Naughty billboards upset Bulgarians

Post-communist Bulgarians have reacted with shock to an increase in nudity and sexual innuendo in advertising, prompting the city fathers of Sofia to set up a committee to police the content of downtown billboards.

“There is this tendency in recent years for advertisements to try to catch attention by being strikingly provocative and we get a lot of complaints”, said the head of the culture council at the municipality, Georgy Belchev.

Last week, firefighters took down a billboard featuring local folk star Azis at the orders of the Interior Ministry.

Azis is openly gay, and the public baulked at the inscription “it hurts so much” over a 3m-high poster of the singer’s lower back.

“Such billboards go contrary to my views of law and order. I do not like the idea that children passing by have to look at them”, Interior Ministry Secretary General Boiko Borissov told journalists after ordering the billboard to be taken down.

Belchev said the sexual content of advertising has risen sharply recently in a country where advertising was banned until the Iron Curtain fell 15 years ago.

“There has always existed a love relationship between advertising and nudity but it has definitely become stronger in the past two to three years,” said the official whose office contracts Sofia’s public space.

When advertising first appeared on the streets in the early 1990s after the fall of the former communist regime, Bulgarians were intrigued and amused by Pepsi’s huge plastic bottle with the words “Ask for more” and the smiling faces watching Sony’s New Trinitron television set.

But opinion shifted as the innocent soft-drink ads made way for steadily more provocative images selling anything from alcohol to cement and paper handkerchiefs.

Images of a boy dreamily licking an envelope and girl chewing a pencil are used to advertise Flirt vodka, and four larger-than-life nudes feature in an advert for a striptease bar, while a sausage advert naughtily plays on the term “69”.

Bulgarian advertising agencies have protested that they have to provoke in order to be successful.

But media expert Georgy Lozanov said such reasoning is false as a raunchy advert does not necessarily guarantee that the product will sell.

“It is not enough for an advertisement to be scandalous in order to sell.”

Pressed into action by a flurry of letters of complaint, the Sofia municipality has decided to set up a committee to regulate the advertising displayed on the roughly 600 billboard spaces rented out by the city.

“My idea is not to censor. Our judgements will be guided by a more liberal view but there should be no flagrant extremes in advertising messages or imagery, at least not in prime downtown spots that are closest to historical and religious monuments,” Belchev summed up the city’s new policy.—Sapa-AFP

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