Christian Advertising at the Super Bowl: Subtle & Controversial

February 5, 2010 by

2010_02_05doritos.jpgThe commercials are by far my favorite part of the Super Bowl. The last couple of years have been pretty mediocre in terms of the million dollar ads, but I’m hoping this year is different.

Where the commercials have usually been made up of beer, cavemen and the GoDaddy girls, this year is different. This year one, and maybe two, commercials have connections to the church. And they’re a study in opposites. One is a blatant commercial message for a consumer product–but it has subtle spiritual overtones and you wouldn’t guess a church is behind it. The other is from a Christian nonprofit and has raised all kinds controversy.

Doritos & Mosaic
The first isn’t out to save any souls directly, but it sure is a lot of fun. Erwin McManus and the team at Mosaic entered and are now in the top 6 for Doritos’ Crash the Superbowl contest for their commercial “Casket”.

While this commercial is certainly not what you’d expect from a church (which is why I love it) and you’ll not see any scripture quoted in their spot, I do imagine it has already created quite a buzz around the church and community.

“We’re not trying to use Doritos to propagate a message, but I think we want people to know that we have a sense of humor, that it’s OK to laugh,” McManus said. “So much of what comes out of the faith community seems so dour and somber and we want to say, ‘Hey, we’re real people. You can be a person of faith and really enjoy life and laugh.”

Phil Cooke
, says it well:

“Nobody’s going to fall on their knees and accept Jesus as a result of this spot. But advertisers on Madison Avenue spend millions on a Super Bowl spot because they know it influences people. It might not get someone converted, but I think it will get someone to say, ‘Maybe there is something I ought to investigate.'”

Focus on the Family & Tim Tebow
On the flip-side is a commercial (that was originally banned) that’s stirred up a bit of controversy (subscription required) with its pro-life message. That message alone is very unusual for the Super Bowl, which typically doesn’t give advocacy groups air time. The fact that Focus on the Family worked with CBS to create commercial that didn’t slap people in the face, gives me hope that this will be a positive message and something the church can be proud of.

While I’m certain some pro-choice groups are upset that Tebow and the message are getting air time, not everyone in that camp agrees. Pro-choice advocate Sally Jenkins gives a tremendous response, even to the point of joining team Tebow:

“I’m pro-choice, and Tebow clearly is not. But based on what I’ve heard in the past week, I’ll take his side against the group-think, elitism and condescension of the ‘National Organization of Fewer and Fewer Women All The Time’.”

Even Planned Parenthood’s response was pretty low key.

Jesus Is Going to the Super Bowl
While not exactly church advertising nor the gospel story, these ads do shine light in their own unique ways into the biggest television spectacle of the year. It’s encouraging to see Christians not sitting on the sidelines but taking risks and putting the message out there.

Go team!

Post By:

Michael Buckingham

With the goal of making the church the most creative place on the planet, Michael founded Holy Cow Creative, the church’s creativity and design studio. He is the former creative director for the Center for Church Communication and Church Marketing Sucks, and is currently the experience pastor at Victory World Church in Atlanta.
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20 Responses to “Christian Advertising at the Super Bowl: Subtle & Controversial”

  • UMJeremy
    February 5, 2010

    I was much more critical of the Doritos ad, blogged about it and had both a CMS staffer and a Mosaic Church member respond. Great conversation!

  • bondChristian
    February 5, 2010

    Thanks for pointing this out. I didn’t know anything about this, but since I do, I’ll stay on the lookout…and listen for how it seems to resonate with those who see them.
    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  • Ken Eastburn
    February 5, 2010

    “It’s encouraging to see Christians not sitting on the sidelines but taking risks and putting the message out there.”
    -Not to detract from your overall point, but there is no “message” that Christians are putting out there in these cases. At least, not a uniquely Christian one. FOTF’s of course will be very pro-family, but it surely won’t include the Gospel and neither does Mosaic’s.
    Great for them for making strides in use of the media, but there is nothing noteworthy in terms of the Kingdom impact that these commercials are likely to have.
    So why is this “encouraging” again?

  • Phipps
    February 5, 2010

    I still yet stand in awe at some of the responses from Christians on these posts. Why so encouraging? Maybe finally Christians can be attached to relevance again? I just walked past a “Christian” tshirt display this morning and the most relevant shirt they can display is “pick Jesus” with a guitar pick on the front? Or “God is my Hero” for guitar hero? Seriously… Thank God we are getting to the place people will even give an ear to Christian anything anymore. You Go Mosaic… Totally proud… That my friend is encouraging! Btw the message? Not everything church sucks anymore!

  • Andy Wittwer
    February 5, 2010

    I think it’s encouraging to see churches engaging period. It seems like just recently there was an article here about Christians as artists and educators leading their fields. More often than not, we only engage when it’s “relevant” to salvation, when we should be engaged in a full life – sometimes that involves a casket full of doritos.

  • Michael Buckingham
    February 5, 2010

    I’m with Andy and Phipps, it’s time we realized the most effective preaching doesn’t come from the pulpit and certainly doesn’t come from being the most churchy.
    Imagine someone seeing the Doritos ad, someone who’s not been in church either because they’re not interested, been burned, or just think we’re all out of touch. They see the commercial, they laugh so hard they spill their drink and then see that it was done by a church.
    Could they, if even for a moment, think twice about the church? That’s a win.
    With the pro-life commercial, if they do it in a loving, positive way that will not only have an effect on abortions but also in how people see christians.
    This might sound sacrilegious to some of you, but we don’t have to have a bible in our hand to “preach”. Just be a light.

