News broke last week that Mars Hill Church paid more than $200,000 to get a book by their pastor, Mark Driscoll, on the New York Times bestseller list.
1. This is not an uncommon practice.
Rick Warren supposedly did something similar with Purpose Driven Life (which he denies), prompting the New York Times to tighten up the rules for how they count bulk book purchases. He’s not the only one. The publishing industry is not shocked about this.
2. People are rooting for a Driscoll downfall.
It seems like a lot of people are rooting for Mark Driscoll’s downfall. This post about Driscoll effectively being pulled over for a broken taillight nails it. I think Driscoll’s persona welcomes a fight (and it sounds like he’s realizing how unhelpful his tone is), but people might be overreacting to this one.
3. Church says my bad (sorta).
Mars Hill released a statement addressing the bestseller fiasco (among other things), saying: “While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again.” They go on to defend everything they did, but also point out they were advised by “outside counsel.” Lots of blame passing, little admission of wrongdoing. Sigh.
Those are some interesting nuances to this whole mess. But none of those things justify shady marketing practices. What Mars Hill Church did wasn’t illegal, but it wasn’t ethical either.
The church is called to a higher standard. Period.
When Jesus called us to spread the good news he didn’t tell us to use any means necessary. Using coercion, manipulation or dishonesty go against the very message we’re trying to preach—the Apostle Paul renounced those methods (2 Corinthians 4:2). Gaming the system to draw more attention to your message is not good for your message.
But rather than throwing Driscoll and Mars Hill under the bus, let’s take a moment to learn from their situation. When “outside counsel” recommends a new idea, it’s easy to listen. It’s easy to justify potentially sketchy plans and ideas to ourselves when we’re talking about a big win. It’s tempting to believe we’re not breaking the rules per se, so it’s OK.
I’m not defending or justifying what Mars Hill did. But let’s remember the words of Jesus: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
- Have we inflated stats to make ourselves look better, whether it’s buying followers or drawing attention away from our mistakes?
- Are there times when we rip off other ideas, creating dishonest artwork that’s at best lazy and at worst plagiarized?
- Have we “borrowed” stock photos or used a worship song without paying the appropriate licensing fees? (Which would actually be illegal, in addition to being unethical.)
As marketers we always need to be looking at our own strategies and tactics, always testing to make sure everything we do is honest, ethical and above board. Our message demands—and deserves—nothing less.
What ethical questions have you struggled with?
Update: Mark Driscoll has released a pretty major apology, saying his “angry-young-prophet days are over” and withdrawing his claim as a New York Times bestseller.