Chase what mattered

My dad died on Saturday. He made it to 59-3/4, the last "and 3/4" spent fighting sickness in the hospital.

I miss what could have been, but I don't think I miss him for what was. Our estrangement and relative superficiality, however, and the fact that no more solving can occur now, calls me to contemplate what matters as a father to my own two children.

This call makes a certain Chase commercial seem even more distant now than when I blogged about it last May: Chase what [really] matters


Marketing Jesus

It's possible that everything I do, I do to experience pleasure, avoid pain, or assuage fear. Folks say I’m thoughtful and generous, but when it comes down to it, I still want the goods. And you do, too. What a challenge it is to find much altruism in any of us.

So it isn’t surprising that we tell people about Jesus in a similar fashion. We assume they’ll only be interested if perks exist. We take the basic invitation to faith, couch it in popular marketing terms, and offer it to potential customers: "[Y]ou (the consumer) 'invite him' (the product) 'into your heart' (brand adoption) and 'get saved' (consumer gratification)."

This little formula is from Tyler Wigg-Stevenson in his Christianity Today cover story, "Jesus is not a brand: Why it is dangerous to make evangelism another form of marketing" (January 2009). Tyler argues that our telling about Jesus is largely based on delivering goods, and his formula sounds like an advertisement, doesn't it?

To be clear, Tyler isn’t undermining the basic message of the New Testament. He’s saying that a generic If-Then evangelistic approach is inadequate. It resembles the frequent problem in which "brands promise to deliver goods - self-esteem, sex appeal, confidence, coolness - that they have no intrinsic capacity to give."

It’s dangerous to sell the Good News like HDTV. It puts the gospel on the same product shelf in consumers’ minds, and it means we’ll face the marketing challenges faced by all marketers. But here's where it gets tricky. We're human, so we’re needy. We need the perks. We shouldn't choose Jesus for what it's in it for us, but we can't help turning to Jesus for what's in it for us.

I can't turn my life over to Jesus just for Jesus' sake. Instead I do it because I've hit bottom and need to be rescued, or I feel insecure and need to be held, or I lack direction in life and need to be guided. Less commendably, I turn to Jesus because my friends are doing it. Regardless, I'm looking for deliverable goods, just like when I buy something from the store. Whether we consume Jesus or a new television, we still want what’s in it for us.

The difference between marketing Jesus and marketing HDTV, therefore, is in the quality of what can be delivered. If "Jesus is the power of God at work for a real salvation," as Tyler affirms, then gimmicks and special discounts are irrelevant. To hell then, so to speak, with fire insurance and promises that troubles will disappear once you have Jesus in your life. This Call-Now-And-You'll-Receive-This-Free-... approach “tend[s] to be met with all the success of a door-to-door salesman who's been working the same street every day for 2,000 years."

Yet because I get something out of it, I pass along the message in much the same way.

Am I to blame for this? Well, not completely. Tyler says that "consumerism is impotent to deliver on its promise." I disagree. We may not get all that we hoped for from a product, but we do get something, and that something is a foretaste (a this-isn’t-fully-cooked-yet foretaste) of what Jesus promises. For instance, a Steeler game on HD is far more pleasurable than squinting to read players' jerseys on my fuzzy analog station. HD won’t save me, and the increased viewing pleasure – as a singular benefit – doesn’t justify purchasing a new TV, but the Butterfly Effect of eventually watching games on a friend’s HDTV changed my social life and his family life and our communal life together. Consumerism may be handicapped, but it isn’t impotent.

Jesus and products provide benefits, but one certainly out-delivers the other. It behooves us to consider how, and then separate them accordingly.

Here is the practical challenge. People who share the gospel must understand that Jesus is not HDTV. This sounds ludicrous, but Tyler is right that our marketing methods are too similar. Second, people who sell products must be honest about what an item can actually deliver. There are marketing similarities between “selling” the gospel and selling products, but if the methods overlap too much, both the gospel and products will suffer a distortion of truth.

And when that happens, nobody will get what they want.

For more, read Tyler’s article, a critique of it, and an interview I hosted here with religious marketing critic, Mara Einstein.



For those who read my pre-Christmas rant about faux gifts, here's a somewhat insignificant and rather loosely connected follow-up. (You may be impressed by my Photo Studio skills, but don't get your hopes up if you're looking for something profound or even advertising-related.)

In that post, I unfairly accused the "Kingdom of the Sea" film creator, David Mulhern, of stealing his ideas from the "Finding Nemo" film creator, Andrew Stanton. A reader called me on it and I retracted my unsubstantiated claim. Still, I wanted to side with Stanton.

Then last week, I finally watched Stanton's latest movie, "WALL-E." Guess what: He stole it. Yep, right out of the Bible. Noah's Ark.

=> People become self-centered and ruin life on earth;
=> People live on floating vessel for extended time while earth is cleansed;
=> Small creature is sent to search earth for signs of life;
=> Small creature finds plant and returns to floating vessel where captain decides it's time to return to earth, but only after humans learn that self-centeredness is wrong way to live.

If this weren't enough proof, Stanton is, by his own account, a Christian and claims that his story is about love...just like in the Bible!

OK, so I'm pretty sure allegories don't count as plagiarism, which means Stanton is off the hook.

Stay tuned for something less tangential, and perhaps more serious, next time.


Soaked to the skin

I found a book of poems in my dentist's lobby this morning. Thimbles of Thought was the name of it, by Lois A. Burr. Here's one that caught my attention:

"First Job"

soaked to the skin,
our paperboy protects
his precious parcels, neglecting

I liked this poem because it connects with what's true about a New Breed of Advertisers:

1. Work energizes them. There's a certain pride involved with a first job that often fades in subsequent jobs. We need that "first job" feeling to excite and energize us and to remember the thrill of being called.

2. Their work produces value. The newspaper isn't a trivial widget to the boy because he knows that it benefits his customers. He may not benefit from it like they do, but that doesn't stop the newspaper from being a meaning-filled, even "precious" item. So he protects it.

3. Work is their act of service. It's no fun to be soaked unless it was intended. So this job, on this day, cost the boy. At the heart of work - done in a Christ-like manner - is service and sacrifice for the sake of others.

Here's to a "First Job" kind of year for all of you!

Picture: WALL-E protecting Eve.


Rollover Minutes

Objectification: "the act of representing an abstraction as a physical thing."

When referring to women in commercials and advertisements and banner ads, objectification is a bad word. Not so with Rollover Minutes. I love this series of AT&T commercials, including the latest one I caught over Christmas break. Even though I'm a Verizon customer, I not only understand Rollover Minutes (OK, so I didn't need to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to grasp the concept) but I also want them.



  © Free Blogger Templates Blogger Theme II by 2008

Back to TOP