Advertising Religion

May 31, 2011  |  By Civilian  |  

Show Spelled [ri-lij-uh n]
a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

Religion. Nine insignificant letters that when placed together carry huge weight. If you’ve paid any attention to the media lately then you know that judgment day was May 21 (spiritually)   and the physical/literal judgment day will happen when the world ends in October. Unless of course the Mayans are right and the world ends 2 months later in 2012. You’ve probably also seen countless responses via blogs , Twitter, and news reports.

Religious advertising isn’t limited to the end of the world. Recently I visited Virginia and saw countless signs outside of the hundreds of southern churches telling me why I should go to their church with sayings like “Come find strength on your knees at First Baptist” and “God loves a cheerful giver but will accept from a Grouch.” In California while waiting to cross the street a man with a guitar started singing to me about why I needed something bigger in my life. While driving I will see Jesus fish, Darwin fish, bumper stickers for NOTW or Coexist . On occasion when I am sitting at home I will be visited by young men on bicycles asking me if I want to go to Heaven. Or I will be greeted by a gentleman with a suitcase telling me why I should stop celebrating my birthday to be one of the 144,000 chosen.

This increase in media coverage has got me questioning, is religion something that can be advertised? Is proselytizing merely direct marketing with a deeper passion? Is choosing a religion a matter of preference like choosing between a Honda and a Chrysler? Or is it more along the lines of political advertising- the religion you follow chosen similarly to the political philosophy you support.

If the goal of advertising is to draw attention to something and generate brand loyalty, is advertising an effective venue of persuasion when it comes to picking a belief system? Or is it something bigger than that? Does public advertising cheapen religion or draw greater attention to it? When one experiences a religious ad does it lead one to discuss the promoted religion or rather the presenter/venue of the religion? For example, in the recent outbreak of billboards are we discussing the end of the world as it pertains to our lives or Harold Camping and his media strategy? When we are approached on the street do we later discuss the message shared or the interesting man sharing them? Does the topic of our discussion hinge upon whether or not we are in the target demographic?

If advertising is simply sharing a message then religion has been advertised since the beginning of time. Today is just relying more heavily on mass media than traditional word of mouth and direct marketing. I think to truly decipher whether advertising religion is successful you would have to look at the target audience. Those who have come from a religious upbringing are more likely to cling to that; they are not likely looking for a change in religion and are probably not easily swayed by media opinion. Contrarily,  those who are searching or  in the market for religion as it were, are more likely to be susceptible to advertising. For those who are searching, does it come down to who reaches them first with the best offer? Isn’t this the truth for most advertising campaigns? Where is advertising successful in the realm of religion?  And where is it not enough?

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