Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Ad

Last Sunday several of our members asked me the same question, "What did you think of the ad?" They meant the ad for the Episcopal church printed in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. If you haven't seen it, it says that serving others is another way of praying and that you can come and help slice carrots at an Episcopal Church. This ad among a few others had already generated some comments on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv, so I was already curious to see some samples. What do I think of the ad?

First, I would want to commend whoever was responsible, I don't think it was the Diocese of Ft. Worth, for placing the ad. One continuing problem for TEC is that we have almost no "public profile" at all. Public Profile is what non-Episcopalians especially unchurched people think of us. In numerous survey's when asked about TEC, the most frequent response is nothing. Hard as it is for Episcopalians with our precious preoccupation with ourselves to believe, we don't read on most people's radar screen. They don't really know what our churches are like. On the negative side, many do know that, as one fellow traveler said to me, "you folks are going through some sort of controversy aren't you?" We must acknowledge that controversy would not be a high value for those seeking a spiritual home. So at least SOME ad is better than nothing.

On the other hand, that is the problem. The ad said absolutely nothing about us. If we changed the name Episcopal Church and put in Red Cross, the ad would stand exactly as it is. When I worked for the Diocese of Texas, we got some excellent advise (we paid for it) from one of the top advertizing companies in Houston. They taught us a lot about the purpose of advertising before they helped us develop ads. Here is what I learned.

1. An ad is an opportunity for you to tell people clearly about your "product" or as we would say our ministry and mission. It would hold up a particular value or dynamic of our life that would attempt to speak to others. A very good example of this was an ad put together for TEC before General Convention 2003. It showed a chalice and bread on an altar and the camera panned back to show a women priest celebrating. The voice over than added, "in the Episcopal Church, we believe a woman's place is at the altar." It went on to say further that we welcomed women in all levels of leadership as a church. Like it or not, it was true and it said something about us while it also communicated our sacramental nature.

2. An ad also needs to have a clear target audience. Per the above example, the market was all those Christians who believed that women should be treated equally to men, which is about 99% of everyone 50 years of age or younger! A poor example from the above ad campaign was, IMHO, an ad that opened with Bach music and two very gothic doors being slowly opened. Behind the doors was a lecture containing one of those large lecture Bibles. The voice said, "Would you come to church if we promised not to throw the book at you?" This ad was poorly thought through as to its target audience. It is aimed, not at unchurched people, but at de-churched people, namely people fleeing or hurt by a church that applies the Bible harsh way. To see the problem with the ad, think about its effect upon unchurched people. If they were planning on attending a Mosque, what would you think if the Mosque advertised that they had the Koran but didn't take it too seriously! (Needless to say, the members of the Executive Council of TEC loved this one.) We know from studies of unchurched people that they expect Christian churches to have a Bible, read from it and apply it to life. (I hope to write about the effects of having so many de-churched people in our community at a later point.)

3. We learned that an ad did not create a need. Put another way, no one got up from watching the U.S. Open and went out an bought a Bridgestone DT golf ball. All the ad wants to do is create a link between the need and the brand. If I need some golf balls, I stop and think, "I'll try those new DT's. I've heard they travel further." This is the very important part of advertising, namely to connect need to a brand.

Now, if I apply these three criteria to the ad in question, what do I get. A. No clear product. B. No clear audience. C. No clear link between a need and the brand. So, I think it was "a nice try, but no cigar." I would close, however, by asking you what kind of ad should your Church place? Can you communicate your unique message? Do you know your prime target audience? And, can you create a link between the audiences need and your ministry and life?

Here is one of my favorites from the Diocese of Texas campaign. You see a picture of the moon. Along side it is a quotation in bold print, "One small step for man, one giant step for mankind." Below it was the name Neil Armstrong followed by the word "explorer." Below that a smaller print tag line, "Neil Armstrong found a spiritual home in the Episcopal Church, you could too." It had a product, and audience, and a link; spiritual home for adventurous (with the people we used, there were a lot of other words that worked here too) people! Of course, this may not be your congregation's message at all, which is why you will want your own congregation to advertize so that you can create your own "Public Profile."