Category Archives: religion

Where would mosques fit on this map?


Give Adweek credit. While American media commentators have been screaming since Fox News ran scary headlines about a mosque planned on Manhattan’s “hallowed ground,” Adweek posed a simple question: How could ad agencies convince the U.S. public that not all the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims are terrorists? Adweek created a brief to “change the perceptions of ordinary Americans toward Islam and Muslims, and encourage dialog between those who oppose and support the building of the community center.”

The submissions are all persuasive, with New York-based agency Gotham striking the most provocative tone. We all live at Ground Zero, Gotham suggests. So, where would you allow a mosque? Love it or hate it, Gotham brings the argument to its most logical conclusion: if our country embraces xenophobia, there is no room for those who are different anywhere.

Why marketers avoid religion (a cautionary tale)


A debate on Twitter tonight made us realize that most commercialism skips right over religion — because people may disagree with the message. And that points out a danger in any brand communication.

First, consider the irony: Marketers want to reach the masses. The masses believe in religion. Yet religion is taboo. The longest story ever told is one about God, and most people believe in him (or her). One study shows that only 2.5% of the world’s population count themselves as atheists and 12.7% as “non-religious,” leaving the remaining 6 out of 7 humans to follow a higher power. But advertising messages usually avoid even hints of spirituality.

What gives? You see occasional campaigns like the one above, for the Collegiate Churches of New York, pushing a specific religion. But the varied nuances of belief mean honing in on one message could offend everyone else. Religion is avoided for the same reason marketers don’t talk about politics or taxes. Pick one side and you just can’t win.

The lesson here, of course, is any marketing message is polarizing, and advertising of any sort may be pushing away as many people as it attracts. That’s right — and no one measures this! Marketers miss this because they only focus on responses, not the unknown masses who don’t call in or visit a web site … and who may be deeply alienated by your message. It’s a good thought grenade to put on your ideation table as you play with brand communications: what could backfire among all those who fail to believe? Are they just ignoring us? Or are they rushing to the other side?

Rebranding God


When GodTube.com launched in August 2007 it grabbed 1.7 million unique visitors in three weeks, becoming the fastest-growing site in the U.S. But even though 82.2% of Americans believe there is a heaven, the God-specific branding may have been too niche. The site rebranded Feb. 2 as Tangle.com, a “family-friendly Christian” site with a shift in focus from simply sharing videos to broader social-media connections. To date Alexa and Quantcast show the renaming has not moved traffic volume.

Will the Tangle name broaden the customer base? Or will leaving God behind alienate users? Ah, the perils of picking a brand in a world where diversity rules.

Via Patrick Evans.

Your ‘Religulous’ path to motivation

“Religulous” is a film bound to offend almost everyone, in which Bill Maher pokes intellectual holes in human belief. If there is a God, Maher asks, and He or She speaks to us, then why do so many people interpret the message so differently? For that matter, why doesn’t God just step in and end bad things for everyone?

Seed Magazine notes this month that skeptism about religion is relatively new; about 70 years ago Sigmund Freud called religion a compulsive neurosis that we can outgrow, and it’s been downhill ever since. But scientists note that the tendency to believe — in God, or hope, or optimism — appears to be an innate human trait, perhaps one meant to help people survive. After all, if one is quick to despair when times are tough and thus leap off the nearest cliff, you have scant chance to pass your genes on to millions of ancestors. Darwinian selection ensures that those living today were the ones with the most optimistic great-grandparents.

The will to hope is important for communicators because hope is a motivating force. If 1,000 people believe strongly and give a cause 100% of their effort, the cause is more likely to succeed than the 1,000 people down the street reluctantly showing up for work. We saw a bit of this in the recent election, where grown men and women of independent or even conservative ilk somehow found motivation to canvass door to door for Barack Obama.

Religious truth is a tough question: Either it is or it isn’t, yet most of us believe with a touch of doubt somewhere in the middle. But hope, optimism and belief are perhaps the strongest responses in the human mind, because our evolutionary survival depended on it. Studies have shown that the most successful CEOs and leaders are those who instill optimism among their troops. Makes sense; human resources are most valuable when they work hard, and belief builds momentum. Next time you communicate, give hope a chance.

Dear God: A peek inside the readers’ souls


There’s a scene in Bruce Almighty where Jim Carrey, empowered like God and thus buried in prayers, tries to forward them all through email and immediately jams up his Inbox. That reminds us of Twitter, where we really want to listen, but how many mental feeds can we really take?

Now Dear God offers a solution — a blog where readers the world over can email a prayer in to God, have it posted for all to see, and receive comments from those who wish to help (or not). It provides the emotional appeal of Twitter without the logical overload.

