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Companies Quiet About Faith Based Marketing?

Interesting story on today’s Brandweek website about companies being a bit nervous about marketing efforts to people of faith:

Marketers Quiet About Their Faith-Based Efforts

September 25, 2006 –By Constantine von Hoffman

BOSTON — Is corporate America trying to hide its faith in people of faith?

Recent developments, like last week’s announcement that 20th Century Fox is starting FoxFaith to release up to a dozen religious-oriented films a year, certainly makes it seem like major marketers are having a come-to-Jesus moment. For marketers, the church-going audience, which is estimated to comprise about 44% of the U.S. population, is too big to ignore, yet being too overt about wooing such consumers has the potential to alienate some others.

So, that courtship has been low profile. Most consumers don’t know that Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Clorox and Delta Airlines have sponsored MegaFest, a huge annual Christian festival in Atlanta run by Bishop T.D. Jakes, or that Suzuki is sponsoring a tour by the Christian rock band Kutless or, three years ago, Chrysler began backing tours by another such group, Third Day.

Officially, most companies say they’re going after the demo, not the faith. “The sponsorship wasn’t based on the fact that this was a Christian band,” said Andrew Nicholai, a Suzuki rep. “We liked who they attracted and thought ‘Let’s go after this audience.'” That audience was young music fans, he emphasized.

His statement closely echoed those from the Bank of America. “We saw this as not a faith-based event but as one that promoted community development,” said BofA rep Joseph Goode. “We view our participation in MegaFest as a great way reach a large consumer base.”

Religious marketers and ministries seeking sponsorship understand this behavior, but aren’t exactly happy about it. “There’s no conspiracy behind why companies are so skittish,” said Bob Hutchins, owner of BuzzPlant, an agency based in Franklin, Tenn., which specializes in religion-based marketing. “First, this is a market they don’t know much about it and second, companies want to be as P.C. as possible. They are nervous about aligning themselves with a particular moral or political stance.”

Ken Palau, evp of his father’s Louis Palau Ministries—which runs Christian festivals around the nation—wishes companies would show the same bravery they have shown in reaching out to other groups. “Companies were willing to take some hits for marketing to the gay and lesbian community,” he said. “So why not do it for us?”

One of the reasons may be because they don’t have to.

Thanks to media and audience fragmentation, companies can reach out to specific groups without telling the whole world about it, said analysts. Although MegaFest drew more than 100,000 people last July, it got very little outside attention. The strategy of sponsoring Christian festivals and bands that don’t get a lot of notice in the more general media, closely follows the almost-in-the-closet strategies used in marketing to gays and lesbians. With those groups, marketing was done through magazines and social events that catered to them and were also ignored by the general media.

But there are other potential issues with addressing people of faith. While movies like The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia may have shown that there’s an audience for Christian fare, the Hollywood studios have a big advantage over other categories, said Hutchins: “It’s easier for media companies to tailor a product to a particular audience. How do you align a car with people of faith?”

Maybe you don’t. David Kinnaman, vp at The Barna Group, Ventura, Calif., said it may be more important that marketers understand about people’s spiritual lives than to support a particular denomination: “If you really want to get to know the consumer, you have to understand this, because so much of peoples’ behavior is run through the grid of their faith.”

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One Comment

  1. Interesting. But I have to worry about a journalist’s work when I find two errors in one phrase: “…Ken Palau, evp of his father’s Louis Palau Ministries…”. No, it is Kevin and his dad is Luis — Luis was one of the first to get major secular sponsorship of evangelistic events. He is top-shelf. Joe – Director of Media & Marketing – Grand Rapids First

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