Manhattan, here we come!

Two years ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Center for Faith and Work in Manhattan. The CFW is part of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (where Tim Keller pastors) and it was "founded to equip, connect, and mobilize our church community in their professional and industry spheres toward gospel-centered transformation for the common good."

The CFW houses nearly a dozen vocation-specific groups, including law, business, health care and advertising.

Here's why I'm telling you this: The CFW's advertising group, known as the A.D. Agency, will be hosting an event on March 28, and I think you should know about it.

Speaker: Dr. Quentin Schultze
"Redemptive Advertising? Why Not?"

Friday, March 28, 2008 @ 7:00 pm
Cost: $10
Read more and register here.

Students, need I say that this is a great opportunity? And professors, your eager disciples would love to do a weekend road trip and hang out with folks who are, daily, trying to integrate their faith and work for the sake of the Kingdom. Please encourage them to attend.


Success in Advertising

Success in the ad world isn't just landing a contract with a big client. That will put money in your bank and add to your resume, but there's a second, more selfless, question I learned from Lindsay Hutter, VP with Hill and Knowlton Public Affairs: "What are the consequences of my client's success?"

The answer to this may be the difference between accepting or declining the job offer.


"Your calling is calling"

Frederick Buechner wrote, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

What an intersection. Maybe you've been there. Personally I try to get there as often as I can, but most of us (at least some of the time) know how it feels to be these people:

I'd love to pull up a few chairs and discuss this commercial with you. Here are some questions I'd ask: How realistic is it to have a job that brings 'deep gladness'? And what does it mean to press on in one that doesn't? When do we move on to services like Is it possible for everyone to have a job that addresses the 'world's deep hunger'?

I spoke with an Art Director this week about his former corporate ad position. It sucked the life out of him. Being creative, possessing marketing skills and loving Jesus didn't guarantee him a fulfilling job. None of us can accurately predict the time-of-arrival at Buechner's intersection, or plot out a sure course for finding it. But that shouldn't keep us from looking, should it?


Fame and Faithfulness

I watched U23D Saturday night at the IMAX cinema. I've never been to a U2 concert, but my blue and red-lensed glasses did a magical job of transporting me into the undulating, sweaty crowd of 120,000 at River Plate Stadium, Buenos Aires.

All told, U2's Vertigo tour sold over four and a half million tickets worldwide, and I couldn't help thinking about the global icon Bono has become as I watched him from 12 optical inches away.

I confess that I want to be where Bono is. At least, I'm enticed to want my product (whatever that may be) to become a global hit. Perhaps my product, or even I myself, could become a household name, like "Bono."

In the kind of work I do, I'm first of all tempted to get there via something like a viral craze; like an internet blaze fanned by word-of-mouth, landing me in a global cyber-stadium, center stage. Regardless of whether I "sold" YouTube videos or soft drinks or facial tissues or the (RED) campaign, this is a marketer's dream, no?

But I know better: Instantaneous success is a long-shot at best, even with a good product. "Creating a societal trend is the Holy Grail of viral marketing, from which golden riches are promised to freely flow. The reality, of course, is that devising a program to go 'viral' is like an amateur daytrading in the stock market. There are too many variables..." (Ben McConnell, author of Citizen Marketers).

What if I took wiser advice, then, to get to center stage? Legendary marketing strategist, Al Ries, says, "A powerful brand is built by consistency, year after year after year" (Ad, 11/2005). That's what U2 has done for three decades. They began with a good product and kept building it, and look at them now.

Unfortunate for my star-gazing eyes, this formula - albeit a good one in general - doesn't guarantee iconic status either. But that's not the point of faithfulness anyway, is it?

I've been called to do every day what is honorable to God who has called me, and loving to my neighbors along the way. This is faithfulness, and though it may result in making me a household name, that's not the point. Center stage is not the point. In fact, if I lived out my calling as I ought to, I wonder if I would even notice or care when I got there.

Becoming famous as a result of being faithful is a whole lot more valuable than being faithful (or going viral) for the purpose of becoming famous.


Context matters

My sister-in-law and I were talking at lunch about this $210 children's outfit (shoes not included).

