Can a Christian work in the marketing field?

Recently I’ve been wrestling with an issue brought up by Anabaptists (with whom I havetheological  sympathies).  Historically, Anabaptists discourage their own (and by extension all Christians they can influence) from working in certain vocations.  The military is, of course, the most obvious one.  But, mostly, Anabaptists do not work for governments at all.  Some exceptions are made for social work and teaching.  But any job that involves coercion is traditionally off limits for Anabaptists.

Lately I’ve been wondering if a Christian CAN (not should, but CAN) would in the field of advertising–as it operates today in America.  It seems to me that the marketing industry has become so powerful and pervasive AND deceitful that a Christian would have to compromise his or her principles of honesty to work there. 

Now, of course, there are exceptions.  I’m sure there are specific advertising agencies that refuse to use deceitful tactics, but it seems to me they would have a hard time competing in the marketing industry that does, by and large, it seems to me, assume that some measure of deceitfulness is acceptable and even necessary.

I was debating within myself whether to blog on this and even asking God for guidance.  Today’s USAToday has a feature story about marketing that seemed to me a word from God to speak up about this.  (I’ve only been mulling it over in my mind for a few days.  Today’s USAToday article seems providential to me.)

According to USAToday (October 25, 2011) snack food makers and their advertisers are “cashing in on ‘artisan’ label.”  The gist of the article is that marketers know that calling a snack (or any food) “artisan” helps it sell.  But what does “artisan” mean?  Well, pretty much the same thing as “hand crafted” which is another phrase widely being used by marketers of foods. 

Now pizza is being marketed as “artisan.”  Sure, pizzas are made by human hands.  Well, some are.  But “artisan pizza?”  “Artisan” implies artistic work.  My son-in-law is an artisan; he has a MFA from a leading university and makes artistic furniture.  That’s a right use of “artisan.”  The USAToday article suggests that, given the label’s current use by marketers, it is losing all meaning.  I would say the same about “hand crafted.”  What is hand crafted coffee?  What is hand crafted beer?  How is it different from non-hand crafted coffee or beer?  What makes a potato chip “artisan?”

Okay, okay.  This seems minor.  Most people know they are being manipulated with such terms.  But are they really aware of how much the marketing industry affects their lives and others’?  Advertising is now everywhere.  You can’t turn your head in any public place (or even in your own home when the TV is on!) without being assaulted by marketing messages trying to get you to buy something you very well may not need or even want. 

I find it extremely annoying when I am watching a TV program and a little man pops up in the lower corner, walks across the screen and announces (e.g., with a banner) a future program on a different cable channel (owned, of course, by the same communication corporation).  Again, that seems minor, EXCEPT that such is everywhere all the time.  Now many grocery stores have little TV screens built into the shopping carts that try to get you to buy certain products.  Advertisers are invading schools now.  Almost every aspect of American life is affected by marketing.

But my complaint goes beyond the annoying to the downright deceitful.  I find much marketing is deceptive.  For example, my auto insurance company airs TV spots promoting a refund check for every period of time I don’t have an accident.  So I called my agent about it because I’ve never gotten one of those checks.  Chagrined, he informed me that the offer applies only to certain policies–in this case ones with teenagers on the family policy.  The TV spot doesn’t say that or even suggest it.  Is it a ploy to try to get people to call that company’s agents?

I pay a lot of attention to advertising–in order not to be influenced by it and in order to detect the sometimes subtle but often not very subtle deceptions in it.  One thing I’ve noticed is that many TV commercials for products have absolutely nothing to do with the product itself!  The whole commercial is aimed at persuading you that IF you buy that product you will be more likely to attract beautiful women or have fun parties or whatever.  But really informative is said about the product.  Similarly, many commercials seem aimed only at entertaining a certain demographic; the actual commercials say little or nothing about the advertised product which may only be in the background somewhere.

