Q&A: Pussy Riot on Cannes, Cause Marketing and What the American Media Gets Wrong About Russia

Says marketers should 'go deeper' with activism

Marian Brannelly

CANNES, France—Banners stating “Patriarchy is Boring” and “No Riot No Pussy” were posted on the Lumiere stage at the Palais theater for Pussy Riot’s colorful Cannes Lions festival session Thursday afternoon. The feminist punk rock group took the stage as part of Grey’s annual Legends of Music Seminar.

“There’s so much happening in our world that needs action,” Per Pedersen, global creative chairman of Grey Group, told Adweek of the decision to bring Pussy Riot to Cannes. “I know our role as creative people, and also our clients’ role, is to [bring about] change. It’s clear there’s an appetite to be engaged. People are looking to be engaged. Brands are looking to be engaged.”

Pedersen continued: “For a couple of years I’ve followed Pussy Riot because I like their ways of doing stuff. These are the guys that have the expertise in going all the way with stuff. It might not be in the comfort zone of most brands but it’s definitely the masterclass of activism.”

Adweek caught up with Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and her husband, fellow artist Pyotr Verzilov, after the session to find out what they want to say to brand marketers and what the American media gets wrong about Russia.

Adweek: During the session there was a discussion of Pussy Riot as a brand. Can you tell us a bit more about that? 
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: I think it was more like joke about brand because we don’t really refer to Pussy Riot as a brand.

On stage there was a reference to the fame in terms of the Pussy Riot brand, how it’s like Sputnik, one of the most famous brands to come out of Russia. Why do you think that is?
Pyotr Verzilov: A lot of people in the West were sort of amazed by this clash between Western values and Putin’s desire to take the country in a very different [direction] to authoritarian roots. This clash, obviously, and the resistance to it inspired a lot of people. That’s how it sort of received a lot of energy that made Pussy Riot into this globally inspiring thing.

More and more brands have had activism in their marketing messages. What do you think of that? Do you have any advice for brand marketers?
Verzilov: A lot of people on the left tend to criticize that. I think it’s good actually. It’s a good thing. For example, in Russia you can see that protest is becoming more fashionable and this is very good for politicization because fashionable things attract a lot of attention, and it can be shallow or deep or productive or unproductive, but still it’s more attention and getting involved and definitely this leads to more results.

My wish would be for brands to be more serious with that because protest is a powerful tool. If you need to sell something while you think people are getting effectively involved in that, that might be a good way of doing stuff. You can achieve several goals with that. But they shouldn’t do it in a shallow way. They should use it in this full scale power that protest has.

Tolokonnikova: Yeah I think just go deeper, make better analysis of the situation. Don’t just use aesthetics. You know, this Kendall Jenner thing that Pepsi did was really terrible. But if you don’t just go to Africa trying to be just another wealthy white person who is trying to solve world problems. If you really try to understand how to deal with structural inequality that’s great but don’t use street cred that was achieved by somebody else by going to prison—some people have been killed. It’s not an easy path. It’s always sad to see how people use [activism] in a light way so if you take it seriously go for it.