Intriguing or Insulting? Some Russians Object to This Penguin Ad Quoting Turgenev

Publisher defends campaign in the London Tube

Penguin is running a series of posters in the London Underground featuring quotes from classic literature. But the quote it's pulled from Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons has led to accusations that the publishing house is provoking "anger and ethnic hatred." 

There are also questions about the specific translation that was used, which makes this whole thing even more awkward. 

The quote, spoken in the novel by nihilistic character Yevgeny Bazarov, is an obscure snippet of dialogue that reads, "Aristocracy, liberalism, progress, principles … Useless words! A Russian doesn't need them!" 

London-based Russian blogger Tanya Solovyeva is furious about the ad, and has even claimed it is a misquote. In a tweet, she highlighted a Penguin version of the book that has a different translation that reads, "Aristocracy, liberalism, progress, principles … what a lot of foreign … and useless words. A Russian would not want them as a gift."

In a Facebook post, she called the ad "low, cheap propaganda, based on ethnic hatred between the nations." 

It seems, though, that Solovyeva's Penguin book is simply an older version; the newest Penguin edition of Fathers and Sons has the quote featured in the ad. 

Penguin's response to the whole thing has been as generic as most of its book covers. A spokesman said, "Our poster campaign is designed to intrigue people to find out more and introduce them to books we believe they will treasure," pointing out that many of the books it chose for the campaign were written by Russians. 

That's fine, but a subway poster with a quote and no author attribution is hardly an endorsement of a book, much less Russians in general. And didn't it realize, more broadly, that this could easily be taken as a provocation. 

Either way, we'd like to hear answers from Penguin that aren't glorified sales copy. David Kiefaber is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak.
Publish date: June 9, 2016 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT