Chris Moerdyk

Advertising rule #1: Jesus saves not sells

2012-03-19 07:28

Chris Moerdyk

I have been watching with a mixture of amusement and frustration, public and advertising industry reaction to the Red Bull "Jesus Ad " saga.

It's always the same thing - those who have little interest in religion tell Christians to get a life and not take things so seriously. Christians respond with a lot of huffing and puffing.

In the end, the ad is almost always withdrawn amid patronising apologies. (If you haven’t been following the story you can get it all with this link.)

At the same time, behind the scenes, the ad agency concerned is busy assuring its client that the advertising has done the trick by generating a huge amount of free publicity.

But, what is the real marketing value of these tactics?

In a word - none.

Let's start with the fact that in South Africa every year R5bn is wasted on bad marketing decisions or knee-jerk big ideas. A bit like developing a really great engine and then not bothering to put it in a car.

Add to that, research which shows that 20% of all advertising not only doesn’t work but actually damages the brand it is supposed to be promoting.

All of which tells us that there is a heck of a lot going on in the marketing and advertising world that is based on untested, unproven, unresearched ideas.

But, getting back to using religion in advertising. First of all  Red Bull clearly decided to use a Christian symbol rather than say Jewish or Muslim because they, like everyone else on the planet, knows that if you use Muslim or Jewish symbols out of religious contest you are going to have the Jewish Board of Deputies and all manner of Muslim councils hammering you mercilessly. And in my opinion, quite rightly so. The marketing and ad industries don't seem to admonish stupidity in their ranks so it's always good to see someone doing the necessary.

But, somehow the Christians are easy meat. Yes, they moan and complain but apart from the odd letter to newspaper editors from a Cardinal or Archbishop, there is no Christian equivalent of the Jewish and Muslim watchdog bodies.

Which tells us for a start that anyone who uses Jesus in their ads is actually a bit of a bully and something of a coward because they know they are on fairly safe ground.

An important point that is always forgotten with strategy behind the use of Jesus in an advertising campaign, it is not just Christians who are upset.

Ad agencies and their clients have to realise that there is a massive faith-based community in the world and while individual religious organisations might be at ideological loggerheads, one thing you can be absolutely sure of, when one is hurt all are hurt.

In this recent Red Bull saga, the Muslim community came out very strongly against what they saw as blasphemy in the ad.

Behind the scenes, most practicing Jews, Muslims, Hindus and any other religion you might wish to think of, will have joined with Christians in mostly silently condemning the Red Bull ad.

One is talking about millions of people.

So in a nutshell, while the ad might have gained a lot of free, added value, publicity for Red Bull, it was minimal compared to the negative publicity generated.

I do not believe for one minute that the sales of Red Bull will be influenced one way or the other with this campaign. Marketing is a long term process.

All that this campaign has achieved is to contribute to the R5bn that is wasted on bad marketing every year.

That's a lot of money down the drain. The same drain in which the Red Bull ad now quite rightly languishes.

- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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