Christians ultimately attend church to meet with God. But sometimes we turn our churches into distractions, and spiritual leaders mistakenly prioritize things beyond God, becoming obsessed with marketing, consumerism, and entertainment — creating false idols.
The diluting of church happens in both subtle and obvious ways:
Scripture is substituted for a stirring YouTube video.
Worship is tweaked to incorporate flashing lights, fog machines, and synchronized graphics.
Visitors are given nicer gift baskets.
Contests are held. Websites are updated. Social media is expanded. Apps are developed. Promotional clothing is given away — a brand is created.
Every time I go to restock my face cream at the cosmetics vendor, inevitably the sales ladies point out the fact my skin is particularly dry. Oh wait, not just dry, they say, they are also seeing signs of crow’s feet and — gasp! — some dark circles under my eyes. They masquerade as skincare health professionals with fancy dermatology equipment to properly diagnose the ills of my skin. All this, of course, so they can sell me the magic anti-wrinkle cream. And do I buy it? I do. (Dang it, you weak-willed creature.)
I recently read a book titled, Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs, who pinpoints this trend over the last hundred years of advertising coined “inadequacy marketing.” He summarizes this form of storytelling as follows:
“Inadequacy stories encourage immature emotions like greed, vanity, and insecurity by telling us that we are somehow incomplete. These stories then offer to remove the discomfort of those emotions with a simple purchase or association with a brand.”
The first step in adequacy marketing is to create anxiety.
And so it begins: “The Reason for the Season.”The bumper stickers and fridge magnets are flooding my mail box and being slapped into my hands kindly by ushers. Church signs from all denominations proclaim: “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!”The phrase has become ubiquitous.
But for me, it’s like nails-on-chalkboard. Indeed, he is the reason. Though we should probably draw our camera back for the wider view on the reason: God’s love (for he so loved the world … well, you know the rest). It is not the accuracy of the slogan that makes me cringe (because it is accurate), but rather, because it’s fluff. It is the religious equivalent to sappy pop music.
“Let’s keep Christ in Christmas!”
“Jesus: the gift that keeps on giving!”
Given the magnitude of Christ’s birth, are these slogans the best we can do?
Centuries ago, Roman Catholics helped kick-start the market for religious articles with their insatiable demand for rosaries, icons, prayer cards, and all manner of devotional objects and spiritual souvenirs.
But in recent decades, evangelical Protestants have dominated the art of religious retailing, building a national network of bookstores and stamping the Christian message on almost any item that an American consumer might want, from perfume to golf balls to flip-flops.
Now, Catholic entrepreneurs are looking to catch up, and at the 17th annual Catholic Marketing Network trade show last week (Aug. 6-9) there was a sense that the Catholic sector has a new opportunity to expand — if businesses can update their approach and broaden their inventory beyond the usual catalog of sacred objects.
“If you are a Catholic gift and bookstore and you are not willing to reinvent yourself, you are going to be out of business,” said Alan Napleton, president of the network, which organizes the convention.
I hate Abercrombie & Fitch.
It all started a few years ago. A member of my youth group worked at one of their stores in a Chicago suburb. I was minorly troubled that she was employed at the store. But what really flamed my loathing for Abercrombie was when they asked her to model their clothes for their catalogue. She told me about their offer and I responded in the only way an over-protective youth pastor could:
“NO! Absolutely not! No way in Hell are you doing that!!!”
I don’t think that Abercrombie is evil per se. I only hate them because they stand for everything that I’m against!
Over the weekend, BusinessInsider.com published an article titled “Abercrombie & Fitch Refuses to Make Clothes for Large Women.” The article included a comment made by Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries in 2006. He described his business strategy by stating:
In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny.
The television flashes images of a skeletal little girl whose ribs seem to be popping out of her ballooning stomach as she sits in a pile of mud and stares at the camera with large pleading eyes. A “1-800” number flashes on the bottom of the screen. A celebrity does a Public Service Announcement for building wells in Africa. YouTube has sharp pre-packaged videos pulling at our heartstrings, and even months after being released, the KONY 2012 viral video continues to float around the internet.
For Westernized cultures saturated with various forms of media and technologically driven information, social justice is becoming increasingly "packaged," carefully marketed, and commercially manufactured to be a product that incorporates the mission it represents.
Whether social justice organizations should be doing this is debatable. Like everyone else, they’re trying to survive in a capitalistic system that ruthlessly competes for our every dollar. The only problem is that we aren’t the ultimate consumers. For social justice non-profit groups, the sick, poor, starving, abused, and desolate are the true consumers; we’re just the financial and volunteer base needed to keep the system working. To do this, organizations are discovering that a corporate business model is sometimes the only way to survive — and sometimes thrive — within the cutthroat world of advertising and solicitation.
There is a dangerous marketing strategy when it comes to food and our children. No, it’s not “sugar” or “fat” or even promotions of “low sugar” or “low fat."
Most of the food-marketing ploys aimed at kids are contributing to the soaring rate of obesity.
Here’s why, and here’s why it is so personal to me.
I’ve told my story many times of how I struggled with being overweight as a child and teen. The problem wasn’t “baby fa," it was the freedom I had to eat O’Henry bars and ice cream on a daily basis at my grandparents' house. How fun!! Weekly visits to Bullwinkles (does anyone else remember that place?) and McDonald’s made eating exciting!
Back in the 1970’s and '80’s, marketing food to children as entertainment was only making its debut. Now, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that’s derailing healthy lifestyle patterns for our kids right before our eyes. And we’re OK with that?
After returning to the U.S., they produced a film titled Invisible Children and then set up a non-profit organization by the same name as the vehicle through which they could use the film to raise awareness of the child soldiers.
I believe that the centrality of film and social media to Invisible Children’s organizing strategy places it at the forefront of new innovative forms of global activism that have to capacity to create a degree of intimacy between people living on opposite sides of the globe that could not have been possible in the past. Social media as an organizing tool also opens up the possibility of creating extensive webs of interactions between activists across the globe. It allows story-telling to be a global enterprise.
The use of social media also has the power to unleash much greater local initiative and innovation by enabling direct communication between activists in different geographic locations across the global, without information first needing to flow up through traditional hierarchical organizational structures to a national staff that perhaps sends it back down again to activists in other local areas.
NEW YORK — Did leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention hurt their missionary cause by opting not to change the denomination's name to something a bit more, well, marketable?
Maybe, but as the advertising executives of Madison Avenue here could attest, as tempting as it is to try to solve a missionary slump with a marketing campaign, religious groups — like commercial businesses — should think twice before undergoing a brand overhaul.
After months of deliberations, an SBC task force on Feb. 20 recommended against trying to re-brand the denomination, an idea that has been bandied about for more than a century.
Proponents of a change made a good case: for a denomination that was born in 1845 out of a defense of slavery, the name has since saddled Southern Baptists with a problematic name and historical baggage.