Sam Van Eman reminds us why so many people agree that church marketing sucks in his book On Earth As It Is In Advertising: Moving from Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope. Namely that advertising specifically and marketing in general have so often been used to twist and distort reality and pull us farther away from the Gospel. Of course on this site we make the claim that what sucks is bad marketing, which is what Van Eman describes, but that there is room and much need for authentic marketing. Van Eman is a little more ambiguous on that point.
Most of the book is spent convincing the reader that advertising is all about promoting what the author calls the Sim Gospel. It’s essentially a cheap, watered down, distorted version of the true Gospel. It’s the feeling that we need a new car and new clothes and whatever else they’re hocking to make us complete. It’s the consumer mindset gone overboard.
And to a point Van Eman is right. We are assaulted with so many messages and sales pitches that we need to step back and filter out the messages. But he doesn’t take the application far enough or deep enough.
The real problem is that Van Eman never talks about how advertising or marketing can be done right. He mentions that it’s possible:
“Remember, not all advertising is harmful to my relationships with others.” (85)
“I doubt that Jesus wants advertising or television to disappear. They are not simply evil, and they don’t make the world an evil place. They just need a reality check.” (186)
But four sentences out of an entire book aren’t very convincing. The rest of the book implies that all marketing is evil, that branding is a way to deceive people and make them crave something they don’t need.
Which then makes you wonder at the book itself, with the Brazos Press brand and logo on the back, the cover design by Brand Navigation and the unmistakable BMW–sans logo–on the cover. A fair bit of branding and marketing has gone into this very book, a fact Van Eman doesn’t address at all.
The bottomline is that marketing is a tool. Like any tool, it can be misused and abused. Van Eman is on the money that a lot of advertising today requires serious discernment and a step back to keep ourselves from spinning into the vortex of consumerism. Using the tools of marketing, advertising and branding requires that we carefully avoid these pitfalls. But the answer isn’t just writing off marketing as a whole.
There are deeper questions about how we can effectively use marketing without abusing it. These are questions that Van Eman seems to have answered based on the very marketing of this book, but unfortunately those answers aren’t reflected between the covers.