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In the end, the ad is almost always withdrawn amid patronising apologies.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.

Send your comments to Chris

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

  • The-third - 2012-03-19 08:09

    Yeah look I agree here - and certainly other religious groups would probably have declared Red Bull's executives infidels deserving nothing but destruction and horrible death. I do think that it is best for companies to steer clear of religious symbols because it's never a win-win result. Personally I do not have an issue with it but, from a Marketing perspective, some topics are just not worth the hassle, so don't go there.

      Sean - 2012-03-19 08:27

      It's the same as people phoning in to lets say 5fm and bitching about the music or presenter or any old thing that they don't like. If you don't like the program then change the channel. Whats next, people will moan about an offensive car add or a to sexual perfume add. Dam we have become a collective conscience of moaners.

      CraigB - 2012-03-19 11:12

      Personally, I am waiting for someone like Nandos, or indeed Red Bull, to use the latest Jason Russell YouTube debacle, and put some humorous ad spin on that.

      zaatheist - 2012-03-19 16:45

      There is a point being missed here. 1. No all Christians are offended. 2. Red Bull obviously does not see fundamentalist Christians as a target market. 3. Religion, and Christianity in particular, is on the decline in all developed (Red Bull drinking) nations. Young people (Red Bull drinkers) are leaving religion in droves according to recent surveys in Canada, the UK and the US.

      Vaal-Donkie - 2012-03-19 21:17

      Just be careful what you wish for. Nature abhors a vacuum.

  • Cilla - 2012-03-19 08:26

    It is a Jesus ad? I am a born again Christian and it hasn't worried me because I thought it was some hyped up fool running on stones. Aren't those stones? Shows what happens when I don't pay attention. Companies who use religion to sell go onto my "don't buy even if you're dying" list.

      darryn.havenga - 2012-03-19 08:44

      Hi Mabel - as a believer I had no prob with teh add in terms of the stones, but watch it again, jesus almost falls and then he curses using his name... now here there is a problem on a grand scale...

      koo.doyle - 2012-03-19 09:57

      I'm sure they'll be crushed by your lack of patronage :-/

      Hans - 2012-03-20 14:46

      Hey Mabel. Instead of being born again, why not just grow up?

  • Vaal-Donkie - 2012-03-19 08:53

    Something you might have missed is that Islam considers Jesus an important prophet. It's not evidence that the Muslim community is somehow sympathetic to Christians (although it's not far-fetched in the South African context), it is because an ad featuring Jesus is also considered blasphemy against Islam.

  • gerry.pelser - 2012-03-19 08:59

    Religion, as a concept, is a fundamentally ridiculous notion and deserves to be treated with contempt and ridicule. However, for some reason the vast majority of people on this planet DO associate themselves with one religion or another. If I have a product, and I want to market it to someone, I’d make damn sure not to alienate my audience. A ridiculous and contemptible dollar from a religious person is just as valuable as a dollar from a secular humanist or an atheist. Rule number one of marketing: NEVER alienate your audience.

      sizot - 2012-03-19 12:12

      was waiting for someone to bring that up, glad we still have execs that know the basics. my question is how do some of these Marketing execs okay some of the poor and sometimes shallow advertising that we see lately.'m going to move off topic here abit, there was a time last year when 3 different brands used the same concept to market their product. I wont mentioned the brands by name but the concept in the add was an irratation following them around all day until they ingested their product. one was a wrestler, the other was a boy banging a drum and the other a soccer-player. same concept, different brands.

  • Mathys - 2012-03-19 09:02

    Listen guys: you're saying that christians are just a bunch of moaners. Think what would happen if an advert states "agnostics are spineless cowards" or "atheists are heartless". Don't be hypocrites.

      kevincad - 2012-03-19 09:40

      We'd laugh, because only a religious person could make that ridiculous assumption.

      skootzie - 2012-03-19 10:13

      I'd just shrug it off, there are far greater things in the world to get pissed off over than some random's opinion.

      koo.doyle - 2012-03-19 10:14

      You are honestly making that comparison? Did the ad in any way insult christians? It was light-hearted fun. Your comparison is ridiculous.

      Mathys Jakkie Theart - 2012-03-19 10:41

      red bull is making light of one of the christians beliefs. You insult them by calling their 'savior' a con man. And before you ask, no, I'm agnostic

      Mathys Jakkie Theart - 2012-03-19 10:44

      @lorenzo I was merely making a comparison

      Mathys Jakkie Theart - 2012-03-19 15:14

      @koo are you really ignorant enough to believe red bull was referring to anyone but the christian jesus?

      Mathys Jakkie Theart - 2012-03-19 18:24

      yeah sure. delete your own post if you are caught being a moron. Real mature guys.

      NrGx - 2012-03-22 10:13

      Id shrug it off, regardless if Im slightyly offended or not, at the end of the day...ITS AN ADVERT!

  • Adam J Hellyer - 2012-03-19 09:39

    Is it possible that the \Bad Publicity\ is, as usual, no-such-thing? \r\n\r\nDue to Red Bull trying to market themselves as the rock'n'roll stimulant of choice, for rebels and non-pedestrian edge dwellers, surely offending the establishment is exactly the kind of thing that consolidates their brand. Those discussing their tactics in the media only aid and abet.\r\n\r\nI believe the best treatment for such commercials is to mostly ignore them, and not make too big a fuss. The teaching of a scriptural world view is important, but preferably in a proactive, not reactive manner. \r\n\r\nChristian crusading tends to be counter productive. Example: a very poor movie, critically slammed, called The Da Vinci Code, becoming a box office success, mostly due christians speaking against it. \r\n\r\n\what are those christians so scared of?\\r\n\Let's find out.\ \r\nKerching!\r\n\r\nJesus said, \By this men will know you are my disciples, that you love one another\, not 'by the quality of your protest against people producing bad adverts'!