I was dismayed by the catalog price, and felt the steward in me protesting the absurdity.

Interestingly, my reaction was not due to the cost of the outfit per se, but rather to the cost of an outfit that exists in the context of perceived obsolescence. (Annie Leonard has a nice little bit on this term in the "Consumption" segment of the The Story of Stuff.) This idea that a consumer good is only temporarily valuable makes the outfit's $210 price tag seem exorbitant (and vain) for such a short-term benefit. I mean, how many Easters could my daughter really wear this?

My reaction changes, however, when I imagine living in the context of stewardship instead. Here, I imagine days of old, when a child owned one "Sunday outfit," wore it weekly as well as to every other special occasion, and had it mended when necessary. If this were our practice today; if my older daughter wore it for two years and handed it down to her sister for another lengthy period, then $210 for a finely-tailored, durable, and beautiful outfit, is a fine price.

Whether you agree with my old-fashioned sentimentalism or not, the question is this: What effect do you have/will you have, as an advertiser, on the context a customer lives in? Perceived obsolescence and stewardship are no bed-fellows, and advertising encourages customers toward one or the other every day. What effect will your work have?


Charity or Celebrity?

Bob Garfield, Advertising Age ad critic, makes the following comment about this 2008 Super Bowl ad, "Celebrity": "The Dell commercial doesn't even try to sell people on charitable giving. It turns the Red laptop into a sort of chic magnet..., the aids crisis turned into an Axe commercial."

Is this a valid critique? Or does the end justify the means?


Commercializing serious ideas: Part 2

This XBOX 360 commercial, "Jump Rope," won the ADDY Award for Best in Show in 2006 for McCann SanFrancisco. It's simply magical.

However, it contains an irony that is manifested in the print ad below by the CDC.

"Give your thumbs a rest. Play for real," states the CDC.

Using the terms of my last post, "Jump Rope" displays the serious idea of health, but trivializes it by associating health with a product that demands nothing more than sitting on the couch. Now, I know the intent of "Jump Rope" wasn't to encourage exercise or fight obesity. In fact, Mark Tutssel, Chairman of the 2006 ADDY Awards, said this commercial "metaphorically captures the excitement and social aspect of the new generation X Box 360." But if actual jump ropes were being sold, the irony would, of course, disappear.

Getting rid of this irony may seem inconsequential, but I think it helps us be more truthful in advertising. Again, as E. J. Park says, "[T]he logic of commercialism must take a backseat to the logic of revelation. We must ask, 'How should serious ideas and realities be revealed?'"


Commercializing serious ideas

In an article by Dr. E.J. Park, a former Wheaton communications professor, he says, "[T]he logic of commercialism must take a backseat to the logic of revelation. We must ask, 'How should serious ideas and realities be revealed?'"

Serious ideas have high value. This means that associating a serious idea with a product is an easy way to increase the perceived value of that product. Freedom, for example, is a serious idea often associated with the marketing of automobiles. People in car ads appear freed from socio-economic insecurities, and even from traffic-law constraints. This appearance may increase the perceived value of the car, but at what expense to the serious idea of freedom? Trivialization seems to be an unfortunate by-product.

Of course, association does not always result in trivialization. For example, there is a natural, good connection between the serious idea of health and a product such as orange juice. There is a natural, good connection between the serious idea of "place" and purchasing a house. Orange juice ads promoting health, and home-ownership ads promoting "place" do not trivialize either of these serious ideas.

As Park says, "[T]he logic of commercialism must take a backseat to the logic of revelation." This is a call to consider how ideas and products affect each other before the products go to market.



Try thinking about every item you see and every act you do in terms of the raw ingredients that form them. Just as flour and baking soda go into cookies, so do wood and cotton go into chairs, and creativity and ink go into a designed graphic.

Your work is a combination of a long list of raw ingredients. How you assemble them makes a world of difference. Some recipes produce "foods" that taste great, but are unhealthy; others are quite healthy but distastefully bland. One challenge you face, therefore, is to assemble ingredients that taste great and benefit the consumer. Not always an easy task.

For more about ingredients and their relation to media consumption, read this article.


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