"Tinkoff Bank, the Russian lender partly owned by Goldman Sachs, is planning to axe a controversial ad campaign offensive to the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender) community, bne IntelliNews has learnt.
The London-listed bank teamed up with Aviasales, an online travel search engine, in an ad campaign that features a battleship-style game called patriot, where players have to dodge mines with rainbow flags.
One frame on the website shows two young men embracing and the slogan says, “In Europe, you will be signed up by the LGBT” [if you travel there]. The game, called Survive in Europe, jokes that travellers would be best advised to travel to Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi to avoid refugees and gays.
More than 10,000 people have signed a petition to remove the game. A source close to Tinkoff told bne IntelliNews that it is pressuring its partner Aviasales to take down the game and would cease to be involved.
The game is actually meant to mock how such topics are presented at the Russian state television, according to the source. “Russian propaganda clichés are absurd and we are actually trying to mock this homophobic and nationalist rhetoric with this game,” said the insider. “We didn’t mean to hurt or insult anybody of course.”
Tinkoff said in a statement it is "deeply sorry about the reaction" the game has caused and offered its "sincere apologies" to everyone whose feelings were hurt,
"We agreed to take part in the Aviasales.ru game only to express our negative attitude to the anti-Western, nationalistic and homophobic rhetoric that we currently see in the media and that has gained in prominence recently," the bank said in an e-mailed statement.
"Expecting it to be appreciated by the audience, the creators of the game came up with a scenario that deliberately exaggerates and satirises some of the stereotypes and predjudices that are nowadays widespread in our society. Unfortunately, the idea failed to deliver the desired impact and was misinterpreted by a number of users."
Janis Dzenis, a spokesman for Aviasales, didn’t reply to emails seeking comment.
Punishable by jail in the Soviet Union, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, yet much of the LGBT community remains underground and prejudice runs deep. In 2013, the Duma passed legislation banned the spreading of “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations” to minors, and introduced fines for individuals and organizations that breach the law, which critics describe as arbitrary and hard to implement.
Campaigners have said the law is part of a wider crackdown on civil society and anybody who challenges traditional Russian values. The law has also led to a spike in violence against the gay community as police turn a blind eye.
President Vladimir Putin has defended the law, which prompted worldwide condemnation and calls for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Elton John called Putin’s stance on gay rights “isolating and prejudiced” prior to a concert last month in Moscow. The pop star was meant to meet with Putin, but it was cancelled by the Russian leader due to his busy schedule.
Tinkoff, a bank founded by colourful entrepreneur Oleg Tinkov in 2006, is one of Russia's leading consumer lenders and the country’s second-biggest credit card operator. Aviasales is an online airline ticket search portal set up by Konstantin Kalinov.