By Hillary Senour
The Church in South Africa is encouraging Catholics to boycott Red Bull energy drinks and donate the money saved to charitable organizations after the company aired a “Jesus Walks on Water” ad campaign.
“In the spirit of observing Lent,” Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, spokesman for the Southern African Bishops’ Conference, suggested that Catholic consumers and business owners, “fast from displaying and consuming Red Bull until Easter” and donate the money that would have been spent on the energy drinks to local charities.
Red Bull quickly halted the South Africa television ad on March 14, just one day after it began to run. The company received numerous complaints from Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths.
The South African Bishops’ Conference said they would like to see the ad totally pulled from the air, rather than just a pause in the ad campaign.
“While we welcome the halting of the campaign, we would ask that Red Bull … cancel it completely,” Cardinal Napier said in a March 13 statement.
In one evening, hundreds of people from many different faiths filed complaints with Red Bull and the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa.
“In a multi-faith country like South Africa, where over 70 percent of people profess to be people of faith, the use of faith-based symbols in a satirical, tongue-in-cheek manner, is guaranteed to cause a reaction,” the cardinal said.
The energy drink company issued an apology, saying that they try to focus on “well-known themes” in their advertizements. “It was never our intention to hurt anyone’s feelings,” the company added.
Cardinal Napier suggested that the Red Bull marketing department should “make a serious effort to attend sensitivity training” to become more respectful of religious beliefs.
“People are more than consumers,” Cardinal Napier said, “and faith-based symbols are more than marketing opportunities.”
The ad mocks the Gospel account of Christ walking on water by depicting Jesus walking on water due because he was bored with fishing. When he steps out of the boat, his disciples ask him if it’s due “another one of your miracles” or because he drank Red Bull, which “gives you wings.”
“It’s no miracle, you just have to know where the stepping stones are,” Christ replies.
While walking away, the cartoon Christ slips and, taking his own name in vain.
Many voiced their disapproval for the ad, including a reader whose comments were published on South Africa’s News24.
He said that although Red Bull might be pleased with the free publicity the controversy has generated, it failed to accomplished anything.
“(Red Bull) blatantly made fun of the most passive aggressive religion on earth.”
All the energy drink makers succeeded in doing with this ad was to make Christians “aware of (Red Bull’s) insensitivity to their belief system.”