(This post follows on from Depicting Jesus.)
The new Jesus: All About Life campaign has just kicked off in NSW. The prime time media begins next week. The campaign has already been through a few Australian cities; the pilot run was in Adelaide a few years ago. This time, there have been some changes: the NSW campaign is billed as being hooked into new media, and “Jesus: all about life” has been replaced with the tagline of “Jesus has answers” in the TV ads.
How come the more you spend… the more you want?
Jesus has answers.
You could say that JAAL has set the standard for evangelistic marketing in Australia. The campaign is an unconventional one. It’s not a public profile for Jesus; it’s not exactly trying to advertise or sell Jesus; it’s not an attempt to present the gospel. As the JAAL site explains, the point of the campaign is to raise interest about Jesus and then connect enquirers to the local church. This emphasis on the local church is certainly excellent. Who better to actually transmit the gospel than the gospel community itself?
However, the campaign’s chosen approach raises some questions, as marketing lecturer Paul Harrison does. For a start, what is the precedent for a campaign that lacks obvious conventional elements like a product and a consumer? There are good reasons that conventional marketing has taken the shape it has.
Of course, there is something supposedly consumer-driven about JAAL. The campaign is attempting to tap into a questioning of life, a felt need for answers. But how does this work? How many Australians actively engage in this rather acute self-reflection on any given month? How many Australians will act on it? If Australians don’t already act on their questions about life, why would a media campaign prompt them to, and to do so in connection with a religious community? This seems like a lot of boxes to tick, a lot of complexity.
On a personal level, my problem with JAAL-Adelaide was that it failed to resonate personally with me as a Jesus-follower. I couldn’t point to JAAL media and say, “That’s me, that’s my label, that’s what I believe”. I was less concerned about whether the campaign was connecting with regular Adelaideans; I was hoping for something I could own to and proudly wear on a t-shirt. Gen Yers need brand loyalty too!
The ultimate brand
I look forward to hearing about the JAAL campaign in NSW, but it was JAAL-Adelaide that started me dreaming and scheming. What might an alternative model of Christian marketing look like?
I reckon we could do two things: drop the consumer push, and develop a product. Firstly, we take to heart what Paul Harrison notes above: that advertising truly hits the mark for current users. We start with brand loyalty amongst Christians, who are the ones actually doing the advertising. Secondly, we make Jesus our product. This is not so much to commodify Jesus as to recognise that advertising involves extreme distillation: something complex is intensely purified into sheer image and slogan.
What might this look like? It’s a little bit Apple, a little bit Jesus is my homeboy. It’s a grassroots loyalty, a word of mouth sort of thing. It’s largely why I took the public profiling angle with my first experiment in this, marketing for ES. My concern was not to make a sale to “consumers” but to provide Christians with an authentic package of their faith that they could personally own and utilise. It strikes me that Christian advertising is about mobilising Christians rather than attracting seekers. (Of course, advertising can play an important role in provoking public consciousness.) If that’s the kind of line we’re going down, the only question is, how do we promote the Christian’s ultimate brand? Here are some other ideas from the last few years…
And there are those two words that Adelaideans know so well from the sides of buses:
What would Jesus and the gospel actually look like in advertising? Well, what would you like to see as a Christian? The Jesus I’ve recently found myself speaking of in conversations is not “all about life” but the ultimate hero in God’s story who destroys evil, or the Jesus who makes impossibly radical demands of his followers (“I did not come to bring peace but a sword”; “You must be born again”; “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”). Who is your Jesus? What are your next ten words about Jesus? Who do you say he is? That’s where it all starts.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.