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Harley Davidson Billboards Upset Quebec Community

Quebec municipal leaders are condemning a Harley-Davidson ad campaign that suggests cruising to a Mohawk community to buy illegal cigarettes and taking a road trip to Toronto to visit some "square heads." Hoping to showcase the rebellious lifestyle of riding a Harley on the open road, the motorcycle manufacturer recently posted 85 black billboards beside highways across the province of Quebec.

Bold-lettered messages in 40 of those signs were designed to grab the attention of locals . With great success; only it's not the kind of attention Harley was likely looking for.

One Montreal-area mayor called the ads shocking and wants the Harley-Davidson billboard erected in his town to come down. "It works to insult people," said Claude Carignan, mayor of St-Eustache, where town property is being used to highlight Kanesatake's cheap cigarettes, considered illegal by the province.

The billboards use highway numbers to create French messages like "640 reasons to go buy cigarettes in Kanesatake." Others loosely translate as "40 reasons to go be bored to death in Ottawa" and "20 reasons to go visit square heads in Toronto."

Square heads - or tete carres - is a derogatory term used by Quebec francophones to refer to uptight anglophones. "I don't use that expression myself, but that's what we hear in the street," said Dominic Bourdages, a marketer for OSL Marketing, the Montreal firm that conceived the campaign. He said OSL Marketing also proposed a Canada-wide campaign to Harley-Davidson with customized messages for each region.

One billboard on the table would have suggested Torontonians visit some "frogs" in Montreal. "We had this line for sure, yes," Bourdages said. But the Wisconsin-based motorcycle company decided to only launch the Quebec campaign.

Kanesatake Grand Chief Steven Bonspille drove past the cigarette billboard for the first time on Wednesday. "I certainly don't agree with what they're doing," said Bonspille, whose Mohawk territory is about 20 kilometres west of St-Eustache. "I'm not against the cigarette trade at all here, however, I think Harley-Davidson could have picked a more positive, healthier message to the public than cigarettes."

Bonspille said Kanesatake is a beautiful region with much more to offer visitors than discount cigarettes. Still, he said some local cigarette retailers find the campaign is a boon for business

Bourdages said the ideas are based on Harley-Davidson's "anti-conformist" image and the basic biker principle of heading out on the highway. "If you talk to any motorcycle lover they would tell you that they love to ride and wherever they go it doesn't really matter," he said. "That's what we wanted to say in this campaign."


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