Dear God, my best friend killed himself on January 15th 2008 … everything I know about my faith says he’s burning in hell right now. You wouldn’t do that to such a good guy who happened to mess up one time, would you?

— Brandon, Indiana/USA

At first this seems a bit distasteful, a Christvertising-type attempt to grab buzz at the expense of religious sincerity — but as Herd notes, once you view the site you are moved. 

Dear God … I am so obsessed about being skinny but I can’t stop eating. Please help me to stop one day at a time. P.S. I just want to be skinny like the Olsen twins.

— Mandy Rogers, London
After thousands of years of people believing, now social media has let God in. Wonder what happens when He responds. 

Site by Cool Hunter; backstory here.

Christvertising: Ad bloggers debate branding with God

Heaven help us. The agency site Christvertising has been making waves online as advertising experts debate — is this a spoof? Can one really enlist a network of 1 million+ believers to pray for a product? The web site’s videos are so straight, and the message so clear, we wonder if there is a market for God-aided marketing.

We’re a bit speechless, so here’s what others are saying:

Somebody please restore my faith in humanity and reassure me that Christvertising is satire. — PZ Myers, Pharyngula

I don’t know if this is a joke. Which in itself is a problem, showing the Church has been wallowing in secular marketing over the past 25 years or so. — Kevin Powell

When I see these displays of mixed ingeniousness and bad faith that Americans produce, I (something untranslatable). While I think we Italians can do unmentionable things, we will never be able to stoop to this level.Ted Disbanded, translated from Italian

Leave it to Americans to do anything — even Christvertising, which could be damned serious. Whatever it is, fake, viral campaign, or an actual religious agency, the presentation is perfect and the speeches of the sneaker-clad fake preacher are so incredible that I find myself believing the latter. — Patrick Breitenbach, Werbeblogger, translated from German

As robust business models go, advertising and branding is full of smoke and mirrors, but you’ve got to admire anyone who openly says: “We skip the strategic deliverables. We pass on the matrices, the payoffs and the metrics. We ignore any viral functionality. We focus on the ultimate end-user: God.” — Tony Quinlan, Partum Intelligendo

All I want to know is whether the proprietary Brand Targeted Prayer Approach™ system is, in fact, tax deductible. — Bill Green, Make the logo bigger.

I’m pretty sure our PR team doesn’t even have His contact info. — Thea at Mortarblog

Manga and digital media: Where David’s swinging at Goliath


NYT’s resident chef Mark Bittman took a break from everything electronic this weekend. Seems Mr. Bittman, like us, has Internet Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and promotes a secular Sabbath — one day a week sans cell phone or modem.

We pondered what we’d do with a day truly offline, and thought — what about manga? This Japanese form of cartoons is deep, mysterious, dramatic, and covers everything from commerce and science to fantasy and horror. Over in Japan, cartoons aren’t just for kids anymore — they’re a $4.4 billion major player in publishing, and businessmen and women read them out in public with no chagrin. If you are going to put down the web for a day, hypergraphic sexual dramatic information overload in cartoon format is probably the closest substitute.

And then, researching manga, we found inspiration: The Manga Bible by British artist Ajin-bayo Akinsiku. The book boils the vast canonical writings of Judaism and Christianity down into 200 colorful pages, showcasing Moses and Jesus as dark, moody superheroes — think storyboards for the film 300, and you get the idea. While the book targeted youths 15-25, it has already sold 30,000 copies in the UK and been embraced by the Church of England.

There’s a historical parallel between the birth of manga in Japan and today’s raucous internet content. Manga started just after the U.S. dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and Japanese artists such as Osamu Tezuka played with darker themes and illustrations that mimicked the cinema — zooms, close-ups, incredible details of action now seen in films such as The Lord of the Rings and Beowulf. Just as manga broke out of comic frames, when a nation was going through a revolution, today digital communication is leaving mainstream media via blogs and Tweets and videos uploaded by teenage skateboarders. The stiff formality of journalism’s inverted pyramids, nutgraphs, libel laws and leads is morphing into a stronger, grittier realism. The creation process is no longer controlled or edited — now any individual can post to the world. Sure, results can be messy, but the speed with which raw information or inspiration spreads is amazing.


Perhaps communication, at its best, is drama poured from the soul without gatekeeping or heavy edits. We’re certain that the scribes who put down the scripture for Islam, Judaism or Christianity focused more on inspiration than self-censure, without a backspace key. There’s something liberating about looking at the root of an idea.

