'Adults Only': Ads and Viral Videos Aim to Sex Up Russian Election
A topless model lies in front of a Russian flag, apparently studying a campaign brochure, as a second young woman prepares to cast a vote in her lingerie.
"What happens in the polling booth stays in the polling booth," says one page of sponsored content in the Russian edition of men's magazine Maxim.
Another image shows a woman in black underwear seductively dropping her ballot paper into the box under the slogan, "Welcome to the world of adults".
In the midst of a limp election campaign, a series of sexually charged videos and images have appeared online with the apparent aim of arousing Russians' interest in next month's predictable presidential election.
While it is not clear who is financing the "Elections: Adults Only" content that has also appeared on social networks and YouTube, the appeal to younger voters is unlikely to displease the Kremlin.
With Vladimir Putin all but guaranteed to win another six-year term on March 18, despite not putting forward any concrete policy proposals, turnout has become a key focus for authorities.
The Kremlin is reportedly seeking 70 percent participation to provide Putin with a strong mandate, while opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been barred from running, calls for a boycott of polls he denounces as a sham.
Maxim editor Alexander Malenkov told AFP he was not at liberty to say who had funded the erotic photo spreads, which were produced last year for the magazine's autumn edition.
A behind-the-scenes video of the shoot has since racked up more than one million hits online.
A group under the Maxim brand on the popular social networking site VKontakte has been sharing election-related memes along with sports news and pictures of bikini-clad women since the start of the year.
- No vote, no sex -A separate video appeared on YouTube this month with the title, "Sex and elections are for adults only".
In the slickly produced advertisement, a young woman leads a man away from a bar and starts to kiss him before leaving when she discovers he hasn't voted.
"Then you're not really an adult," she says over music from the club.
"Our elections are a festival -- a carnival, even, and at a carnival the erotic is allowed," political analyst Konstantin Kalachev told AFP of the unusual appeal to the electorate.
The Adults Only campaign comes alongside other viral videos designed to boost turnout, including a clip set on the eve of the presidential election which shows a man mocking his wife for planning to vote.
In a scene that drew condemnation, he then falls asleep and experiences the "nightmare scenario" of being called up to serve in the army with ethnic minorities and having to take in a gay lodger as part of an initiative under a new president.
A second clip shows a desperate, heavily pregnant woman screaming directions at a taxi driver -- who takes her to a polling station just before voting closes, rather than a hospital.
- 'Turnout fetish' -
"Who ordered them and who paid for them, it's impossible to fully find out," Kalachev said, noting that the Central Election Committee had denied involvement.
But while the analyst praised the quality of the online content, he said they were unlikely to increase turnout amid a lacklustre election campaign with such a predictable result.
"If anything it will be the opposite, because they confirm that the elections have turned into a circus without any serious content," he said.
Putin has been in power, as president or prime minister, since 1999.
"There are a few weeks left before the election, but candidate Putin doesn't have a programme. Putin doesn't appear in his own campaign videos. It seems like he's treating it as a ritual process, he's tired of it himself," said Kalachev .
"Turnout has become the fetish of these elections."