There is a growing trend among companies to reach out to people of faith. Regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of same, all of us are consumers – and some businesses see reaching out to the faithful as a growth opportunity. However, the vast majority of these attempts have fallen flat thus far.
For instance, the auto dealership in Minnesota used a billboard referencing the crucifixion and resurrection to promote their business. In bad taste? Undoubtedly. While this billboard managed to get the attention of passing motorists, it didn’t do a lot for the company in terms of actually driving sales – and though on some level, there is no such thing as bad publicity, this particular advertisement managed to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many who saw it.
Can Religious Imagery Ever Be Used Successfully In Advertising?
There have indeed been some successful campaigns that have used religious imagery. For example, you probably remember the Xerox “Monk” campaign of the 1970s. Why was this campaign success while the auto mentioned above dealership’s use of the crucifixion in its billboard a failure? In this case, it was a matter of using religious themes in a tasteful way that did not promote (or defame) any particular religion or denomination
One print ad from this campaign featured a monk along with the slogan “The duplicators for those who appreciate the virtues of simplicity.” The ads were tasteful, lighthearted in tone, and most importantly, they communicated the virtues of the product rather than attempting to get a religious message across. It’s an important distinction which businesses would do well to remember.
The real issue here is that consumers are interested in the product or service you’re selling, not your religious faith. Unless you’re advertising for a house of worship or religious organization, there’s no place for promoting religion while trying to make a sale – and as many who have tried to do this have found out the hard way, it’s not an effective means of closing the deal.
I see these marketing campaigns as proselytizing, not advertising, and even though a religious-themed campaign can indeed get attention, you shouldn’t expect it to increase sales or, for that matter, leave a positive impression of your business. Religion is a matter for the private, not public sphere – and it doesn’t belong in the world of business.