All we know is that if Peter Jackson had written the Bible, it would have looked like this.

(For intelligent commentary on what happens when religion crosses paths with communication, visit the blog of David Dent.)

Want your viral marketing to succeed? Try prayer.


Seth Godin has said that the difference between word of mouth and viral marketing is that words passed from friend to friend diminish, while viral communications go exponential. This is why if you tell two friends about a great restaurant, they may only tell one friend, and the message ends up dying … but if you bought your kid a Razor Scooter in 2000, soon everyone in the world had one.

Of course, marketers all want to become the next big viral thing so they can generate demand without spending big on advertising. Which poses the question … is there a happy medium? Can we create messages that become self-sustaining, that don’t die out, but continue to slowly grow? Is it possible to achieve marketing perpetual motion?

The answer may lie in religion. Of all the messages from human communication, spirituality is the most sustaining. Put aside your personal beliefs (or disbeliefs) for a second and consider the facts. Of the 6.75 billion people in the world, 87.3% of them consider themselves religious. Christianity, Islam and Hinduism are the three largest, encompassing just over 4 billion people. These messages have been around for centuries, without a lot of marketing, and get passed along primarily by word of mouth. Why? Because the content of the message is very powerful (if you believe, it could save your life), and so this strong idea overcomes the innate friction in word of mouth dynamics.

The religions with the heaviest marketing or public relations tend to grow fastest. Islam membership is increasing in the world today, perhaps due to the PR focus brought to it in the Middle East by the controversial Western presence there. In the U.S., the fastest growing religion is Mormonism, which does heavy marketing including a “sales force” of young missionaries knocking door to door.


What makes religion so growable? Break down its components and you see:

– a clear value proposition (we’ll save you)
– a community of membership (join others)
– some exclusivity (you’re a member but others are not)
– frequent touch points to reinforce the message (church every week)
– reinforcement of the message (small pieces of a broader message are given a bit at a time)
– connection to the consumer’s own life (for example, in Christianity, the Sundays often go through an annual calendar cycle tied closely to the seasons, with Christmas, Easter, etc.)
– co-opting of the local culture (Christianity did this with many holidays, including the December date of Christmas, vs. the consensus of many scholars that Christ would have been born in the spring while the “shepherds were out tending their flocks”)
– switching costs (if you leave, the community will disapprove of you)
– some skin in the game (you often have to give up something, such as tithing or time, to participate)
– a migration of the message from an initial early-adopter radicalism to a more mainstream conservatism (for evidence of a religion’s transition, just look at the altar in front of your church, and ask yourself — what kind of sacrifice was that flat platform originally for?)
– and, perhaps most important, a focus on the consumer’s lifecycle (by engaging them early in their lives and moving them up into loyalty status, through a series of escalating responsibilities).

If you boil it all down, religion offers a powerful message, a powerful benefit, a close-knit club, switching costs, and ties to your broader lifestyle. It has one basic objective: To create a community of loyalists, who work to attract other loyalists. The closest analogy we see in marketing today are the new social networks such as MySpace, Facebook, Windows Live Spaces, Flickr and Orkut, where small close-knit communities mirror the consumer’s own personal world.

We’re not saying any religion is right or wrong. We just suggest that, as a communications vehicle, religion is the most brilliant case study for marketers trying to make their message stick. It has to be, because evolutionarily only the strongest messages can survive for centuries in a world of consumer choice.

Now on the web: God 2.0


ComScore reports that faith-based video site GodTube launched Aug. 8 and in three short weeks racked up 1.7 million unique visitors, making it the fastest-growing web site in the U.S. Makes sense. Gallup polls in 2005 found that 70.6% of Americans believe in hell, 80.5% believe in angels, and 82.2% believe there is a heaven. (Interesting that we believe more, when we like what might happen if we believe…)

A glance at GodTube shows the passion people bring to sharing their religious views. Skateboarders give testimony; actor Stephen Baldwin speaks out. Some say they’re proud to be Christian and believe in modern science, while others offer a $250,000 prize for “anybody with any evidence of evolution.” The site — which now only takes limited advertising from like-minded organizations — is a case study in the complexity of American Christianity.

Marketers could use the site for free focus groups, to explore which religious debates rise to the top in the video rankings (although some posters try to game the system, as on YouTube, by adding hot tags like “Egypt, Alien, UFO” that apparently resonate with young Christian viewers!). Marketers might also pause and consider the extent of religion in the heartland — there are thousands of similar religious sites on Jewish and Muslim topics — and temper their worldly creative a notch if the media plan dips toward a spiritual audience. After all, someone out there is listening.