Saturday, July 19, 2008

A beer commercial teaches us about church.

I think the next big trend in writing and communication is going to be honesty. It's weird to label the truth as a trend, but we haven't had much of it lately.

Advertisers like to sell us the ideal, who we could be or what we could do if we only purchased their product. Which makes complete sense. I don't want to buy a Mac laptop because of the specifics of the circuitry so much as I want to buy it because I think it will make me cooler or make me a more interesting writer. I buy it as a ticket into a lifestyle, not just because I want a new product.

But honesty is coming back and as a church, it behooves us to heed the signs heralding its return. Not that we have been dishonest in how we communicate to our communities. I just think we need to pay attention because when you invite someone to church you shouldn't focus on all the other churches they could go to instead of yours, you should think about everything else on the planet they could do on a Sunday morning instead of come see you.

For instance, if 80% of the people in your town don't attend church because they go to a park where their kids can play and enjoy friends, it might be good to focus on your programs for children. If 40% of the teens in your town bail on youth group because they like going to the movies, it might be time to think about incorporating film as a medium into how you communicate. The point is that other people spend billions of dollars researching, studying and mastering how to talk with the very same people you are trying to talk to. Let's learn from what they learned.

To that point, the strongest commercial on television right now is the Dos Equis beer campaign. It's a series of spots that focus on "The most interesting man in the world," a bearded, borderline mythological man that happens to drink Dos Equis. (I posted a video clip example below.)

Big deal, there are a million beer commercials in the world. But this one has some very subtle, but very important differences that really speak to our culture's return to honesty.

1. The feats of the man are wildly over the top.
In the past, advertisers didn't always show you an activity that was so big and grand you'd never be able to do it. They showed you a guy kayaking with a Lenny Kravitz song in the background thanks to his Nissan SUV. "Hey," I thought, "I might be able to do that too if I got an SUV." The aspiration was high, but not impossible to reach. But in this commercial, the feats of the most interesting man in the world are clearly a spoof. One of them is that "his blood smells like cologne" and another that "his organ donation card also lists his beard." Those are silly, but I feel like I am on the inside of the joke. They use humor to say, "There have been some ridiculous beer commercials in the past, haven't there?"

2. I don't always drink beer.
Years ago, there was an unwritten rule that you never showed a spilled beer in a commercial. It was too insulting to the product. But in this commercial Dos Equis throws a wrench into the whole "respect the product above all else" machine. Can you remember the last time someone in a sneaker commercial said, "I don't always wear sneakers" or someone in a car commercial said, "I don't always drive cars?" But that is what he says here. The character closes the commercial by admitting there are lots of drinks in the world and sometimes he drinks those instead. This might not seem like much, but in the highly fake world of beer advertising this is a stunning statement of honesty.

Furthermore, Dos Equis does a brilliant job of juxtaposing the fakeness of the first half of the commercial with the realness of the last half. The parody of the man donating his beard as an organ only serves to amplify the truth and simplicity of him admitting he doesn't always drink beer. I am sure we will talk more about this down the road, but for churches, this is a great example of how to balance humor with truth in a message.

3. I prefer Dos Equis
As this point, I want to side hug this guy. Seriously. He doesn't do the typical commercial thing which is to say, "I love this product! I live for this product!" Not at all, he says "I prefer it." That's such a real thing to say. You get the sense that he is admitting, "sometimes I have other beers. Sometimes I drink wine instead. That's OK." I like this because often, the church is accused of being fake. Of being too happy or too sunshine rainbowy. I have written about that a number of times. But here, in a beer commercial of all places, we see a fairly honest confession of reality. I'd love to have a friend that was pressuring me to attend church say, "Sometimes I don't want to go on Sunday morning. I mean I wake up and just want to stay in bed. But most of the time, when I get there and experience the music and the message and everything else, I really enjoy it. I think you would too."

The truth is that Dos Equis wants you to buy more Dos Equis. That is the nature of advertising, that is how that machine works. But the church is different. We can actually be the ones to usher honesty back into communication. In a world where the average person sees up to 5,000 marketing messages a day, we can be different. We can be honest and funny and real. We can balance humor with truth in fresh ways.

