US churches may trigger advertising war - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
July 12, 2004

US churches may trigger advertising war

-12/7/04

Half a dozen major Protestant denominations in the US are either in the middle of, or are about to launch, national ad campaigns potentially costing 0 million, which could trigger an ecclesiastical advertising war.

According to the Washington Post the United Church of Christ plans to spend million to promote itself using the line "God is still speaking" to reflect its willingness to reinterpret the Bible and embrace ethical positions such as same-sex partnerships - a message that may lead to a robust response from Conservative churches.

The apparently unprecedented boom in religious advertising is being led by mainline denominations such as the UCC, Methodists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians.

"In the '70s or '80s or even the '90s, TV would have seemed too commercial. There would have been a big debate about whether a mainline church should be on TV," said Ron Buford, a Cleveland marketing executive who worked for AT&T and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western Pennsylvania before he was hired in July 2000 as the UCC's in-house advertising expert. "Now everybody's doing it."

The Episcopal Church has faced an insurrection by conservative parishes since its ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire last year. But marketers see an opportunity.

"Among 20- to 30-year-olds, everybody's heard of the gay bishop. And in focus groups, the words that keep coming up are that we are a 'progressive,' 'open' and 'nonjudgmental' church," said Daniel B. England, the church's director of communication.

The Episcopalians will launch their first national TV ad campaign on Election Day with a 15-second spot that pivots off the presidential campaign to appeal for new members.

"We think this could be a very divisive election," England said. "We're saying to people, 'If you're fed up with all the divisions, you might want to take a look at us, because we're in the business of inclusion, not division.' "

At its annual convention early this month in Richmond, the Presbyterian Church (USA) unveiled a 2005-06 ad campaign. Aimed at people ages 25 to 49, it will show the church helping young adults through times of crisis and transition; one ad is an extended close-up of a woman grunting through childbirth.

A smaller Presbyterian ad campaign that began in 1997, called "Stop In and Find Out," was aimed at spiritual drifters looking for a religious home.

The UCC's ads are especially edgy. One shows a pair of bouncers manning a rope line outside a church, admitting a white heterosexual couple but barring gays and racial minorities. "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we," the ad says.

In the process of developing the UCC ads, a large New York advertising agency, Gotham Inc., conducted focus groups in three cities and test marketing in six. Gotham also devised what it considers a "brand personality" emphasizing that the UCC -- formed by a 1957 merger of the Congregational and Christian churches with the Evangelical and Reformed Church -- is a "cutting edge" denomination that was the first to ordain a woman, in 1853, and an openly gay man, in 1972.

An advertising war however may well result. The 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, which opposes gay marriage and has urged wives to "submit" to their husbands, is laying plans for an ad blitz starting in late 2005. Baptist leaders said it probably would be much larger than any of the campaigns they have run every five years since 1985.

Although the Southern Baptist Convention has not decided on the content for its ads, "we will stand on what we understand the Scripture to teach," said Martin King, spokesman for the Baptists' North American Mission Board. "We're proud of the fact that we're not going to shy away or try to make it an easy message."

From the 1970s until the late 1990s, religious ads on television consisted mainly of public service announcements produced by the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). Because they were aired for free, such announcements tended to be generic messages to love your neighbour and keep tabs on your children, though they also subtly polished the sponsor's image.

Under the tutelage of professional marketers such as the UCC's Buford, churches are turning to paid advertising to deliver more overtly self-interested messages: to give a denomination a distinct brand, to drive up attendance and contributions, and to raise the pride of current members. Attracting new members may appear to be the main goal. Often it is not.

"The main thing ads do is make your own members feel good -- and that ain't a bad thing," said the Rev. Eric C. Shafer, director of communications for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which began a million campaign in 1999.

Said David Strand, director of public affairs for the more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: "It's like Buick ads trying to make sure Buick owners stay loyal to the brand. That sounds kind of crass, but that's how it works."

Several trends have combined to produce the advertising boom. One is the membership decline in mainline denominations, which they are anxious to halt. The UCC has lost 150,000 members in the past decade. The Episcopal Church has lost nearly 200,000. And the Presbyterian Church (USA) has fallen from 4.2 million members in 1983 to 2.4 million.

