Moscow — A Russian sushi delivery chain issued an apology on its social media accounts after posting an ad featuring a Black man. The restaurant’s owner said he was bombarded by death threats from a nationalist hate group and forced to take down the advertisement.
Yobidoyobi, which has stores in 65 Russian cities, posted its first ad featuring a Black model — a man surrounded by three women with Slavic features — on August 14. It followed up on the campaign two weeks later posting another picture of the same man easting sushi, and the chain’s social media accounts were quickly flooded with hateful comments.
Yobidoyobi founder, Konstantin Zimen, attributed the attacks to a hate group called “Male State,” and said the barrage of threats came after the movement’s leader, Vladislav Pozdnyakov, shared the chain’s ad on his accounts.
Male State and Pozdnyakov, which describes itself as a movement promoting “traditional values” in Russia, have previously threatened Russian women with biracial children, LGBTQ and feminist activists, and others.
The group boasts on its social media pages of having over 100,000 members. Pozdnyakov has been convicted previously of inciting hatred toward women and was given a suspended sentence in 2018, which was overturned a year later.
“On Pozdnyakov’s telegram channel, his followers call for ‘real’ actions, they publish links to the social media accounts of the girls who were also featured in the ad, and write negative reviews on all sites, online maps, AppStore, and Google Play,” Zimen wrote in a letter published on his blog.
He added that he had received numerous deaths threats and that his personal phone number was leaked online, leading to dozens of hateful calls.
Pozdnyakov also called on his supporters to post fake orders and then refuse to pay for the food in an effort to hurt Yobidoyobi’s business, Zimen said.
“Yobidoyobi is known for its provocative marketing, but this time we did not pursue these goals — we just made a very ordinary promo for social networks. Many brands use images of different models, which may differ in skin color, gender, and so on,” Zimen told the Inc. Russia outlet. “There was no provocation in this — it is just the voice of the times. I am sorry that someone thinks that a photo of a Black man (especially next to supposedly “Slavic” girls) on the Internet is unacceptable.”
Yobidoyobi took down the ads and posted an apology to its Instagram page: “On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos. We have removed all content that caused this hype.”
On their Vkontakte page, the Russian Facebook-like social media network where the Male State rose to prominence, Yobidoyobi said it apologized “to the Russian nation” for having “hurt the Russian people” with the photographs.
Many of Yobidoyobi’s Instagram followers were outraged that the ads had been deleted.
“Are you yourself not ashamed of this shameful apology, written as if the Taliban with machine guns was standing over you?” asked one person.
The incident with Yobidoyobi comes weeks after a Russian grocery chain, VkusVill, deleted an ad campaign featuring an LGBTQ family, causing a massive backlash. The same-sex family who appeared in the promo have since fled Russia, citing death threats.