Working in the media is a strange and sometimes wonderful career. There’s always something interesting going on, thanks to advertising agencies, who spend untold thousands of dollars trying to get a little free publicity for their clients. TV and radio personalities, newspaper writers, and the industry’s decision-makers see a constant flow of promotional gimmickry that is sometimes beyond belief. One of the most basic and inexpensive means of generating almost-free publicity is what the media calls a “News Release.” It’s an informational document that often contains suggested copy for a “news story” about the company’s new whatzamajiggit that, according to the news release, is an indispensable product that will revolutionize our lives overnight. Most serious news organizations don’t take these often-cheezy information packets very seriously—in fact, many toss them out without even reading them.
Every now and then, a News Release shows up that is different enough to get noticed. I once was handed a news release that falls into that category—perhaps the silliest news release I’ve ever seen. According to this exciting, breaking news story, Whiskas cat food was about to “break new ground in advertising when it airs the first ever television commercial created specifically for cats.” No, I’m NOT making this up—I’ve seen the commercial, which was distributed to interested news organizations via satellite. The satellite feed also included a pre-produced “Video News Release” featuring a specialist in feline behavior talking about advertising techniques best suited to reaching the feline viewer, and what is described as “wonderful footage of cats actively listening to and enjoying the television,” along with a Whiskas VP discussing the strategy behind targeting their advertising to the true consumer of their products—
The whole idea seemed like the height of TV silliness to me, but to be fair, I decided to show the footage to Wookie, since the spot was, after all, targeted toward her socio-demographic group. Wookie watched the commercial a couple of times, and then yawned, turned to me, and said, “that’s nice, but where are the free samples? No free samples? These jerks don’t expect to get my endorsement without free samples, do they? Forget it! Now, stop that tape and turn on Frazier.”
Of course, the campaign is designed to reach cat owners, not cats. Cats may eat the food, but I’ve yet to see a cat walk into a grocery store and actually purchase cat food. It’s simply too menial a task for a cat to perform; They have “people” to do that. It’s a good thing, too—if Wookie were making the buying decisions, she would bypass the cat food aisle and head straight to the meat and seafood department. She’d end up eating better than her humans do, and I’d be penniless and eating dog food.
This promotional gimmick-fest reminds me of some of the promotional gimmicks I’ve seen done by churches. Direct mail, TV, radio, newspapers, billboards, skywriting, clowns, jugglers, comedians, concerts, fireworks, parades, and personalities have become the promotional meat-and-potatoes of some churches. The well-meaning promoters are trying to do the right things, but perhaps they haven’t considered what it all looks like through the eyes of the unchurched people that they are trying to reach. To the unchurched, many of our promotional activities look like cheap, blatant attempts to get people through the church building’s doors and somehow keep them from going back out. Most of the unchurched folks shake their heads and turn the other way.
Personally, I’d be more impressed with a cat food commercial where someone looks me in the eye and says, “We’re trying hard to make a good-tasting, nutritious cat food that your cats will like and you can afford. If you cats don’t like it, we’ll buy it back.” In a similar fashion, many unchurched people would be more impressed with less gimmickry and more honesty. Many would respond well if we would get to know them, genuinely care about them and their needs, and tell them honestly about the difference that Christ has made in our lives.
Even Wookie knows that promotional propaganda doesn’t mean much without a sample of the product. If your relationship with Christ is genuine and good, you won’t have to use promotional gimmicks—just let Christ live through you, love the people around you, let them “taste and see that the LORD is good”(Psalm 34:8).