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Denver Water pulls Putin-like image from new campaign after Ukrainian plane-crash tragedy

Denver Water is known for its wacky conservation campaigns -- and its latest, dubbed "Don't Be That Guy," is definitely an attention-getter thanks to its portrayal of assorted comic archetypes as water-wasting doofuses.

Problem is, one of the images was inspired by photos of Russian leader Vladimir Putin riding a horse shirtless. Given Putin's alleged connection to the downing of a Malaysian aircraft over the Ukraine in which 298 people were killed, however, the pic no longer seems particularly hilarious -- so Denver Water has now pulled it. See that photo and more below.

See also: Running toilet terrorizes children; no one flushes

When we first contacted Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson about the campaign last week, the ad that had caught our attention depicted a water-wasting hipster:

Was Denver Water implying that hipsters are so self-involved that they don't even notice when they're committing an environmental sin? Absolutely not, Thompson stressed. After all, the campaign wasn't entirely hipster-centric, with other comedic targets including a Jersey Shore wannabe.... ...a dorky couple in matching outfits.... ...and a clueless 1-percenter: "Our intent is not to make fun of anyone," Thompson told us. "The funny characters are just a visual way to show that wasting water is ridiculous. It was just our attempt to find these pop-culture characters that people recognize, but almost make them so over-the-top that hopefully no one will be offended."

But then, current events threw Denver Water a curve ball.

Continue for more about the change in Denver Water's conservation campaign, including additional photos and a video. Putin's shirtless horse-riding photos have been inducing giggles for a while now, even as they've inspired meme makers. Here's an example:

No surprise, then, that a Putin-like dictator was included in the "Don't Be That Guy" campaign: But then, last Thursday, a Malaysia Airline passenger liner crashed in the Ukraine -- and before long, most experts in the U.S. had come to the conclusion that the jet had been shot down by pro-Russian separatists using a surface-to-air missile supplied by Putin's military.

Here's an Associated Press report on the incident:

In recent days, Putin has attacked those who've tried to fit him with a measure of responsibility for the horrific crash. Instead, as noted in a Fox News report, he has "criticized the Ukraine authorities in Kiev for reigniting the fighting with the pro-Russian rebels who control the crash site."

Putin's spin is encapsulated by this quote: "We can say with confidence that if fighting in eastern Ukraine had not been renewed on June 28, this tragedy would not have happened. Nobody should or does have a right to use this tragedy for such mercenary objectives."

Credulity-stretching comments like this one haven't done Denver Water any favors. The idea of alluding to Putin's toplessness was mainly about getting a laugh while promoting water conservation, not making people think of innocent victims caught up in an intractable international crisis. As a result, the dictator pics are being pulled from billboards, bus stops and other locations where they've been on display for the past couple of weeks and no more will be distributed.

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"The original concept was to create a 'dictator' character that was funny and over the top," Thompson notes via e-mail. "Because of the escalating situation, it is inappropriate to use the dictator caricature as a campaign image."

Sorry, Vlad.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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