A minister in Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial government has asked Vrbo, a marketplace for vacation rentals, to take down an ad that he claims demeans a cherished folk song and the province.
Steve Crocker, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Tourism and Culture, said in a statement Monday that he spoke with leadership at the company and asked to remove the video from their online platforms and from television.
The ad features folk song “I’se the b’y” over videos of a barn and shrieking farm animals, and shows travellers disappointed with their accommodations.
“I’se the B’y is synonymous with our province and culture,” Crocker said. “As Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, we take strong exception to Vrbo using the song in this derogatory manner.”
The advertisement was published on YouTube on Jan. 27, but drew significantly more attention when it was broadcast during Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Crocker said his department has received “innumerable complaints” about the commercial, and even more since Sunday evening.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Vrbo said “the spot pokes fun at our competition, not anyone in Newfoundland.”
The company did not respond to questions about why the song was chosen, whether it knew the origin of the song before it was picked, and whether it would remove the commercial from their ongoing advertising campaigns.
The song “I’se the B’y” is older than records in Newfoundland — no one quite knows who first sang it. It has been recorded several times by popular artists, and is a staple in grade-school curriculum in the province.
Korona Brophy, who works with folk music group The Celtic Fiddlers, said the song is a big piece of Newfoundland’s history, and that Vrbo’s use of it was a disgrace.
Kristina Ennis was one of the first to complain on social media when she heard the commercial playing on the Super Bowl broadcast.
“People live in rural settings all over the world, and there is an immense amount of value in living that type of lifestyle,” she said Monday. “I think the commercial really demeans that.”
She said she wrote to the company after seeing the ad and invited them to learn more about the province — which, she noted, has several hundred listings on the Vrbo platform.
“I’m really passionate about where I’m from,” she said. “The stereotype that’s perpetuated about Newfoundland and Labrador a lot of the time, I don’t like it, I’m going to speak up about it.”
The commercial drew a lot of criticism on social media platforms like X, formerly Twitter, and Facebook.
Opinions were split, with many users posting that the provincial government’s focus on Vrbo’s ad choices was misplaced.
But even Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey weighed in on the controversy, writing that the province has much to offer.
“Your ad is not an accurate representation of our province, our culture, or our people,” he wrote. “Be better!”
With files from The Canadian Press