Church Marketing Lessons from PETA

February 13, 2007 by

So today I stumbled across this little pornographic video from PETA and blogged about it on my personal site. Don’t worry, I’m linking to my blog post and not the video, both to deny PETA the link love and to keep us one step removed from the controversy (if that means anything).

The video features a woman proclaiming the great things PETA has done this year in a ‘state of the union’ style, while she strips. Yes strips. By the end of it she’s sportin’ the Eve look, sans cleverly placed leaves.

As I pondered the whole thing and wrote about it for my personal blog, lessons for church marketing came to mind. It’s a stretch, I know, but bear with me.

Exploring PETA’s Tactics
I see PETA’s ‘State of the Union Undressed’ and I’m offended. I don’t understand how their message justifies freely available pornography.

I see PETA’s ‘I’d rather go nude than wear fur’ ads and I think, “So don’t wear fur. Nobody’s forcing you to–what’s the big deal?” Their message seems irrelevant.

In the end I finally realized my frustration with PETA came from the fact that they were more interested in making noise than connecting. They wanted to make a shocking splash with the striptease video and intentionally offend people. They’re so convinced about the evils of fur that they have to go so far out of the way to make their statement. Rather than convince me of the need to be kind to animals (a noble aim) they were driving me away with their extremism.

Sound familiar?

Communication that Doesn’t Connect
When a Christian tries these sort of tactics, it drives people away. And I’m not talking about Christians making porno videos, I’m talking about Christians being so incredibly offensive or irrelevant or self-absorbed that people would never listen. In the extreme, it’s the Westboro Baptist Church (the ‘god hates fags’ folks) approach. It’s the same thing as our recent discussion on avoiding unnecessary offense.

And it doesn’t have to be that extreme to turn people off. The ‘I’d rather go nude than wear fur’ ads aren’t that offensive. But the message doesn’t connect. It reminds me of the Christian T-shirts I used to wear and wonder why they didn’t spark immediate conversations and conversions. There’s a difference between making a statement and making a connection. Statements don’t usually accomplish much. Statements promote a defensive posture as opposed to a receptive posture. Which reaction do you think is more beneficial to sharing the good news?

So What Does Connect?
It reminds me of a phrase from the sermon at my church on Sunday (roughly paraphrased): there’s no DVD or program or book that will convince someone to become a Christian. It requires the simple love of everyday Christians like you and me, something I so utterly fail at.

Imagine what it would take for a PETA volunteer to convince you to support them. For me it wouldn’t be in-your-face antics, it would be reasoned and sane conversation. The same sort of tactics will be more effective for the church as well. More than a shocking ad campaign we simply need to love people. So the question isn’t how can we create an in-your-face message, but how can our marketing and communications promote opportunities for genuine interaction?

There’s no easy answer, but I think that’s where church marketing needs to go.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
It brings to mind a quote from the Puritans:

“The same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay.”

The Puritans (!) apparently realized that the same preaching wouldn’t be effective for everyone. Different sermons and even different methods are needed for different people. Which makes me wonder why there’s not more diversity in the church and why so many balk when we consider doing something other than a sermon, but that’s another discussion.

The in-your-face church marketing of picketing or edgy ad campaigns or irrelevant statements will only connect with so many people. Which is good—let’s connect with them. But I’d wager those tactics will only connect with a small minority. We need to try something else for the rest of us.

(link via thoughts and the Donor Power Blog)

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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3 Responses to “Church Marketing Lessons from PETA”

  • Geoff Brown
    February 14, 2007

    Very, very true. Speaking of teeshirts, I did a test marketing campaign on our Sunday School kids last summer before ordering teeshirts for our Summer Sunday School Soccer program.
    The shirt color was gold in both cases, and there was a black and white soccer ball prominently displayed.
    Caption #1: “Trinity Lime Rock Summer Sunday School Soccer 2006”
    Caption #2: “Trinity Lime Rock Summer Soccer 2006”
    Caption #1 got exactly ZERO votes from the kids. Some will conclude from this that the kids are ashamed of their Christianity, but I will take a different tack. I concluded that the kids love soccer, and they at least like the church they attend, and they are happy to wear a shirt in public that connects the two.
    Our previous teeshirt attempt “Trinity: Faith, Hope, Charity” had been so unpopular with the kids that the only time I ever saw one worn — even at church — was by the daughter of the Sunday School Director, and then for a very short time.
    Actually, with regard to PETA, I’m not sure that if they told you that “treating animals nicely” was their objective, you would understand it quite the way they mean it. As I recall, their objectives are considerable more radical than, say, the ASPCA.

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  • Brenton Balvin
    February 15, 2007

    For some reason I feel like the Puritans meant that quote in a very different context than you are using it now. Especially considering that they were speaking about preaching and using sun to speak metaphorically of ‘the Son.’
    Kevin, I wonder about the benefits of this post versus the dangers. I think you point out a couple of good thoughts but you do so at the risk of pointing many men towards a very accessible naked woman. I remember when Leadership Journal took some heat for putting a naked statue on the cover of its magazine. Sure, men shouldn’t lust, but I would doubt if there have not been many men highly intrigued to watch the video you mention under the guise of simply “seeing what you are referencing.”

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  • dave
    February 23, 2007

    Brenton, I think you’re overstating “the dangers” of this post. There are a lot easier ways to access pornography than surfing three links in from a post on a blatantly Christian website that warns repeatedly that the link leads to something the writer considers to be pornographic. And it’s the nature of the internet that even if Kevin didn’t link to it directly, it’d be pretty easy to do a Google search and find the video he’s referencing. Kevin also indirectly links (through Wikipedia) to the “God Hates Fags” websites, and I consider those to be more offensive than PETA’s ad.
    Your comments seem to indicate you think we shouldn’t even be discussing PETA’s ad, but that ad is what they’re using to market themselves to the public, and this site is about marketing. I think it’s a valid topic of discussion, particularly as Kevin has presented it.

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Evangelism & Outreach, Philosophy