  • afehrsen - 2012-03-19 10:18

    Pretty funny that atheists/agnostics say religion is ridiculous... it takes A LOT more faith to believe in no God at all. Atheists biggest claim is that there are or can not be any absolute truths, but that statement in itself is an absolute truth. If humanity all has a connected sense of morality and truth, it must have come from somewhere and last I checked, nothing smart ever came out out of a big "explosion"...

      Vaal-Donkie - 2012-03-19 10:32

      Religion is not ridiculous at all. it correlates with stability, happiness and even a better sex life.

      Lorenzo - 2012-03-19 10:47

      @ afehrsen - Have you actually done research into the origins of The Bible? And into the origins of Christianity? And visa versa? I think where most Atheists and Christians go wrong is they don’t actually have any knowledge about the other person’s belief. I think to even comment on another person, you need to know the facts. If you read into the history of The Bible, you’ll realise it is a MAN-MADE creation. Fabricated out of spite and gluttony.

      Clive.D.Buckley - 2012-03-19 10:48

      Big explosion, lol, what is this big explosion you talk of???. Learn some science and the come back and comment again!!! Until then, keep your ill informed opinions to yourself!!!

      kevincad - 2012-03-19 10:59

      Oh wow, your views are so enlightened and unique. This ground-breaking argument will surely convert millions. If by your logic it takes more faith to believe in no god, and you -- being christian -- denounce the god of Islam, does this mean you have a LOT of faith in Islam? God is real because the Bible says that is God is real because the Bible says that God is real because the Bible says. Or whatever.

      Vaal-Donkie - 2012-03-19 11:31

      The rapid expansion of matter (almost at the speed of light in some cases) is nothing other than an explosion. "Explosion" does not equal "ball of fire". According to the Big Bang theory (First Posited by a catholic monk, no less), all matter was condensed into a de facto singularity and for some reason "rapidly expanded". Deciding whether to call it an "expansion" or "explosion" is pure semantics.

  • Roshnee - 2012-03-19 11:59

    I have already taken Red Bull off my shopping list.

      Nick - 2012-03-19 15:13

      i have added to mine. never used to drink it but now i do. the advert was good and got me to start drinking it. just what the wanted

      Vaal-Donkie - 2012-03-19 16:29

      I prefer Play. I don't have any solid reasoning for this. It's just that I am one of those people who hardly ever fall for ads. Unless it's the type that gives you information you can use to make a solid value judgement.

  • Vanessa - 2012-03-19 12:20

    Monster Energy drink is no.1 seller in SA,UK & USA and do not even do TV advertising. The last couple of Redbull ads have been stupid, boarding and now with its latest, distasteful and in my opinion destructive to the brand. The so called “Free publicity” they celebrate achieving seems more like brand sabotage as the talk all around is of ditching Redbull for Monster . I even know of a shop owner that will no longer stock it in his shop….Looks like the Christians are standing together n this one. LOL…. backfire

      Jayne Hunter-Rhys - 2012-03-21 02:01

      vanessa: do you mind if you can send me your email add to me: as id like you to read about Monster energy drink and how frightening their brand and business is - what they really stand for that 99per people are unaware of

  • Mouldy - 2012-03-19 12:32

    Regarding the damage being done to the brand by some campaigns; I am developing a very strong dislike in FNB based on their radio campaign, it is extremely irritating and I change channels the moment it airs. The same with these “Hi, I’m so and so and my mousetrap is the cheapest” rubbish that seem to be the fad nowadays. I will never again set foot in a certain Home Store owned by Lucy and her hubby just because of their irritating and brainless radio campaign.

  • Daveu - 2012-03-19 13:13

    The use of religious themes in advertising nowadays is that there is such a lack of imagination to create a decent in your face product advert that the agencies opt out for an easy payday by using such topics. The ads of late in media, tv, everywhere is of a shocking low standard.

  • Gail - 2012-03-19 21:47

    Thank you Chris.

  • Michelle - 2012-03-20 08:46

    I for one will not touch another Red Bull after this stupid incipid add! Red bull might give you wings, but in return it takes your balls....poor show!

      The Real Unskinny - 2012-03-20 11:53

      It took your balls Michelle?

      DiziLiziD - 2012-03-28 12:24

      Yeah Michelle. I agree. I will also never touch red bull again! The people out there , who are atheists think they can just rip off God and put Him down. After all He did for mankind, and this is how the arrogant, prideful atheists carry on. It makes me so cross. But i have decided to never debate with an atheist again! Because they are stubborn and closed minded. God is visible in everything! They are just blind fools. Jesus said that the world would get like this and that Christians would be persecuted and made fun off. But we know the truth and we are secure in our faith. Nothing they say will ever take my personal experience with Jesus away from me!

  • serge.solomons - 2012-03-21 12:06

    Great article Chris! as Christian I agree that Christians and their beliefs in general are soft targets for the reasons you mentioned. Maybe one can add a good dose of disunity in our ability to respond as one voice! as well as the approach of tolerance toward criticism. What marketers fail to realize that the an entire religious community is affected because Jesus is a great figure in most major religious systems. This fact coupled with inter- religious respect among the different religions would attract disdain from these communities. The high publicity would be a short lived reality compared to the negative image created in peoples minds. Religion still occupies the holy ground in many communities and to field such an ad would be viewed as disrespectful and treading on the holy. It is not taken lightly albeit taken in silence!

  • Koos - 2012-03-21 23:37

    Who needs watchdog bodies when you have Jesus on your side?

  • Alice Mpholo - 2012-03-26 14:13

    i love your writing. in more ways than none, advitisers are all quite hypocritical.

  • pages:
  • 1