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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Here and Now--Presbyterian ads

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

NPH has listened to the radio spots, read the print ads, and watched the television clips that make up the PC (USA)'s "Here and Now" media campaign. The purpose of the ads is to raise the profile of Presbyterian churches in communities throughout the country; congregations and presbyteries can order the ads to run in their local media market. They can insert their own church information on the ads to direct people to their congregation. Having said that, it's unlikely that the profile of the church will be raised in the same way from Baltimore to Sacramento. That is, the contexts of local churches are so unique and so diverse that one wonders which context is being targeted by a nationally produced ad?

A couple of things may be ventured about the target: (1) it's largely white. All of the television spots feature white subjects, as does one of the three print ads. As for the radio ads, one of them features a voice that is meant so sound African-American. So, out of nine ads, three employ non-white subjects.

(2) the target is middle class. The most explicit illustration of this is the television ad titled "You Believe," which gives a litany of things that you, a strapping white guy doing roof work, believe in: hard work, integrity, and so on and so on, until the viewer begins to think she's watching a spot for a Republican congressional candidate. One of the print ads features an Afrian-American woman seated in her car in what is obviously business dress, looking stressed and frazzled, as middle-class white-collar people must. "Who's taking care of you?" the ad asks. Oprah couldn't have said it better herself.

The tagline of the tv spots is, "When you're ready, there's a church for you." NPH thinks this is a bit deceptive. The radio spots are all acceptance-driven, poking fun at popular conceptions of church that revolve around guilt and judgment ("we won't judge you," the ads seem to promise). And so the "When you're ready" refrain conveys the same idea. This church, it seems, is about you--what you want, what you need, and when you feel you need and want it.

That's the kind of message an advertisemnt has to give. But it's deceptive. Because sooner or later the relationship between the advertisee and the advertiser (that is, the church), will have to change if it is to be of any substance. A what-you-want-when-you-want-it relationship can be had in a lot of places in a market-oriented culture: bars, grocery stores, even politics. But that's not the kind of relationship the church holds forth. The church models a relationship that turns a market-orientation (and most other cultural orientations) on its head. For this relationship makes a claim on your life (your time, your loyalty), and shows "when you're ready" to be the wrong standard. After all, the earliest church advertising said simply, "Follow me." Not "when you're ready," but now. Because, yes, Here and Now, things are happening that change everything.

A final note: NPH doesn't seek to simply lampoon these ads as a cynic or naysayer. NPH wishes the church to be more critical in its appropriation of media technologies. NPH wishes the church would ask the deeper questions about the biases and agendas of television advertising, questioning whether or not that medium can rightly hold the message of the gospel. NPH obviously has his doubts.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:21 AM


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