Posters advertising the Baltic country's capital, due to appear from Thursday in Berlin and London, show a young woman lying on bed sheets printed with the map of Europe and clutching a handful of cloth where Vilnius is located. "Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it, it's amazing. Vilnius, the G-spot of Europe," says the advertisement, which is aimed at portraying the city as the continent's undiscovered treasure.
The reference to the elusive erogenous zone has raised hackles in the devoutly Catholic Baltic EU country of 2.9 million people.Images of the campaign banner have already gone viral on social media, provoking both support and criticism.
Former Vilnius mayor Arturas Zuokas criticised the campaign, telling AFP on Wednesday that "no one in the West is using sexist references in marketing any more, especially when we speak about public authorities". Vilnius Archbishop Gintaras Grusas has said the campaign "potentially strengthens the image of Vilnius as a sex tourism city and exploits the sexuality of women".
Lithuania's government had asked the city to postpone the campaign until after Pope Francis visits in late September, but the organisers refused, arguing that the advertising will end before the pontiff's visit and is in no way associated with him.
"Those who are outraged are only showing that the campaign actually works, because it is making a fuss and provoking discussion," advertisement co-creator Jurgis Ramanauskas told AFP. The city's official tourism service Go Vilnius said the poster, created by Lithuanian advertising students, is aimed at people aged 18 to 35 and will only be displayed for a week. It will run alongside an online campaign, which will last a month.
The Lithuanian capital attracted 210,000 visitors in the first three months of this year, a 7.5 percent increase on the same period in 2017, according to Go Vilnius.