I could go on and on.  I think we have come to take all this for granted.  We are the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling kettle who doesn’t jump out but dies.  (I’ve always wondered if that’s really true, but I don’t want anyone to do an experiment to find out.  It would be inhumane.)  For example, all newspaper ads for movies state the movies begin when they don’t!  I buy a ticket and get to the movie theater ten minutes early and have to endure ten minutes of commercials.  THEN the commercials extend ten minutes or more past the time the movie was supposed to begin.  THEN I have to watch previews for another ten or fifteen minutes.  The movie usually begins about twenty minutes AFTER the advertised time.  We’ve gotten use to that and so we take it for granted.  But should we?  It’s blatantly deceptive.  Should a Christian be involved in that? 

I would like to suggest that marketing and advertising may be a field Christians must abandon IF they cannot operate with total transparency and honesty in it.  And I am doubtful that these days that’s possible.

  • http://www.gentlewisdom.org/ Peter Kirk

    The problem with your argument is that it also implies that Christians shouldn’t benefit from marketing. This would make it almost impossible for a Christian to run a business. It would also impact whether you can write a blog supported by advertising, much of which (perhaps including the ones for insurance and Forex trading on the current sidebar) is likely to be deceptive. Indeed one might wonder whether Christians should even buy products from companies which make most of their sales and so of their money through marketing.

    So it seems to me that there are only two consistent positions here. One is to escape from the world and live a self-sufficient life on a desert island. The other is to live in the world while seeking to remain untainted by it. That would imply that Christians can work in marketing etc as long as they can act as personal witnesses to truth and integrity. And I know which of these positions is more biblical.

    • rogereolson

      Or perhaps Christians should start their own marketing firms and insist on truth in advertising with their clients. The only problem with that is, it’s hard to compete against liars in a culture so lacking in discernment. But, you’re right, there’s no way to escape it without fleeing to a desert island (or into a “The Village”-like enclosed socieety). My preference is to curse the darkness while being surrounded by it and living in it.

      • John

        I market for a living. I know a number of believers who do.

        I don’t know that your premise is correct, that in order to compete, a Christian will need to compromise themselves in the field of advertising or marketing.

        In fact, the smartest and best in the field know that people like you have had it with the type of hyped advertising you speak of. You are far from a minority. And so those who I know (these are not national ad agencies, whom I think your example speaks more to), focus on building trust and credibility…which is the stock and trade of truly lasting marketing. And that is not just from a Christian perspective, that is what many secular marketers believe as well.

        That said, much marketing IS controlled by the devil so to speak. It appeals to the darker side of human nature and to its insatiable nature….sex, something for nothing, greed, etc.

      • Timothy

        One particular profession notorious in the UK for its economy with the truth is Estate Agents (or Real Estate in US?). Tiny apartments are labelled ‘compact’ and so on. Some years ago an estate agent became famous for his stunning honesty in his adverts. They became very sought after as they were so amusing as well as honest. He did very well out of this. But I don’t know what became of him as he is not to be seen now.

    • Rob

      The problem with your argument is that right and wrong have nothing to do with efficiency, self-gratification, or success. (Unless you are some sort of utilitarian, in which case you are laboring under an anti-Christian not to mention false moral theory.)
      So is deceiving customers right and wrong? That shouldn’t be hard to figure out. The consequences to your material success in the world are irrelevant.

  • Kevin Hall

    Dr. Olson – The AMC show Mad Men is a great study in Madison Avenue’s coming of age as it moves into more “deceitful” practices. If you can wade through the soap opera elements, it is a great period piece on our culture – including marketing practices. It really provides some insight, and in my opinion more validity, to your proposition. Thank you for your prophetic post today.

