The story of the Christ Child is both Latin and Quebecer. We love children because they resemble us in many ways, which could be why Quebecers still exhibit a lot of childlike behaviour, like being hungry all the time and always wanting to have fun.

Another record set by Quebecers – which also happens to be a paradox – is having one of the lowest birth rates in the world. We’re a far cry from setting any procreation records like we did back in the early 20th century when a certain Saint-Colomban farmer by the name of Pierre Lesage had 42 children with three different wives. This total turnaround has sociologists asking lots of questions and politicians are starting to worry.

As early as 1970, there were already twice as many Quebec women taking the pill as Ontario women. It was also around this same time that child stars first started appearing in Quebec advertising, which led to the René Simard phenomenon. Back then, there wasn’t a single Quebec woman who wouldn’t have loved to be that golden boy’s mother.

I bring up the topic of children in advertising in La Publicité Québécoise (Quebec Advertising) and naively ask if, “Now that Quebec women have been liberated thanks to the International Year of the Woman, are they trying to fill the void of not having as many (if any) children by replacing them with our young advertising stars and the products they’re selling?”

In 1976 I gave a conference before the members of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce entitled, “Saving Quebec by Making Babies.” I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear I was on yet another quest to get some feedback.

This lab experiment exposed a hidden corner of the Quebec psyche on declining birth rates while cluing me in to some of the inherent problems (that I had no idea were so major) our demographics present. Because there has to be at least one, if not many reasons why we’ve gone from having a record-breaking birth rate to where we are now in just ten short years. The swing of the “dissatisfaction-satisfaction” pendulum that takes us from one extreme to the other could soon influence us again to get our baby cribs out of retirement.

When inaugurating the “School Milk” campaign, agriculture minister Jean Garon noted that, “The paradox of bad nutrition is not uncommon among our children.” And here’s another paradox for you. Based on data published by the Comité pour la protection de la jeunesse (Child Protective Services Committee), 3000 Quebec children are abused each year. About 5% of these children die as a result of their injuries and close to 40% of them will carry physical and psychological scars with them for the rest of their lives. Close to 60% of these battered children are less than 10 years old.

We don’t hear much about the work this organization does. It’s almost as if we’re too ashamed to think that any Quebecer could exhibit the kind of behaviour that would require such a committee to even exist. The Christ Child has to face a lot more problems than those potentially created by advertising.

Advertising has undeniably shown that Quebecers have has thrown themselves into super-consumerism with a child’s enthusiasm. Always looking for common denominators, advertisers often use children as mediators, especially when products are hard to sell like the C’est quoi ton code postal? (What’s your postal code?) campaign. After all, some messages are easier to convey through the imagination and the mouths of babes.

Children are powerful drivers of information in their families. They know the neighbours and the neighbourhood and often have more outside contacts than their parents through the relationships they form at school and on the playground.

Children are the relay stations that help advertisers get their messages across to even broader audiences, making a strong case for the theory that advertising is child’s play.

© 2022 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.