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.

"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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