Social issues come to the fore with creative ads

Social advertising is increasingly more about art than marketing.

Russky Reporter has studied social commercials, billboards and Internet campaigns over the past few years, in an attempt to create a ranking of the problems faced by Russian society right now, as seen through the eyes of social advertisers.

Problem 1: Road traffic safety, driving habits

According to official State Road Traffic Safety Authority statistics, over 23,000 people died and more than 216,000 were injured in road traffic accidents in Russia in 2012.

Leo Tolstoy

A 39-foot-high bottle filled with crumpled

cars was installed on Krasnopresnenskaya

Embankment in Moscow. Source: ITAR-TASS

Most accidents are caused by drivers, which is not hard to believe if you spend just 10 minutes watching any busy street.

The most common causes are speeding, driving into an oncoming traffic lane and violating traffic rules at crossings.

The same deadly statistics show that one in four accidents involve pedestrians.

Examples: The State Road Traffic Safety Authority in the Kaliningrad region held a “Guardian Angel” event.

Accompanied by the road traffic police, a man dressed in white and wearing wings and a fake halo urged drivers to take more caution.

In Kazan, the police, in conjunction with Metro newspaper, showed more creativity in using the method: instead of an angel, “victims” of road traffic accidents walked the streets in bandages and on crutches.

Slogan: “I’m so stupid I don’t need pedestrian crossings.”

Problem 2: Excessive alcohol consumption

There are barely any advertisements condemning binge drinking these days. Interestingly enough, however, messages like “Stop boozing!” can be observed in abundance on fences and along railway routes: a healthy lifestyle has suddenly become something that informal subcultures – from vegans to anarchists – stand for.

Example: A 39-foot-high bottle filled with crumpled cars was installed by the Zavod advertising agency on Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment in Moscow.

Slogan: “If you drink, stay put”

Problem 3: Trash, pollution

The “Rubbish has a home” campaign by AMK Znamenka features polyethylene bottles hitching a ride and cans acting as tenants. Source:

Polyethylene, the material from which soft drink bottles, bags and plastic food wraps are produced, takes several hundreds of years to decompose. Yet, because it is an extremely cheap material, it accounts for almost a half of all household waste.

Example: The “Rubbish has a home” campaign by AMK Znamenka features polyethylene bottles hitching a ride and cans acting as tenants.

Slogan: “Family of two cans looking for a rubbish bin to rent, cleanliness guaranteed”

Problem 4: Smoking

No one would really disagree that kids and expectant mothers should be spared second-hand smoke.

But, as is obvious from the results of the discussion of the latest anti-tobacco bill, not nearly all Russians actually censure the habit as disgraceful or unpleasant: almost 40 percent of Russians are smokers.

Against this background, social, anti-smoking ads seem to lack persuasion.

Example: A guy in a video ad by asks a passer-by for a light. The latter reaches automatically for his pockets, but, instead of pulling out a lighter, he starts dancing and winks at the guy: “I quit!”

Slogan: “Let’s change”

A guy in a video ad by asks a passer-by for a light. Source: Youtube

Problem 5: HIV

According to Russia’s Federal AIDS Center, the number of HIV positive people in Russia topped 700,000 in 2012, compared with approximately 650,000 a year before and 590,000 in the late 2010.

Doctors are unanimous: the numbers are growing at the expense of heterosexual couples. People simply don’t believe they are in a high-risk group. This is where social ads could potentially make a difference.

Unfortunately, there are almost no HIV awareness ads in the streets or the mass media, unlike the late 1990s and the early 2000s (you might still remember the “I choose safe sex” TV commercials).

Meanwhile, instead of touting condoms, current ads strive to instill in Russians that “love and faithfulness to their partners equals protection against AIDS.” 

Example: A series of billboards and the website run by the Moscow Healthcare Department are promoting AIDS and HIV awareness.

Slogan: “Promiscuity endangers your motherhood,” “There’s no such thing as safe sex”

HIV - No point in being afraid - knowledge is power. Source :

Problem 6: People don’t read anymore

Leo Tolstoy

According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation in March 2013, television has left books far behind as the main source of entertainment.

A series of humorous posters by the Slava advertising agency went viral in social networks last spring, featuring portraits of classical Russian authors appearing as athletes.

Example: Leo Tolstoy, dressed like a high school gym coach and holding a ball, announces that, “after 500 pages, you will get your second wind.”

Slogan: “Go in for reading”

Problem 7: Orphans

After a few kids adopted by foreign parents died accidentally abroad, calls to boost domestic adoption rates have been louder.

In 2011, the foundation Volunteers Helping Orphans and the BBDO advertising agency set out to dispel the myths associated with the procedure.

As a result, stylized illustrations of ancient Greek myths and legends – together with a hotline number – appeared in the media and at bus and tram stops.

Example: Minister of Education Dmitry Livanov, together with his three children (including one adopted child), starred in a social video ad sponsored by the Ministry of Education.

Slogan: "Become a foster family and be happy." 

The social ad:"Become a foster family and be happy". Source: YouTube

Problem 8: Public perception of the disabled

So far, Russia still offers poor protection against disability discrimination in the workplace and, in general, lacks infrastructure for the disabled. Among other things, education is also a problematic issue. Although inclusive education is currently being actively promoted on the government level, many parents and teachers are opposed the idea.

Example: A series of posters to advance inclusive education have been commissioned by Perspektiva, a public organization for people with disabilities.

Slogan: “Kids should study together.”

The social ad:  “Kids should study together”. Source: YouTube

Problem 9: Lack of family values, small families 

Currently, with its low birth rate, Russia needs more traditional families to achieve a population replacement level.

Example: Posters from the “Don’t care?” series by News Outdoors depict a boy in thick glasses knitting a sweater.

Slogan: “Just like his nanny? Spend more time with your kids”


The social ad: “Just like his nanny? Spend more time with your kids”. Source:

Problem 10: Lack of empathy

Although the last problem on the list, the general attitude of the public toward others is one of the things that Russians dislike most about their country – the gloomy faces, the lack of compassion in critical situations.

Unfortunately, charitable foundations and volunteer movements are the only champions of change in this area.

Example: The Big People project has created an interactive social ad called “Choose who you want to save.” The screen is split in two, showing simultaneously a dying girl and a dying adult woman.

The ad aims to remind people that charities usually focus on helping only kids.

Slogan: “Choose who you want to save”

The social ad: “Choose who you want to save”. Source: YouTube

This article is first published in Russian in the Russky Reporter magazine

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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