Thursday, August 15, 2013

4 Years Later: Nothing Changes in TEC Advertising (UPDATE: Except the responsiveness!)

UPDATE: If you click on the newest Episcopal Church advertising link, you now get the following rather than the ads:
Many thanks to those of you who have given us constructive comments on the billboard and postcard suggestions we had posted.  We agree that the concept needs more work, and we are going back to the drawing board with your ideas in mind.  We sincerely appreciate your feedback and encourage you to keep sharing your ideas and, when appropriate, your criticisms.  We take them all seriously. 
Well put and a good response--something that was not in evidence four years ago. So, things DO change! Well done, Episcopal Church Center staff!

As a prologue to this post, I want to say first of all that I love the Episcopal Church. I am an Episcopal priest because I love the combination of Word and Sacrament, the "big tent" theology that welcomes everyone, and the conviction that the love of God in Christ is transformational in people's lives. I'm one of a diminishing number of so-called "cradle Episcopalians" and a member of likely an even more rare group: Generation X cradle Episcopalians. I've spent nearly 20 years in the ordained ministry and with everything that is wonderful about the church there is one thing that continually amazes me about it:

How many times we shoot ourselves in the foot. Repeatedly.

Almost four years ago, I wrote a blog post critical of the Episcopal Church's new advertising campaign which came up with this attention-grabbing ad (sarcasm) which they paid a significant amount of money to put as a full-page ad in USA Today (see above). Not only was I underwhelmed and lamented the waste of time and money that this represented, but I also recalled the not very helpful fact that if any congregation wanted to use this ad and put their own church's name on it they were invited to "email us [Episcopal Church Center] and we will create a personalized ad for you." Had no one at Episcopal Church Center heard of Photoshop? Could we not be trusted to take the artwork provided and personalize it? Apparently not.

In the midst of this I was also notified by legal council at Episcopal Church center that I was not permitted to use the Episcopal Church shield unless I obeyed strict guidelines on its use. I could not put it on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other items in my Café Press shop. I was informed of this after I logged into my shop and found the images had been blocked and then had to ask why they were blocked. I haven't had time with my day job as parish priest to pursue the matter further. But apparently my efforts to advertise the Episcopal Church were not received in the spirit with which I offered them. Clearly no one was permitted to deviate from official materials.

In my blog post, I contrasted the USA Today ad with two ads that my colleague Frank Logue, then a parish priest and now Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Georgia, put together in short order from the suggestions of two colleagues via Facebook:

The ad to the left is image-based rather than text-based, it has an attention-grabbing headline, it shows a picture of an actual ministry of the church with actual people. It shows a great view of a lovely worship space (of which the Episcopal Church has more than its fair share). Finally, it invites people to worship and service in the Episcopal Church--two things we do very well. What it does not do is explain all of the reasons that you really should give the Episcopal Church a try, in excruciating detail.

The other ad highlighted the multicultural nature of the Episcopal Church, gave a brief dig at the Republican Party, but otherwise pretty much said "we're a diverse, multi-age, multi-ethnic church" without using any of those words. Brilliant, and probably took him about an hour on his computer.

Fast forward four years and the Episcopal Church has now come up with brand new, cutting-edge, advertising materials that feature several phrases on a stained glass background, such as the ad:

Another clergy colleague has already voiced his opinion via an excellent blog post. My opinion is that we've progressed from wordy two-color bullet point ads in 2009 to less wordy, more snarky, and still image-less ads in 2013. Given the background graphics, this is something that many of my colleagues and I could have done in 15 minutes on a computer, if we had wanted to sound like a mother scolding her grandchildren who never write, never call, and just don't visit often enough. I won't inflict the others on you, but suffice it to say that they ads reinforce the stereotype that we're a bunch of old, rich, cranky white people who can't understand why our children and grandchildren don't come to church anymore. As someone on Facebook said in response: "These new ads somehow blend hipster elitism and stick-in-the-mud traditionalism into the same gooey mess."

Contrast that with the materials from the diocese of Ohio, which feature ads like this: 

Note that this does not conform to the national church's style standards (doesn't have the new shaded shield), but it is way more effective than what came out of the national church.

I would like ads worthy of the wonderful church that this is. I would like things like the advertising materials that the church posted but without the text, so that people could add pictures and their own clever text to the background. Perhaps even a repository where people can upload their own ad ideas. It is time to let go of the corporate command-and-control and bad 1980s style advertising and get into the twenty-first century where anyone with a computer and a basic image-editing program can do this kind of thing with a few resources at his or her disposal. And without offending anyone.

Give us the tools. Get out of the way. And talk to folks who don't currently go to church before you do this again. Please.

1 comment:

Jim Strader said...

Great post Tom. One of the themes that I take away from your thoughts is that we don't need our denominational office in New York acting as an expensive advertising agency. It's costly and their are efforts to standardize and control advertising initiatives is not as effective or valuable as what we can accomplish in our local settings. People in our parishes and intentional communities have the resources and skills they need to open doors and create relationships with people. This aspect of The Episcopal Church's top-down way of doing business is yet another reason that the The Episcopal Church's Re-imagining The Church task force and associated endeavors are so important.