The Red Bull energy drink’s “Jesus walks on water” campaign should be cancelled, the SA Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said on Tuesday.
“We question the timing of the release of the advert – which seems to be part of an international campaign,” spokesman Cardinal Wilfred Napier said in a statement.
“While the Red Bull adverts are characterised by their cleverness, we believe that Red Bull South Africa have overstepped a mark.”
Napier said the SACBC welcomed the halting of the campaign, but asked Red Bull SA to cancel it completely.
“We also suggest that the marketing team and their advertising and public relations companies make a serious effort to attend sensitivity training. People are more than consumers and faith-based symbols are more than marketing opportunities.”
The advert depicts a cartoon “Jesus” in a boat with two disciples. He proclaims he is bored and steps out of the boat and walks on the water.
A disciple asks whether he is able to do so because he has drunk Red Bull, which “gives you wings”, or because it is a miracle.
“It’s no miracle, you just have to know where the stepping stones are,” Jesus replies.
He nearly slips and says, “Jesus!”.
Napier said the SACBC was grateful that many South Africans, from different faiths and religions, had registered their displeasure with the campaign at Red Bull SA, and with the Advertising Standards Authority of SA.
“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, if tongue-in-check manner, is guaranteed to cause a reaction.”
Napier said Catholics should “fast” from displaying and consuming Red Bull until Easter, to send a message to the company.
“In this way, Red Bull SA will understand that the idea that there is ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ is dangerous territory when it comes to mocking religious symbols,” he said.
Napier suggested that people donate the money they would have spent on Red Bull to charities.
Red Bull SA was not immediately available for comment