  • jenn
    February 6, 2010

    great place to advertise it, while people are over consuming liquor and beer and cursing at the game

  • Ben
    February 6, 2010

    Wouldn’t the Doritos contest be considered spec work? Why is there no open letter of criticism to Doritos and Erwin McManus?
    Just to be clear, I think there is nothing wrong with having a design contest. I’m just surprised that you have written favorably about the Doritos contest. Could you explain what the difference is?

  • Greg
    February 6, 2010

    What an interesting thought, and as one poster has already pointed out by referring to the consumption of liquor and beer, this is a great way to be a beacon in the night. I’ll be interested to see these commercials play.

  • Michael Buckingham
    February 6, 2010

    It’s a very good question Ben. It would certainly fall under the category of spec work and while I’m not a fan of spec work, this doesn’t bother me like most spec work.
    Let’s be real honest, spec work typically equals cheap work, the “prize” is subpar.
    Here the prize is a million dollars and it’s being aired on the biggest ad space that exists.
    The intention is very different, they aren’t looking for cheap work.
    But there’s definitely some gray here as I pointed out in the article “we realize that it’s not always a cut and dry issue.”

  • Jane
    February 8, 2010

    Are we this desperate to be accepted by mainstream America that we just laugh and make fun of miracles? I’ve had a miracle healing that kept me out of a wheelchair for 38 years now, and I say “No” to this Doritos ad. I see nothing encouraging about mocking ourselves. This does not make us relevant. It does make it easier for the world to scoff at church.
    We are not selling a laugh and good times at a social club. I don’t know what world you live in but there are still teens committing suicide, stressed out single Moms, people unemployed and worse. But we want to be accepted vis a vis “relevant”? I doubt this commercial would give any one of these people hope and reason to go to church.
    Let’s get off the buzzwords and easy ads and reach the lost with the only thing that can reach them, Jesus. If the preaching of the cross is offensive to those that perish so be it.

  • James
    February 8, 2010

    Did I miss something, or was there no mention of who produced any of the Doritos ads? If that’s the case, I think the potential impact of Mosaic’s ad is diminished by the fact that no one (other than those who are in the know) has any idea who made the ads. If I hadn’t known that Mosaic had made the ad, and that there was a contest, I would’ve thought the Doritos people used their own ad agency to make them.

  • Michael Buckingham
    February 8, 2010

    James, I was surprised to see now mention at all of the creator (unless I missed it to). But..the buzz will still be there and everyone within earshot of Mosaic will know.
    Jane, I love it when my son laughs, it makes me laugh. I think God, giver of joy, finds happiness in our laughter. I hardly think this ad was poking fun at miracles. Miracles are serious business. Jesus is serious business. But sometimes, we take ourselves a bit too seriously. Smile and be full of joy. If our fruit is getting up in arms about a Superbowl commercial that really was funny, well, no one is going to want to eat from that fruit bowl.

  • Jeff Goins
    February 8, 2010

    Just posted my thoughts on this from a marketing perspective. On all accounts, the Tebow ad was a fail:

  • Jon Reid
    February 9, 2010

    True, small proportion of Superbowl watchers will have picked up on the news that a church made the Casket commercial. But it was in the news, which should do a lot for their street cred (not to mention their PR).
    But I bet you didn’t know that there was a third commercial. Garman’s Pub, a “third place” mission outpost, was the setting for the last few seconds of the Budweiser “Human Bridge” commercial.

  • Jon Reid
    February 9, 2010

    True, small proportion of Superbowl watchers will have picked up on the news that a church made the Casket commercial. But it was in the news, which should do a lot for their street cred (not to mention their PR).
    But I bet you didn’t know that there was a third commercial. Garman’s Pub, a “third place” mission outpost, was the setting for the last few seconds of the Budweiser “Human Bridge” commercial.
    More on my blog.

  • michael Buckingham
    February 10, 2010

    While I agree with everyone who said the Focus on the Family commercial was yawnner (and I don’t see how it was a pro-life commercial)…they’re reporting a 40% increase in web traffic.

  • Ken Eastburn
    February 11, 2010

    I’ve yet to be convinced that commercials which, by all accounts, were Gospel-less are somehow now “relevant,” or a “beacon of light.”
    Just because a Christian group does something in front of a wide audience doesn’t mean they are “relevant.”
    At least, I hope “relevant” means more than getting a Gospel-less commercial in the Superbowl.

  • Jon Reid
    February 15, 2010

    Ken, I think we need to draw a distinction between media that puts a gospel message “out there” and media that draws people into the life of a specific faith community. The connection between the Budweiser commercial and Garman’s Pub is all but unknown to outsiders, but to those who consider the pub their own place, it is a point of pride and something to talk about that creates interest. And probably even more so for the Mosaic-produced Cheeto’s commercial.

  • Kate Logan
    March 9, 2011

    If Mosaic has cared half as much about people than it did about this commercial I would still being attending the church. I went to Mosaic and volunteered there for 6 full years, went I left not one single person noticed.

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