US churches may trigger advertising war

-12/7/04

Half a dozen major Protestant denominations in the US are either in the middle of, or are about to launch, national ad campaigns potentially costing 0 million, which could trigger an ecclesiastical advertising war.

According to the Washington Post the United Church of Christ plans to spend million to promote itself using the line "God is still speaking" to reflect its willingness to reinterpret the Bible and embrace ethical positions such as same-sex partnerships - a message that may lead to a robust response from Conservative churches.

The apparently unprecedented boom in religious advertising is being led by mainline denominations such as the UCC, Methodists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians.

"In the '70s or '80s or even the '90s, TV would have seemed too commercial. There would have been a big debate about whether a mainline church should be on TV," said Ron Buford, a Cleveland marketing executive who worked for AT&T and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western Pennsylvania before he was hired in July 2000 as the UCC's in-house advertising expert. "Now everybody's doing it."

The Episcopal Church has faced an insurrection by conservative parishes since its ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire last year. But marketers see an opportunity.

"Among 20- to 30-year-olds, everybody's heard of the gay bishop. And in focus groups, the words that keep coming up are that we are a 'progressive,' 'open' and 'nonjudgmental' church," said Daniel B. England, the church's director of communication.

The Episcopalians will launch their first national TV ad campaign on Election Day with a 15-second spot that pivots off the presidential campaign to appeal for new members.

"We think this could be a very divisive election," England said. "We're saying to people, 'If you're fed up with all the divisions, you might want to take a look at us, because we're in the business of inclusion, not division.' "

At its annual convention early this month in Richmond, the Presbyterian Church (USA) unveiled a 2005-06 ad campaign. Aimed at people ages 25 to 49, it will show the church helping young adults through times of crisis and transition; one ad is an extended close-up of a woman grunting through childbirth.

A smaller Presbyterian ad campaign that began in 1997, called "Stop In and Find Out," was aimed at spiritual drifters looking for a religious home.

The UCC's ads are especially edgy. One shows a pair of bouncers manning a rope line outside a church, admitting a white heterosexual couple but barring gays and racial minorities. "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we," the ad says.

In the process of developing the UCC ads, a large New York advertising agency, Gotham Inc., conducted focus groups in three cities and test marketing in six. Gotham also devised what it considers a "brand personality" emphasizing that the UCC -- formed by a 1957 merger of the Congregational and Christian churches with the Evangelical and Reformed Church -- is a "cutting edge" denomination that was the first to ordain a woman, in 1853, and an openly gay man, in 1972.

An advertising war however may well result. The 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, which opposes gay marriage and has urged wives to "submit" to their husbands, is laying plans for an ad blitz starting in late 2005. Baptist leaders said it probably would be much larger than any of the campaigns they have run every five years since 1985.

Although the Southern Baptist Convention has not decided on the content for its ads, "we will stand on what we understand the Scripture to teach," said Martin King, spokesman for the Baptists' North American Mission Board. "We're proud of the fact that we're not going to shy away or try to make it an easy message."

From the 1970s until the late 1990s, religious ads on television consisted mainly of public service announcements produced by the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). Because they were aired for free, such announcements tended to be generic messages to love your neighbour and keep tabs on your children, though they also subtly polished the sponsor's image.

Under the tutelage of professional marketers such as the UCC's Buford, churches are turning to paid advertising to deliver more overtly self-interested messages: to give a denomination a distinct brand, to drive up attendance and contributions, and to raise the pride of current members. Attracting new members may appear to be the main goal. Often it is not.

"The main thing ads do is make your own members feel good -- and that ain't a bad thing," said the Rev. Eric C. Shafer, director of communications for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which began a million campaign in 1999.

Said David Strand, director of public affairs for the more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: "It's like Buick ads trying to make sure Buick owners stay loyal to the brand. That sounds kind of crass, but that's how it works."

Several trends have combined to produce the advertising boom. One is the membership decline in mainline denominations, which they are anxious to halt. The UCC has lost 150,000 members in the past decade. The Episcopal Church has lost nearly 200,000. And the Presbyterian Church (USA) has fallen from 4.2 million members in 1983 to 2.4 million.

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