National Lutheran News

ELCA launches national advertising blitz

Experts in the field of public relations know that brand identification is
essential to generate consumer connection and loyalty. The people in
marketing and advertising who develop famous tag lines, like “So easy even a
caveman can do it,” or logos, like the concentric red circles of Target
Corporation, are aware that brand identification creates a sense of
community among consumers.

Faith communities are part of a competitive marketplace that requires similar
customer loyalty. So, what is the identity of someone who is Lutheran? What
is the brand?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is launching a new
national advertising blitz in an effort to help Lutherans recognize and shape
how they are perceived. An initial push in early April concentrated on national
cable channels and selected television markets. A “second flight” will occur in
mid-May, according to Scott Hendrickson, director of marketing, public
relations, and creative services for the ELCA.

In the first run, two commercials under the banner “God’s work. Our hands.” 
aired on CNN, Fox News channel, Home & Garden Television, and other cable
outlets. One spot, “Dignity,” features Trinity Lutheran Church, Bismarck,
North Dakota, and its outreach to people who are homeless and hungry. The
second 30-second commercial, “Hope,” features a Lutheran mission in
Senegal that teaches business skills to women.

“I was raised in a very small rural congregation in an area with few
Lutherans,” Hendrickson says. “It was hard for me to identify what a Lutheran
was. But once I joined the [ELCA] staff and heard so many amazing stories of
ministry, I recognized our identity.”

The effectiveness of commercials like these depends on what you mean by
effective,” explains Mary Hess, associate professor of educational leadership
at Luther Seminary, St. Paul. “These are two, short, digital stories about
ministry … that appeal to me on all sorts of levels, especially the images of
the church in the world.”

“The visual image we want people left with is the cross in the everyday life
experience,” Hendrickson says. “The cross [in the soup bowl in “Dignity”]
represents that Christ is with us in our ordinary lives.”

Gary Simpson, professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary, says, “I
actually saw one commercial before Metro Lutheran contacted me. I thought
the images were eye catching if you had some identification with [the
Lutheran brand].” He did have concerns about the commercial though.

“When I see a Mormon [TV] commercial, I have a hermeneutic of suspicion,”
Simpson says, describing the care one takes into interpretation. “I probably
have some concerns about the cross feeling gratuitous or jolting” in these
spots, “and the people feeling used.” He did stress, however, that each
commercial did “brand” the ELCA as having a public vocation in civil society,
a positive image.

Hess remarked that there is a danger of using symbols in popular culture.
Ultimately, they cannot be absolutely controlled by the people who use them.
“Popular culture” will come up with its own interpretation.

“But the tools are out there to be more than consumers of culture, and to be
creators,” Hess said. She thinks some congregations might be able to take
the theme of these commercials and make it their own.

“Originally, this campaign included both TV spots and out-of-home media,
but finances limited how much we could produce,” Hendrickson explains.
“Bulletin inserts, postcards, posters, and banners will all soon be available on
the Web site [www.elca.org] for congregational use.” He said the banners
were used very effectively in the initial test run of this campaign in Denver.
One Minnesota synod is making a bulk order of banners for its congregations.

The second run of commercials will take place on national cable networks and
local broadcast stations in target markets running May 11 through May 31.