  • http://adammoore.us Adam Moore

    This makes me think of Shane Hipps who is a teaching pastor at Rob Bell’s church. He used to be in advertising but left that and became a Mennonite pastor (now he’s at Mars Hill).

    http://marshill.org/shane-hipps/

  • JenG

    This is a great show on CBC Radio in Canada about the world of advertising – I find all the podcasts very interesting and revealing. http://www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion/

    As an author, you must rely heavily on marketing to promote your books, don’t you? Even blogging is a form of self-marketing to interact with your audience, glean ideas and create relationship with – not only your fellow intellectuals – but technically, your “customers”… This is NOT in any way to imply you are somehow a seedy marketer!!! But I’d like to respectfully point out that it should be noted that your career more or less depends on this marketing industry for book sales… You also are profiting from ads on your blog. Ads made by the very industry you are slamming here! Something to consider?

    Your fellow seeker and customer,
    JenG

  • http://www.theChristianAlert.org Edgar

    that is too funny. this is the same issue with how many angels can fit on a pin’s head. If you are a Christian, you wouldn’t “pervasively lie” would you? You can work in Marketing and do great things. You can do all things through Christ!

  • http://langueorparole.blogspot.com/ Jeremy Patterson

    Exactly what I think!

    That said, I have a question about your blog. I do not mean this to be disrespectful or snide in any way whatsoever. But given that you don’t like marketing, why did you allow your blog to be moved to a site that assaults the reader with ads? I eschew blogs with ads but still visit yours simply because your content is so interesting.

    Jeremy

    • rogereolson

      Good point! How ironic. But, as I said, advertising is everywhere and you just can’t get away from it. It pays for many good things. I was mooching off a friends’ server and blog administrative knowledge and time for the first year. I felt guilty about that. Patheos offered to take me on and I agreed–not knowing about the ads that would be attached to my blog. But, they pay the bills. It’s the only way…. Call it making friends with mammon! :)

      • http://www.jonathanguenther.com/blog Jonathan Guenther

        If the only reason for your blog being here is that it’s free, you can host your blog yourself (and setup, installation, maintenance, etc. is quite easy) for as low as about $4 per month. My blog is set up that way. It’s not very expensive, and no ads! :)

        • rogereolson

          Well, one other reason my blog is here at patheos.com is they have competent techies who fix things when they go wrong. A few months ago I was inundated with spam–at least 100 messages I had to read every day. Many of them were ingeniously written to seem not to be spam to get through filters. Patheos folks fixed it. I now rarely get spam. Being quite ignorant about technology, it’s good for me to be on a server that has reliable and competent help when I need something fixed. My former blog administrator was very good also, but I was eating up a lot of his time with my requests for help without paying him for it. I hated that.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    @ Roger – Wonderful topic.

    To be in the marketing dept for a fertilizer company is one thing, for a shampoo company is quite different. I think the reason for this is the consumers. Those who buy fertilizer (large scale) are not taken in by mere appearance or hype – they would buy based on research or experience or word-of-mouth or money considerations. Those who buy shampoo have so many more choices and the color or the shape of the bottle or the smile of the person in the ad or the smell might very well tip one brand in favor of another. Getting that extra little edge would make all the difference – and the difference usually has nothing to do with the utility of the product itself.

    I think some aspects of marketing are simply trying to separate the money from the fool. While we may not like it, it is part of how our society has become. We need Christians involved to transform it – have it be more honest and transparent. But, methinks, barring some cataclysm, the unhappy marketing will continue to be more and more like The Truman Show.

    • rogereolson

      The Truman Show! One of my favorite movies of all time. And so many theological themes there. I use it as an illustration of Calvinism–right up to the end where Truman escapes the evil clutches of Kristoff who claims he is doing him a favor by controlling him.

  • Joe Canner

    I, too, sympathize with a lot of Anabaptist theology and I totally agree with your critique of the advertising industry. However, I also wonder how Christians are going to be salt and light in a particular industry if they abandon that industry entirely. This has already happened in the entertainment industry generally (perhaps beyond the point of no return). Yes, there are limits to this line of thinking, but I believe it is possible for God to raise up men and women with talent and integrity who can bring the Light to such industries. At the very least, such a possibility should be considered.

