A trickle of complaints has turned into a flood of controversy for a Quebec-based water company. Eska Water, one of the official sponsors for this year’s Pride Week, drew the ire of First Nations groups and some of our readers with their “Protecting the Purity” ad campaign. After attempts to quell the growing backlash, Eska announced today that they are pulling the campaign.
The print and TV ads use caricatures of indigenous people, depicting them as warriors who use primitive weapons to “protect the purity” of the bottled water. The campaign was slowly gaining negative attention with a Boycott Eska Water Facebook group starting up late last week and other calls for boycotts from First Nations groups, including the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council. The bottled water is sourced from traditional Algonquin territory in western Quebec. As of yesterday the company was still posting sort-of apologies to its Facebook page, saying they were “deeply concerned that some people may have been offended,” and they had scheduled meetings with local community leaders who had publicly voiced their disapproval. The company’s official Facebook page has since been taken down.
Today Gilles Corriveau, the PR guy brought in to handle the controversy, told us the campaign would be pulled immediately and they still plan to meet with local community leaders to discuss the controversy and “ensure that future marketing efforts reflect… the values of those in the community.”
One of the offending ads, spotted by Corbin Smith.
As for the ads’ presence in Toronto, readers told us they saw ads at the Bathurst subway station (though we have yet to confirm that placement) and Torontoist contributor Corbin Smith spotted one in the free Metro papers.
We contacted the Montreal sales office of Metro, through which the ad was booked, to find out how soon the ads will be pulled from their papers. Local sales manager Melanie Labelle admitted she had heard about the controversy surrounding the campaign, but she declined to comment on the paper’s relationship with its advertising clients.
We contacted the TTC to ask if the ads were still in stations and how quickly they will be removed, but they have yet to respond.
Both Eska’s initial hesitance to end the campaign and the impression one gets from perusing internet comment sections (which should always be taken with a giant grain of salt) suggest that some people are being too culturally sensitive in taking umbrage with this campaign.
Well hear this: according to a friend in Listener Relations at CBC, listeners never miss a chance to call in and complain about the use of “paddywagon” on air. Legend has it the term for a police van derives from police round ups of drunk Irishmen after the pubs were closed. Some people will always be upset by stereotypical depictions of their heritage, even when they have become totally integrated in their new country and the land of their heritage seems to have gotten over it.
Hurtful cultural stereotypes and discrimination aren’t always obvious to the mainstream, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taken seriously. When so many of Canada’s indigenous communities don’t have consistent access to clean drinking water (at last count, 111 First Nations were living under boil water advisories) a water company poking fun really stings.