And I don't think it's wrong to be reminded of the need to do that by a beer commercial.


Campman62 said...

Thanks for "throwing us another bone" with [Everything is Replaceable].

*The God's Honest Truth:
"Sometimes I don't want to go on Sunday morning."

~Used this ham-bone of honesty with my 7 year old as he agonized over not wanting to attend Wed p.m. "Extreme Wed" service.

He applauded my honesty,hugged me and said, "Dad, let's getty-up to the church house."

*I'm all-in for more honesty in Beer Commercials, too!

Milan Ford said...

what a great analogy.

if there is but one thing our churches should be focused on the most, it is honesty.

or at least being remotely aware that our attendees could in fact be doing and going somewhere else.

our methods would radically change once we embraced that truth.

great look jon.

LeLe said...

This commercial has "Chuck Norris" written all over it.

But, seriously, you make a great point (as usual). Churches (and when I say "churches", I mean the people in them) need to be real and honest and loving, not only to those outside the Church but also to her members.

Clifford said...

Y'know, this is something I've noticed in the film industry, too - primarily more along the indie track. The first film I can think of is "Election" - that's a nice double spiritual entendre for Christians, too. I'm sure there are more in-between, but the next one I think of is "Napoleon Dynamite," "High Fidelity," "The Martian Child," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Dan In Real Life," "Juno," and "The Savages." All of these films look at life *honestly* and find the laughs with the tears, the thrills with the boredom, the sweetness with the bitter.

Dustin said...

Please post more about the relationship between advertising and the church. I'd also love to hear more about how you do your job in advertising and remain a light for Christ. I've got a year and a half left before I'm in advertising full time, and I'm honestly a little nervous about it.

dorothy (vicar of vibe) said...

O.k. now you’ve touched on one of my biggest…
Oh I don’t know what to call it…pet peeves…
People “in church” don’t recognize this truth. And I don’t say that to be mean…I mean literally they don’t recognize the truth of this matter.
I often feel like I am bashing my head up against a wall.
It’s such a simple marketing concept.
My head doesn’t hurt so much as I find more people that think like this, in the blogsphere.
Jon, I feel like we are twins seperated at birth; except you are the one that if funny!!!

LK said...

I also feel like Jesus would approve of, "I'm a lover, not a fighter. But I'm also a fighter, so don't get any ideas."

After all, he didn't just preach about compassion and forgiveness, he made a whip.

Lea Sims said...

Truth..what a concept...and not just the one about sometimes not wanting to go to church. What about telling someone who is new to the whole hand-raising, close-your-eyes-and-just-feel-God worship style that there are times when you're going through the motions, when your hands are up and your eyes are closed that you're thinking about your unpaid bills or how bad your new shoes hurt your feet or kicking yourself for why you didn't eat breakfast before you came to service...and that you have to mentally pull yourself out of your distracted state and refocus on worship? Why don't we tell people the truth about our journey of faith? What are we afraid of? That we'll say something so true it will turn people off of God? Like we're the ones drawing them to Him either way? LOL

Ben said...

I've always loved this character. And I really enjoyed your exposition. To add on to your insights, the actor's not even a celebrity. He's done some bit parts on old TV shows, but even though people THINK he's the "Most Interesting Man in the World," he's still just like you or me.

Kevin Stover said...

I've always been impressed by commercials for Sam Adams beer. (You can see one of the best ones here)

What if the church cared as much about people as the employees at Sam Adams care about beer? In the commercial above, the freaking computer systems analysts says he's there because he loves beer. Crazy. That's how committed to people I'd like the church to be.

Kristin said...

What does, "he made a whip" mean? LK commented with that phrase a few lines up.

Anonymous said...

Jesus made a whip and used it to drive out the money changers in the temple.

john 2:14 He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 2:15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 2:16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!”

Biblical Studies Press: The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006; 2006, S. Jn 2:14-16