Reebok has pulled an advert which suggested women should “sit on men’s faces” rather than asking for their approval.
Alexander Golofast, the sportswear brand’s marketing director who promoted the idea within the company, resigned over the advert which sparked criticism on social media.
He voiced his frustration with the company’s decision to backtrack on the adverting campaign – saying Reebok had shown “disrespect for itself”.
“It signed up to this, approved all the quotes, was even delighted with how bold and interesting and in line with the global strategy to do something bright and unusual,” Mr Golofast told EuroNews.
“Sit not on the needle of men’s approval – sit on men’s face,” the controversial ad said. The slogan was authored by Zalina Marshenkulova, a feminist campaigner who also appeared in the promotion.
Mr Golofast defended the advert and argued the campaign was a success because it put the sportswear brand in the spotlight.
He said: “In this slogan, there are two parts: approval and pleasure. The first part calls for being yourself, and the second part calls for people to give each other pleasure.
“This is the most positive quote that is the best to reflect the image of a modern woman, who not only spits on stereotypes but also a woman who goes into the world with a positive agenda.”
He said the campaign was “a huge success”, adding that “nobody ever spoke that much of Reebok in Russia, in the world it hasn’t happened since the 90s”.
Reebok, an English sportswear brand founded in Bolton in the late 1950s, recently launched a global advertising campaign which sought to promote female empowerment under the hashtag #BeMoreHuman. It featured high-profile individuals such as model Gigi Hadid and actor Gal Gadot who encouraged other women to be strong and assertive.
The Russian version was launched on Thursday with a hashtag that roughly translated as #OutOfControl and native Russian models. They included mixed martial artist Justyna Graczyk and Anzhelika Pilyaeva, a champion jiu jitsu fighter, according to the New York Post.
Ms Marshenkulova was pictured in one of the Russian campaign images alongside the now-withdrawn slogan that she had authored.
After some social media users voiced outrage, Ms Marshenkulova, who is the founder of the Women’s Power feminist Telegram channel, poked fun at them on Facebook.
“God, save Russia from me and from cunnilingus,” she said.
“We live in a world where advertising is a zone of chauvinism and in every second woman is used as bait,” she added.
Before the backlash began, Ms Marshenkulova told her Telegram followers she thought Reebok was joking and would never accept her slogan.
“And here we are launching an advertisement, where one of the slogans (no kidding) is my famous ‘Stop sitting on the needle of male approval, start sitting on men’s faces’!” she said.
“Because it’s time to stop worrying about what others think of you, stop being afraid of being NOT THE GOOD KIND of woman, stop adjusting your life and your looks to what your partner or neighbour said”.
A spokesperson for Reebok said they ensured their messages meet certain standards but "unfortunately a local execution of this campaign in Russia did not meet these standards."
They said Mr Golofast was no longer a Reebok employee, adding that his comments do not reflect the views and opinions of the company.
"This execution of our ‘Be More Human’ campaign, which was pulled as soon as we were made aware of it, was not authorized by Reebok. The overall campaign, however, will continue as planned," the spokesperson added.
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