Food

Brewery’s BDSM-Inspired Label Prompts Bizarre Response From Russian Government

Over the past few years, American craft brewers have gone all in on dessert-inspired drinks, brewing up pastry stouts, milkshake IPAs, smoothie IPAs, and even a Lucky Charms-inspired marshmallow IPA. In a country addled by a collective dependence on sugary stuff, adding saccharine flavors—and words like doughnut, vanilla, milkshake, cream, and cake to drink descriptions—seems to immediately make the sale.

In Russia, though, one brewery decided that one vice (or two, if you count alcohol) wasn’t enough, so it went a little Fifty Shades for its pastry stout. To make the Pryanik Imperial Stout, Siberia’s Kopytov Brewery took cues from honey cakes called pryanik by adding spices like cinnamon and clove. For the label, Kopytov worked with design firm Dorogobogato, who—riffing on the pastry’s round shape—turned pryanik into a ball gag and drew that ball gag in a woman’s mouth. Playing on the BDSM theme further, Kopytov wrote on Instagram, “You’re gonna drink it ‘til you remember your safeword.”

That didn’t go over quite so smoothly, as the BBC reported yesterday. A fashion designer named Yuliya Shlyakhova reported the brewery’s image to Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service, which oversees advertising in addition to antitrust issues. Shlyakhova told the service’s Altai branch that the image “displays a scene of sexual character [and] demonstrates violence against women,” making it obscene and offensive.

On social media, Kopytov played the image off as just a bit of humor, but Shlyakhova’s complaint opens up some sensitive topics: BDSM can definitely involve and mask domestic abuse. Still, people involved in the scene emphasize that, when done properly, it relies on consensual decision-making.

All of that is obviously tricky, nuanced, and rife with flame war potential—so you might expect the government to think it all over, maybe let some experts weigh in. But instead, the Antimonopoly Service responded by letting the internet vote. The service’s posted a poll on its VK page, a Russian social network, that asked, “Do you consider the use of this image in advertising offensive?” The service had reportedly tried online polling before, in the case of a gym ad accused of fat-shaming.

In response, Kopytov wrote on its page, “People who call themselves feminists have written a statement to the Antimonopoly Service, claiming that the advertising of our Gingerbread beer insults all women of the planet. […] Please, kind people, go and vote, and please tell your comrades. We very much hope that common sense will prevail.”

As you can predict from the nature of online debate, the results were a mess. The BBC wrote that comments on the poll were quickly closed due to “personal abuse.” But despite the harsh drama, 58 percent of the votes sided with Shlyakova and opposed the ad, in the end. The service is still weighing its decision, but the brewery could get hit with a fine.

In 2015, Domino’s considered a similarly edgy approach, with a creepy tongue that was ball-gagged and dressed in leather. That one didn’t get the approval of ad execs, but it did horrify the internet.

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