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Bunny billboard protest sparks debate

On May 6, somebody wore a costume rabbit head and held a sign telling people they "look fine" as they drove past a billboard on St. Albert Trail.
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The billboard on St. Albert Trail advertising External Affairs Medical Spa has had at least two incidences of people demonstrating against it in the last four years. This photo was posted anonymously in a St. Albert Facebook group.

A billboard near the intersection of Gate Avenue and St. Albert Trail attracted an unusual visitor on Friday, May 6.

The billboard, advertising External Affairs Medical Spa located less than three kilometres north, reads, "Aging is inevitable. Wrinkles are optional." 

An unidentified individual dawned a costume rabbit head, and stood holding a sign that read: "You look fine."

Susan Larison, who teaches a course through St. Albert Further Education about raising the self-confidence of young girls, thinks the bunny speaks for many residents. 

"I’m happy that there is somebody out there that is willing to take the time to do that because I think it sends a collective message that although many of us drive by it and it seems like it’s passive, there are conversations going about this in homes [and] in cars," Larison said in an interview.

"I would say this person is very passionate about making sure that people know that they’re enough."

To Larison, the billboard is yet another example of advertising that causes women to compare and critique themselves, and "feel pressure to be perfect." 

"I just think there’s enough pressures, and we don’t need it so blatantly on our main drive in St. Albert, if not anywhere," said Larison.  

During a class session for her Further Education course on May 10, Larison said, "we were speaking about the pressures of body image and those types of things and I did not bring up the billboard in my classroom but one of the other parents did.

"It’s interesting to me, the irony — you have people signing up [for] a course on how to teach their girls how to be more self-confident, and probably a number of them, in order to get to the class, are driving by this billboard.”

More than an advertisement

When asked, Larison didn't know which company the billboard advertises. "I had no idea," she said.

In an interview, Robert Fisher, a professor of marketing and business economics at the University of Alberta, said he wouldn't be surprised if many residents who dislike the billboard couldn't name the company behind it. 

"Good advertising likely offends somebody, it just doesn’t necessarily or routinely offend the people who it really matters to," said Fisher.

Fisher suggested one possible explanation for this scenario is that External Affairs' "target market is very, very specific."

"It’s not everyone in St. Albert or travelling along that particular road," he said. "It would be people that are like the person in the picture: someone who’s interested in cosmetic procedures and surgeries and that is someone who is likely female and is of a certain age and certainly psychological disposition as well that thinks that is important and would benefit from those procedures."

Fisher also theorized that the mystery rabbit may have accomplished an unintentional goal, saying, "I think one of the ironic or perverse effects of having somebody with a bunny head standing out in front is probably that it draws more attention to the sign then would otherwise be the case." 

Not the first time

The furry picketer isn't the first person to demonstrate in front of External Affairs' billboard. According to a blog post on the business's website, in December of 2018 somebody stood by the billboard with a sign that read: "You don't need this." 

The blog post, attributed to External Affairs co-founder Becky Wilkins, is a response to the 2018 protester. The blog posits, "Would I love a world where all women could just be who they are as they were born? Absolutely. In this regard I support the sentiments from our protester. You don’t need our services to have empowerment and confidence. You really don’t, or do you?

"Do what you need to do so that you feel confident, attractive, youthful, or sexy, or whatever verb you use to describe that feeling that you get when you can walk into a room and shine," Wilkins concluded. 

In a statement emailed to The Gazette in response to the May 6 mystery rabbit, External Affairs said: "Everyone has the authority to define what self-care means to them. Some people may draw a bubble bath at home, and others may use Botox to soften wrinkles. Regardless of what they choose, one message rings true: everyone has a choice.

"If choosing our services makes you feel good, then great. If you feel good without our services, then great. We exist so you can feel great being you, however you choose to define it."

In its statement, External Affairs said their reaction to the bunny is to say: "Keep standing out there, just make sure you have sunscreen on!”


About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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