Mixed Signals: What the Christian Message Says to the Masses

Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.

Branding strategy is all about precise target definition with custom messaging developed to reach that particular group of people. It works. That’s why most brands, companies, and organizations do it. But there is a danger in becoming ultra-focused on the specific preferences of the target while disregarding the preferences of the market at large.

Case in point: Burger King.

Seth Stevenson’s article at Slate details Burger King’s use of a narrowly targeted campaign to its “‘superfans’ — meaning young dudes who eat fast food on a near daily basis.” Focusing upon this smaller target, Burger King employed the creative services of agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky to produce the creepy, plastic mask-wearing King and — according to Stevenson — other “campaigns that valued provocation above substance and casual cruelty above inclusiveness.”

Ouch. But double ouch for Burger King, for sales have dropped. Stevenson wonders “if actively ignoring, and even offending, every other demographic category in America might be unwise for a nationwide brand that could potentially find solid customers among women, children, and men who don’t wear Ed Hardy T-shirts.”

This has me wondering about Christian-based messaging that is intended for our target but is seen by the market at large. Are we like Burger King, targeting our Christian “superfans” without regard for others who hear our message? With better messaging, we could potentially attract Christ followers among those who don’t wear WWJD gear.

Scriptures tell us there will always be opposition to the grace of God found in Christ Jesus. No matter how we communicate, some will be offended by the Gospel.

I’m not suggesting we water down the Gospel or shape every church event for newcomers. I am proposing, however, that Christians should be aware that our message reaches more than our superfan base, and we could be more mindful of the argot, tone, and message we use. Fellow CaPC writer Alan Noble says it well in his column this week:

“If Christians (myself very much included) would consistently and seriously pursue adopting habits of speech that befit our calling, I am convinced that we would honor God before the world, win over enemies with our love and reasonableness, and divert time away from unprofitable debates and controversies so that we might devote ourselves more to loving our neighbor and fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Scriptures teach us to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6) and to “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

By the way, Burger King has switched ad agencies. They learned the hard way that targeting a message to your superfans doesn’t mean that they are the only ones listening.

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  • This seems to me to be related to working out of a mindset of hospitality more than a mindset of friendliness, which is a change that many churches have been trying to make. I haven’t heard a buzz-phrase that sums up the distinction (and I would probably hate it if I did), but one way I’ve been trying to open our congregation’s eyes to think hospitably is to think of the difference between a door with a sign on it that says “Come on in!” and a door that someone’s holding open for you and greeting you with a “Come on in” and a handshake.