    • rogereolson

      Yes, I agree, it should be considered and explored. But, as I said to another comment, it’s difficult to compete with liars. But I would like to see a Christian marketing firm give it a try.

  • http://www.ologie.com Collin Simula

    I would clarify that marketing and advertising aren’t necessarily the same. I work for a branding/marketing agency. We rarely do advertising. Most of our work is for higher ed institutions. Our tagline is “Building Brands. With Purpose.”

    So I wouldn’t paint a broad stroke as marketing. I would make it more pointed—advertising. Because the advertising field is much different and MUCH more cutthroat and ethics-less than than my industry, which would be branding, marketing, and messaging.

    Good post, though.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for that clarification. I was not aware of the distinction. I thought advertising and marketing were the same thing–the latter just being a fancier name for it. You taught me something there.

  • Adam L

    What about that annoying commercial that encourages gluttony in people to prevent them from getting “Out-Whataburgered”? ;)

    • Adam L

      In all serious though, I know what you mean. In fact, I’ve asked that question myself. There are so many decisions like that that I used to have to deal with as an actor. Often it’s the case that doing commercials like that are the only way actors can make money because (especially in Texas) paying film roles are so rare. The same is true for people who work behind the camera as well. And yet the TV/Film industry is such a strategic place for Christians to be working as salt and light. The only way I could see around this dilemma would be if the church stepped up and began to support Christians being called to the film industry as they support missionaries. In fact, I think that would make a lot of sense for the church to start doing.

      • rogereolson

        They would be missionaries–so long as they don’t get seduced into the dark side of the industry.

      • http://bydimarco.blogspot.com/ Marcus

        Wow good perspective Adam. I agree wholeheartedly. But until something like that happens, someone called to an industry like that should work their butt off making ends meet just like Paul the apostle did, working whatever job they can on the side, whatever it takes. Go get em.

    • rogereolson

      Good point, Adam. I think I know somebody in one of those commercials. But I consider him a victim of this leviathan called advertising. A person has to make a living, you know! :) It’s the execs that I criticize.

  • J.R.

    You might want to check out Shane Hipps who is an Anabaptist and used to work in marketing. He has has a lot to say about how we integrate our lives with technology and marketing in his Book Flickering Pixels.

    http://shanehipps.com/

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for that recommendation. And it jogged my memory. In my post I should have mentioned a colleagues’ forthcoming book on advertising called Shiny Objects. I believe it is to be published next month. I can’t wait to read it.

  • http://HoxeyvilleNorthofNirvana Eric Snider

    If you set the bar high enough (“total transparency and honesty”) there may be few occupations left for Christians (I wonder if most pastors, missionaries, directors of rescue missions or shelters, and so on, would have to quit too). Can a Christian be an actress (or actor) portraying a despicable character?

    Almost twenty years ago I was interviewed by the Board of Trusteees for a faculty position (in Philosophy) at a christian college. One question I was asked: “Can a christian be a hockey player?” About 1/3 of the BOT were Canadian, so they were grumbling about what a stupid question it was. My response: it is not my task as a philosopher to dictate what it might mean to be a christian hockey player. Rather, the christian hockey players should get together to discuss what it means for them. Is there something that should be unique or different about us, as christians, playing hockey? I suggested that the sorts of things they might come up with included not playing dirty, especially when the ref isn’t looking, being sportsmanlike and professional (especially knowing that your teammates are paying attention to you to see how genuine you are). You might have perspective: it is a game, people find it entertaining, you are good at it (side note: Flannery O’Connor was asked why she became a writer, and she responded “because I am good at it” and the person was offended that the answer didn’t exhibit sufficient humility), you make money at it, but it is not the most important thing in life. Certainly you wouldn’t skate slower, or check any softer. Maybe, I said, when you made a particulary crushing check on someone against the boards, as you skate away you might quote a bible verse, like “Peace, be still.” That brought a roar from the BOT, and I got the job (not claiming a causal connection for a mere correlation).

