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Not Prince Hamlet

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

Service as A Religious Product

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mara Einstein points to an Ad Age piece (subscription required) about the marketing of religion (in which she is quoted) and suggests that, "Churches are starting to realize that they need to take ownership of those things that make them different."

She asks: "What can a church give people that the consumer culture can not?"

Her answer? Service.

Men and women in a consumer culture are looking for chances to serve and to learn how to serve well and (this is key) effectively.

Here's the thing: brands are beating religion to the punch on service.
Churches need to jump on this idea because brand companies have been co-opting this attribute at an increasing rate. Whether it’s Product (RED) (buy a t-shirt and you help people dying of AIDS in Africa) or Nike’s Human Race (run a race and money goes to one of three charities of your choice) or hundreds of other “buy-a-product-help-the-world” campaigns, branding companies are monopolizing social causes and religious institutions are going to find themselves left out in the cold.
Does it have to be so either/or? Can churches not look for ways to participate in these opportunities for service that brands are offering consumers, ways to direct people toward them?

At the same time, don't churches need to be able to critique the practices of the corporate entities that are offering service as a product? So Starbucks offers a Product (Red) coffee card and Nike sponsors runs for charity causes: that in itself is marketing. Those brands understand their consumers, and identifying with a social cause ingratiates the consumer to the brand. That's why the brand does it.

That's not why the church does it. Churches don't build Habitat houses and run soup kitchens to build loyalty to their brand. They do it because they're supposed to, because they are the guardians of a deeper truth, that life isn't really life if it's only lived for oneself. That's something the church can offer a consumer culture.

Turning service into a consumer commodity is a backwards way of addressing social problems that seeks to capitalize for good on the consumer habits of a people who know how to consume more than they know how to do anything else. But the tactic doesn't teach them to live differently. That's what churches can do.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:44 AM


Here Here!
commented by Blogger Caleb, 7:56 AM  

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