The Rolling Stones didn't end up touring the U.S. in the immediate wake of the April 1976 release of Black and Blue. However, the band still managed to cause a firestorm of controversy in the States, thanks to the album's ad campaign and a Sunset Boulevard billboard promoting the record.

The ad—which can be found in the July 1, 1976, issue of Rolling Stone—featured model Anita Russell sitting atop an unfolded copy of the Black and Blue LP. She's bound with rope and wearing dark makeup, to make it look like she was bruised by a beating. The giant billboard was even more controversial, as it contained the same image of Russell and the LP, but added the text, "I'm 'Black and Blue' from the Rolling Stones – and I love it!" in giant script.

Reaction to both the ad and billboard was fierce. In the August 1976 issue of a newsletter published by the Houston-based feminist group Breakthrough, Julie London, the Los Angeles coordinator of a then-new organization of feminist-identifying individuals and groups called Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW), wrote: "This campaign exploits and sensationalizes violence against a woman for the purpose of increased record sales. The ad contributes to the myth that women like to be beaten and condones a permissive attitude towards the brutalization of women."

The Breakthrough newsletter also reports the billboard drew a coordinated campaign of WAVAW protests which included "strong releases demanding immediate removal" and women visiting the offices of Atlantic Records and Ryan Outdoor Advertising. In the meantime, the September/October 1976 issue of Mother Jones reported that five stealth women "armed with buckets of fire-engine-red paint" visited the billboard one night and triumphantly defaced it, scrawling "This is a crime against women" near the text and also painting over Jagger's face. For good measure, Mother Jones notes the stealth artists also painted the "women's movement symbol" next to the Stones' iconic tongue logo.

Barbara Malarek
Barbara Malarek

Atlantic Records took down the billboard soon after, while then-Warner Bros. vice chairperson David Geffen told Mother Jones the ad campaign would be suspended. The Random Notes section of the July 29, 1976, issue of Rolling Stone featured a photo of the defaced billboard taken by Robert Landau.

As Mother Jones pointed out, however, the magazine had previously run the ad — and a short news item making note of WAVAW picketing and a press conference. (In a thinly veiled dig at the protesters, the item also said they "succeeded in getting Atlantic Records to whitewash the ad away.") It also quoted Bob Greenberg, Atlantic Records' West Coast general manager, who said: "It was not the intention of Atlantic, Mick [Jagger] or the Rolling Stones to offend anyone."

Still, the protests over the Stones campaign set off waves of regional and national activism that had a sizable cultural impact. For example, a Boston chapter of WAVAW coalesced in 1977, while the Stones campaign also inspired the formation of the Houston Organization Against Sexism in the Media. And in December 1976, the California chapter of the National Coalition for Women (NOW) and WAVAW kicked off a boycott of Warner, Elektra and Atlantic Records-affiliated record labels after they "failed to reply to demands that they cease and desist in the use of images of violence against women, and sexual violence, as an advertising gimmick."

This boycott — which spawned a letter-writing campaign and drew media coverage — lasted nearly three years, and ended with WAVAW victorious. The book Consumer Boycotts: Effecting Change Through the Marketplace and Media notes Warner Communications agreed to stop creating advertising that featured depictions of violence against women, while the company also "agreed to have WAVAW develop and implement an all-day sensitivity training program for Warner advertising executives on violence against women."

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