Based in Bratislava, Slovakia, the offices of JANDL are not far from Ukraine and the war that erupted there in the last year. The agency’s Creative Director, Alex Strimbeanu, understood immediately that he and his colleagues had a role to play in supporting their neighbors and fighting injustice propagated by the Russian administration.
In March 2022, Special Love Operation was launched by Strimbeanu and other independent advertising professionals in the region to bypass Russian government censorship that blocked access to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and several foreign news organizations.
The group cleverly uses Tinder -- which has not yet been blocked -- to get details about the invasion of Ukraine to Russian citizens to counteract the misinformation being fed to them by their government.
Tinder Plus users are able to change their location to anywhere in the world that they want. Users simply have to include information about the invasion in their profiles -- including photos and a message in Russian Cyrillic that Special Love Operation provides on their website -- and then change their location to somewhere in Russia. Tinder users looking for love will end up finding the truth about the war in their neighbor’s country.
“I spoke with many Russians and it was interesting to see two sides there,” Strimbeanu remembers. “It was surprising to see positive reactions from Russians against the invasion, but of course, there were also many who were blind to the truth and bought into the government’s story. It’s just another example of the polarization online that we see all around the world.”
It was a unique and cheeky form of resistance through one of the most powerful tools in a creative’s arsenal.
Even the name itself is a reference to Vladimir Putin’s lie about the invasion as just a “special military operation.”
The project is an extension of the advocacy that Strimbeanu has focused on throughout his career.
In his current home country of Slovakia, his work has challenged homophobia. In a 2021 campaign with Absolut Vodka, they posed the question: “Would you still love me if I were gay?”
This year, their campaign revolved around the slogan “Every Love is Love.”
Beyond the advertisements, Strimbeanu, Jandl, and Absolut changed the Slovakian dictionary definition of love that was confined to heterosexual love.
Spurred by the campaign, an accompanying petition, and social unrest caused by a homophobic terrorist attack in the country in October, the Slovak National Academy of Sciences changed the definition to one that was more inclusive.
“I’m proud that we had a part to play in this change, which might be small, but can be a starting point,” says Strimbeanu.
Strimbeanu is a decorated leader and creative in the advertising field with over 12 years of experience with agencies large and small. The serious aspects of his work are belied by a childlike, creative spirit.
“It’s a childish profession in a way,” he jokes. “You have to have some humor.” For inspiration, he turns to hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco, who he calls “an extremely good copywriter,” for his ability to fit so much meaning into a single line or word.
Of course, he has to temper that part of himself, now that he mentors and leads the next generation of creatives -- but he says that this makes it all the more rewarding. “I’m consistently surprised by their growth. They have such amazing ideas, and it shames and spurs me to come up with my own.”