‘We are Tanuki’ Russian restaurant chain fights back after being targeted by far-right hate group over ads featuring Black model
On August 28, the far-right hate group “Male State” launched an attack on the Russian sushi delivery chain “YobiDoyobi” over an advertisement featuring a Black model. In response, the company pulled the ad and issued a public apology. The next day, Male State founder Vladislav Pozdnyakov called on his followers to go after “Tanuki,” another Russian chain of Japanese restaurants, for featuring a Black model and the rainbow flag in its marketing materials. This time, however, the target of the attack has refused to succumb to the pressure — even after law enforcement received a string of reports about bomb threats at Tanuki’s Moscow locations.
On August 28, the Russian sushi delivery chain “YobiDoyobi” issued a public apology for an advertisement featuring a Black model. This came after the far-right hate group “Male State” (Muzhskoe Gosudarstvo) launched an aggressive campaign against the company. On instructions from the group’s founder, Vladislav Pozdnyakov, Male State supporters began bombarding YobiDoyobi with complaints about “promoting multiculturalism,” ordering food and refusing to pay, subjecting the chain’s website to DDoS (denial-of-service) attacks, and threatening its co-founder Konstantin Zimen.
The next day, August 29, Vladislav Pozdnyakov called for a similar attack on another company — the Russian restaurant chain “Tanuki,” which also specializes in Japanese cuisine. Founded by restaurateur Alexander Orlov in 2004, Tanuki now has locations across Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates.
To launch the campaign, Pozdnyakov shared photos from Tanuki’s Instagram account with his 87,000 subscribers on Telegram — these included the company’s ads featuring a Black male model and a rainbow-print takeout box (the latter post dates back to the summer of 2019). Pozdnyakov threatened to “paralyze” Tanuki’s operations unless the chain deleted all of these marketing materials and issued an apology on social media “to the Russian nation for imposing alien values on them.”
Pozdnyakov encouraged his subscribers to employ the same tactics used against YobiDoyobi to attack Tanuki: placing fake orders, launching DDoS attacks against the chain’s website, and writing messages to the company’s owner, Alexander Orlov, on social media. As a result, Tanuki temporarily stopped accepting orders from those seeking to pay with cash and their website went down intermittently.
In addition, Pozdnyakov also appealed to the delivery service Yandex.Eda to either remove Tanuki from its platform or get the company to take down the “offending” ads. Otherwise, Pozdnyakov promised, Male State would “start to paralyze Yandex Eda’s entire courier network in Moscow with fake orders from all the random restaurants in the capital.”
Following the attack, spokespeople for Tanuki told the state-controlled television channel RT that the company has no intention of taking down the posts or issuing an apology. “Firstly, we didn’t break any laws. Secondly, this isn’t the first attempt when they’ve tried to accuse us of something. Tomorrow there will be an official statement from our lawyers addressed to those channels that are spreading calls for aggression, racism, and so forth. Apparently, not all people in our country support our communications policy and our history in marketing.”
Later in the day, Tanuki began publishing social media posts under the hashtag “I am, We are Tanuki” (#ямытануки) that urged subscribers to reach out to Telegram founder Pavel Durov and demand that the messaging platform block Pozdnaykov’s channel. Tanuki also urged its customers to write to Russia’s Digital Development Ministry and federal censor (Roskomnadzor) on social media.
In addition, the restaurant chain started prefacing its social media posts with a disclaimer (translated below) based on the text with which designated “foreign agents” are required to label their posts.
“We decided that each of our posts will now begin with this all-caps message. Why? Because the ‘unmanly state’ attacked the wrong [people]. Under no circumstances do we condemn our colleagues for the path they have chosen, to apologize and move forward, but we are samurai — we have our own path. […] Beautiful people will continue to appear in the photos on our social networks — representatives of different religions, nationalities, races, and [sexual] orientations. We are sure none of these signs define a person. There’s good and bad everywhere, no matter what.”
On August 30, the Telegram channels Mash and Baza reported that the FSB received information about alleged bomb threats at all Tanuki locations in Moscow (the restaurant chain has more than 60 locations in the Russian capital). As Mash underscored, these reports could serve as a pretext for the launch of a criminal case for knowingly reporting false information about an act terrorism (under Russian Criminal Code Article 207). In turn, Pozdnyakov insisted he had nothing to do with the incident, saying “I haven’t hinted at anything like this anywhere!”
Tanuki’s marketing director Stanislav Koloskov told RBC that the chain’s locations are operating as per normal, though law enforcement agencies did in fact receive false calls about bomb threats. Koloskov was convinced that Male State supporters were responsible for the false reports. He also added that Tanuki had appealed to law enforcement agencies, “because this is already a felony.”
Translation by Eilish Hart