    Still, I urge my main point for christians in marketing and advertising: they need to be the ones primarily engaged in conversation about what it means to be a christian in their career. They might seek advice from theologians or philosophers. They might read Rich Mouw’s CALLED TO HOLY WORLDLINESS. They might see what they can learn from christians who teach marketing and advertising (whether at secular or at christian colleges). They might read about other christians in other professions who reflect on integrating all they believe or think important in their career activities and work. They might even read Niebuhr’s CHRIST AND CULTURE to get a handle on some models for thinking about and framing the discussion.

    Lastly, I wonder if someone in marketing and advertising would say (in regard to the seeming bombardment with commercials, advertising, and marketing) something like the folks you see on the fundraisers for Public TV: if you want to get back to regular programming, contribute now. For the movie theatre, maybe they could have a showing, for an extra $2 per ticket, where you could avoid the advertising. Otherwise, it is the cost of being entertained.

    • rogereolson

      Good points and suggestions all. Except maybe the last one. My main complaint is that the movie theaters advertise that the movie begins at, say, 7:00 PM when, in fact, it begins at 7:15 or even 7:20 PM. That’s dishonest, in my opinion. It’s a lie we have gotten used to. There are so many of those that lying in advertising is expected and taken for granted. And yet many people get sucked in where it really matters to life and health (e.g., advertising foods that are really bad for you as if they are good for you).

  • James T

    Oh my! Advertising is sales. Selling is the oil of a capitalist society. Businesses don’t survive without sales. People don’t have jobs without businesses. Without jobs people starve. Should we ban selling?!

    All too true–some ads and commercials are misleading and unethical. So are some salespeople.

    The better answer, as old as selling itself: “buyer beware!”

    • rogereolson

      In my opinion, that’s too simplistic because in today’s complex world it’s almost impossible to know with regard to every product whether it is being promoted honestly or not. Also, much advertising is aimed at tweens who are literally unable to “beware.” And sometimes, even if you “beware,” you fall prey to false advertising. I could tell stories about that–e.g., of driving 100 miles one way (200 total) to look at a used car for my daughter that turned out to have been sold weeks earlier. The car dealer was still advertising it at a below-book-value price as a hook to get people onto his lot. (This is a major new car/used car dealership–not a shady used car lot in a bad part of town.) I called before we drove the 100 miles and they assured me the car was still there and for sale at the advertised price. When we got there they claimed it had “just sold.” I wrote to the president of the company that owned that dealership (and many others) and complained. He confirmed that the dealer had lied to me and said the car sold weeks earlier and he would put a stop to that practice. Somehow, however, I suspect the dealership just found another dishonest way to get people onto their lot.

      • James T

        I have to agree with some of the other posts. It is better to flood the profession (advertising and marketing) with Christians. As some have observed, we lost the arts because Christians neglected them.

        Another point thought–I don’t want to give up on a profession I was part of for 30 years–is that I think you will find the vast majority of advertising is honest. As anything, when we are burned by the dishonest we tend to paint with a broad brush. In my 30 years as a sales person and negotiator I don’t believe I ever lied or misrepresented the product I was selling, and I rose to the top. The best sales marketing people are honest–you need only lie once to lose your reputation. BTW, I found a few customers who were willing to ask for unethical practices.

        My post is an observation. As someone said, “Godless capitalism is no better than Godless communism.” We are plopped into a capitalistic society and though I work toward fairness and goodness within system e.g., progressive taxation, I’m here to obey the rules.

        • http://bydimarco.blogspot.com/ Marcus

          Agree, same with science. You can loose your rep easily. If you want to move to the top you have to do things honestly, even self sacrificially.

