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Thursday, April 27, 2006

When the World Can Spread the Word Better Than Christians...

Battlecry[New York Times article by Julie Bosman]We anticipated that there might be some cons," said Skip Dampier, a partner and creative director at the agency. "And we knew that not everyone at the agency would want to work on this business."

But despite its reservations, Tocquigny, which is based in Austin, Tex., took on the account in February. Soon the agency had a dozen staff members working full time on Teen Mania, planning major teenage outreach events and redesigning the organization's Web site, battlecry.com.

As he had guessed, not everyone at Tocquigny came on board. "To be honest, there were a few instances that people did express that they did not want to work on the business, and that was fine," Mr. Dampier said.

The agency has also worked on accounts with Dell and Caterpillar, the heavy equipment maker.

As the partners at Tocquigny saw it, the agency is a beneficiary of a new attitude on the part of some religion-based organizations: as these groups grow bigger and more financially robust, they are taking their work to so-called secular agencies instead of firms specializing in Christian outreach.

According to a study by the market research publisher Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, domestic sales of religious products are likely to grow to $9.5 billion by 2010. Movies like "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" reached a mainstream Christian audience in the theater, and sales of books, DVD's and other merchandise followed.

The film market has been supplemented with music, computer software and newer products like Christian video games, a niche that opened up in the late 1990's and now includes about 100 active game developers, the study says. Books that appeal to a Christian audience, like the "Left Behind" series, have a commanding space in the market. (It may require a divine act to remove "The Purpose-Driven Life" from the New York Times best-seller list, where it has been for 170 weeks.)

Tocquigny's first major project on the Teen Mania account was to take the organization's message to a national platform with a new Web site aimed at attracting teenagers. Teen Mania gave the creative planners at Tocquigny instructions to use whatever technology was needed, from text messaging to podcasting, to engage the youthful and tech-savvy audience.

THE potential client was Teen Mania Ministries, a Christian youth organization devoted to steering teenagers away from drugs, alcohol and premarital sex. For the partners at Tocquigny, an ad agency not well versed in working with Christian groups, the potential drawbacks of taking on the account loomed large.

"I think one of the key things that we're seeing is really an increase in the sophistication and scope of these groups," Mr. Dampier said. "What we used to think of as a small nonprofit Christian organization has really turned into savvy marketers with an appetite for technology."

The problem for some organizations is that Christian ad agencies may not perform on a "world-class level," said Ron Luce, the president and founder of Teen Mania. His organization, founded in 1986, sponsors youth events across the country that attract tens of thousands of teenagers.

"I think people have gotten more and more open to dealing with secular firms when they see that there's no way to get the job done otherwise, at least in Christian circles," Mr. Luce said. "I know a lot of leaders in the faith-based community, and they don't have a problem going to a secular agency if they're reputable and have good character."

The agencies that specialize in Christian marketing maintain that they still have an edge over secular firms like Tocquigny. BuzzPlant, an agency based in Franklin, Tenn., that specializes in religion-based marketing, started out in 2000 by courting publishers of Christian music.

In recent years, BuzzPlant has taken on bigger business, working for 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and Disney. It did promotional work for "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Chronicles of Narnia."

Companies have been willing to spend more money in recent years to reach the Christian market, said Bob Hutchins, the owner of BuzzPlant. And the success of movies like "The Chronicles of Narnia" has shown the public that the market is a sleeping giant, he said.

But some failures, like the canceled NBC television series "The Book of Daniel," the story of an Episcopal priest whose family includes a daughter who sells drugs and a son who is gay, have exposed an inability to reach Christians effectively, Mr. Hutchins said. (The American Family Association called the series anti-Christian.)

"Many people have tried and failed because they don't understand the mind-set and the demographic," Mr. Hutchins said. "People think they can throw something out there and just put the word 'God' on it, but that's not what it's about."

But the reality for some Christian teenage ministries is that they are competing for teenagers' attention with formidable rivals: cable networks and Hollywood studios with sophisticated marketing and enormous budgets.

"If MTV can give them the best, why can't us Christians give them the best?" said Mr. Luce of Teen Mania. "If MTV values them more than we do, then MTV is going to get their hearts."

(HT to Todd Foster for the link.  Thanks, Todd!)  Todd blogged on this topic and asks a great question that I'd like to pose to you:  Is there something to be said for keeping Chirstian business "in the family" so to speak, or is the urgency of our times such that we need to get the Word out as powerfully and effectively as we can with the "best" resources that money can buy?

What do you think?

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April 27, 2006 in Trends in Today's Church | Permalink

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If best practices are the best why not use them for the kingdom. Faith based incompetence is still incompetence. If we determine the content then there ought to be no problem no matter who we use. The exepctations of the those outside of the faith are high. If we cannot meet the visual and technological expectations we will not be heard. Go for it.

Posted by: Kent | Apr 27, 2006 9:51:08 AM

I love Kent's comment: "Faith based incompetence is still incompetence"! I can see great benefit to using the best, and that's not limited to getting our message across in with excellence. First off, Christ-followers almost certainly work in "secular" ad agencies, as they do in virtually every industry; using secular businesses supports those individuals both economically and in their ministry to their co-workers.

Second, I think the working sessions to develop great marketing are a prime arena for "pre-evangelism". After all, a good ad agency needs to understand its client's business, and if that "business" is getting the gospel out to people, that's going to come out in those working sessions. I wouldn't expect to end a session with an altar call or even an invitation to accept Christ, but there will be an impact, and God promises that his word will not return void.

Are there negatives? Absolutely, and they need to be considered carefully. But I have a feeling that the positives are often going to outweigh the negatives.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Apr 27, 2006 11:49:54 AM

Absolutely. As stated in the article, we are competing with MTV and Hollywood for their attention, and our productions must rise above the noise level to be heard. Obviously, I think we have to be careful about our associations, just from a "perceptions" standpoint, but we should absolutely use the means avialable to us.

Too often I have seen The Church or a ministry just throw something together and ask God to bless it. I can sometimes almost hear God saying "come on guys, give me something to work with here...".

Posted by: Gene Smith | Apr 27, 2006 2:11:14 PM

Do it man, do it.... Git-R-Done.... Heck yea man.. I will be praying for them.

Posted by: Clairvoyant 1 | Apr 27, 2006 10:12:37 PM

What a wonderful way to get the message out that we are not just some ignorant buffoons that run around whacking sick old women and men in the head to get an audience. The world is out there for our picking and picking by example can be a powerful tool. These multimillion dollar marketing folks will work with anyone, well why not give them a testimony and great character and a product that they can sense a desire to bring kids (maybe their's) into the light and out of the darkness of this world. Maybe it will help the Christian marketers to invest a little more to produce something that can compete with the market of the secular world.

Posted by: Jay Gainer | Apr 28, 2006 1:56:44 AM

Reminds ME... [domestic sales of religious products are likely to grow to $9.5 billion by 2010.]... of 2 Corinthians 2:

14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are [TO GOD] the fragrance of Christ [AMONG THOSE] who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To [THE ONE - "perishing"] we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to [THE OTHER - "being saved"] the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, [AS SO MANY],[b] [PEDDLING THE WORD OF GOD]; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.

Posted by: BeHim | Apr 28, 2006 12:07:32 PM

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