‘Santa assaulting a single mum’ ad didn’t get the memo.

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