Catholics cry fowl over Quebec TV ad

"A church is a place where people gather to give meaning to their life, not to give publicity to chicken," said one of the upset patrons, François McCauley, a hospital clerk from Sherbrooke. He said that even if Quebeckers have stopped being religiously observant, "you can't touch sacred things with impunity." "If they showed a clownish scene like this inside a mosque, wouldn't there be a reaction?" he asked in an interview. "Practising Christians aren't numerous in Quebec these days, but we have the right to respect."

The Globe and Mail
November 13, 2003

Catholics cry fowl over Quebec TV ad
Barbecue-chicken chain takes a licking after unholy campaign ruffles feathers
Ingrid Peritz

MONTREAL — A Quebec TV ad featuring a priest and his flock singing the praises of a barbecue chicken chain at Mass has turned into a holy mess, even in a province that hardly goes to church any more.

Les Rôtisseries St-Hubert Ltée, whose deep roots and ubiquitous presence has made it an institution in the province, will pluck the controversial ad off the air after being deluged by complaints from offended customers.

The ferocity of the protests took the restaurant chain by surprise, because Quebeckers have largely abandoned their church pews and turned their backs on organized religion.

"I've been called an imbecile several times. It's never pleasant being called an imbecile," said Jean-Claude Hardy, director of marketing at St-Hubert.

He said he has received 50 to 70 complaints a day, including one from an auxiliary bishop at the Montreal Archdiocese, since the ad began appearing more than two weeks ago.

"It wasn't our intention to anger anyone," Mr. Hardy said. "My mother, who's 72 and a practising Catholic, said she found it funny.

"But this has stirred emotions enormously. I've learned there are some subjects you have to be cautious about. When you're talking about religion, it's a fine line between what's okay and what's not."

The television ad opens with a white-robed priest at his pulpit somberly asking his congregation to rise. Then, instead of playing a psalm, a rapt organist delivers the opening chords of St-Hubert's well-known jingle. The congregation and straight-faced pastor respond formally in unison, completing the ditty.

One puzzled parishioner is seen rifling through his prayer book, looking in vain for the hymn.

The use of religious imagery for commercial gain seems to have touched a chord. Mr. Hardy said he began getting angry calls the day after the spot first aired during Quebec's popular ADISQ music awards gala on Oct. 26. Then the campaign picked up steam, with irate patrons calling radio stations, writing to newspapers, and even threatening to boycott the chain as long as the pitch appeared.

"A church is a place where people gather to give meaning to their life, not to give publicity to chicken," said one of the upset patrons, François McCauley, a hospital clerk from Sherbrooke. He said that even if Quebeckers have stopped being religiously observant, "you can't touch sacred things with impunity."

"If they showed a clownish scene like this inside a mosque, wouldn't there be a reaction?" he asked in an interview. "Practising Christians aren't numerous in Quebec these days, but we have the right to respect."

Another customer, André-Jean Bordeleau of Shawinigan, wrote to his local newspaper that "here, in Quebec, we tolerate everything; we let ourselves be meekly stripped of our past."

"It seems that with humorists, anything goes and you can make fun of everything, but I believe that when it comes to televised ads there should be more respect," Mr. Bordeleau wrote. "Even if we've let so many values go in Quebec since the Quiet Revolution, we shouldn't try to annihilate them all."

Nathalie Petrowski, culture columnist in the daily La Presse, concluded from the ad that "the message is clear."

"It's not a lack of faith that has emptied the churches of Quebec. It's the chicken from St-Hubert."

Mr. Hardy said the ad was due to end its current run this weekend, but was scheduled for another round of TV appearances next year. Due to the controversy, the restaurant chain will drop it, even though some customers have begun calling and urging the chain to stand firm.

"Quite honestly, with 70 calls a day, it would be a provocation to reuse it," Mr. Hardy said.

Bos Inc., the ad agency that produced the spot for St-Hubert, also produces ads for the Archdiocese of Montreal.

The archdiocese would not comment on the controversy.


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