N.L. Tourism hope to score after VRBO’s Super Bowl fumble

After VRBO ran an ad that offended many Newfoundlanders, Target responded quickly with a spot that could get your Nan on the dance floor.

by Emma Johnston-Wheeler | February 15 2024

On Super Bowl Sunday, vacation rental company VRBO ran an ad that spot lit a traditional Newfoundland and Labrador folk song, “I’se the B’y,” against scenes of travelers arriving at their destination only to discover it is overrun by farm animals.

The video, which depicts a small trailer with a dog in it, an old barn with chickens in it, and a tent with a pig on an air mattress, aims to poke fun at VRBO’s competition, by suggesting travelers can’t be confident in what they’ve booked if they’re not using VRBO.

“I’se the B’y,” was added to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005, has been performed by countless renowned singers from across the province, and has been featured by Canada Post on a special postage stamp.

Many Newfoundlanders found the use of the song offensive, including Senator David Wells and Premier Andrew Furey. The story was picked up by Canadian news outlets like CBC, CP24, National Post, and The Globe and Mail.

Tourism Minister Steve Crocker released a statement asking the brand to remove the video from YouTube and television, referring to VRBO’s use of it as derogatory, and an inaccurate representation of the province’s culture and people.

But then Target, Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism’s longstanding agency of record, reacted quickly to the perceived slight, producing its own spot, “Our Song,” within 22 hours of VRBO’s Super Bowl appearance. “One of the great advantages of being a small agency is the ability to act fast,” said Target’s president Catherine Kelly, in a release. “There is no bureaucracy here, no layers of administration. Everyone is empowered and engaged, ready to roll up their sleeves in service of our client partners.”

On Monday morning—just hours after the game finished—a local editor was briefed on a video response ad while a local performer, Gordon Cormier, was commissioned to record a heartfelt rendition of “I’se the B’y.”

The new video was quickly approved and posted on the brand’s owned socials–YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, with a caption that reads, “It’s history. Culture. Folklore. And a guarantee to get Nan up on the dancefloor, bad hip and all. A song so distinctly ours that you can almost feel the salt air on your skin when you hear it.”

“We’ll take any opportunity to showcase tourism in a good light—with a bit of education about our unique culture too,” Kelly told Campaign.

“Within minutes of seeing it we rolled up our sleeves and worked within a 22-hour period to leverage a VRBO ad that ran in the Super Bowl to direct attention to our friendly, welcoming and beautiful place…and all the places you can stay here.”