  • http://hermeme.wordpress.com rene diebenkorn

    This is such a great post. I have always wondered about this vocation, and with it certain retail sales jobs… It’s hard to think through!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Scott

    I got a degree in advertising, but decided not to use it (for several reasons, but mainly) because I couldn’t reconcile my beliefs with the specific deceptiveness of some advertising (such as saying a company offers a service that it actually only does for a very select group of people, like you mentioned), and also with the more subtle deceptiveness of suggesting that any product could possible fulfill people in a way that I (we) believe only Jesus can.

  • JRT

    I have been wrestling with this as well. The reasons why Christians should not participate in marketing are legion: deception, manipulation of peoples desires, etc. But on the other hand I am reluctant to condemn the entire line of work as completely irredeemable, like that is one thing that is left to Mammon.

    To further complicate things, Christian marketing is often even more odious to me. I’m not just talking about obvious things like prosperity gospel televangelists who cheat people out of there money with false promises and manipulation. Every few weeks I get mail from a well known Christian organization that does great work among the downtrodden and poverty-stricken. Yet I always find myself throwing away these letters in disgust, because of that ever familiar feeling…I am being manipulated. Every gaunt child and tagline implies “if you don’t give MORE you are basically a horrible person.” On the one hand part of my soul embraces the need for more sacrifice and selflessness, but the rest of it rebels against this attempt at guilt manipulation (full disclosure: I have struggled with guilt all my life, so I am probably extra sensitive to it). The irony is that I could have avoided all this guilt by never giving in the first place; my mailing address would not have been in their hands.

    Basically, this brings me a lot of angst and I am curious to hear your thoughts. If “marketing” was completely abandoned by Christians, few Christian organizations would ever get anything done. Maybe we need to settle into the hard task of defining what godly “marketing” (maybe “awareness” is a better term) looks like, which involves a lot of hard discussion.

    Sorry for the length of the post, especially from a newbie…

    • rogereolson

      I agree with everything you say. That is exactly what Christians need to do–flood the field of advertising and redeem it (if possible). I’m just doubtful about the success of such an enterprise because it is hard to compete with liars. Perhaps some Christian organization needs to expose lying in advertising. Could that be a ministry? The prophets were pretty good at being negative (the power of negative thinking!). Where are today’s Christian prophets that risk being labeled “nattering nabobs of negativism?” But, I wish a Christian going into advertising all the best and hope he or she will hold fast to truth and resist the lure of dollars from lying.

  • http://www.thecachinnator.com Scott Baker

    Hmmm… Can you define “coercion” a little better? While I was at the Hippodrome, I frequently advertised and marketed our shows to the public. While I don’t feel that I ever “coerced” anyone into coming to a show, I at least implied that coming to a show was better than whatever else a person might choose to do on show night. Is it always coercive to lead someone to do something that they otherwise would not had you not interacted with them? Is it only so if you benefit financially from that interaction? Isn’t this sort of soft social coercion necessary to improve and educate ourselves and each other? And don’t churches outright rely on it for most of their membership?

    Believe me, I’m completely with you on the evils of advertising. I like to think of myself as quite savvy and advert-resistant. But it’s the idea of coercion that has me hung up. Where do you draw the lines for this conversation?

    • rogereolson

      Hi, Scott. I miss you at church! We haven’t had any good skits since you and your wife left. (Not that that’s all you contributed, but it was the most obvious contribution.) I guess like many postmoderns and “violence” I use “coercion” broadly–perhaps too broadly. To me, a person is exercising coercion whenever he or she manipulates another person into doing something they would not otherwise do using underhanded tactics (which manipulation usually involves). For example, I think I was coerced into driving 100 miles one way to Austin to look at a used car being advertising below book value by a major dealership once I called and confirmed with them the car was still there and for sale at that price. Sure, nobody was holding a gun to my head to make me go, but the dealership knew the incentive they were deceptively dangling in from of me was bound to bring me there (given my need for just such a car).

  • Mikael Stenhammar

    Dr. Olson,

    Once again you speak on a subject that we tend to overlook and even leave un-reflected. Thanks!

    I have personally noticed that the less advertisement I am exposed to, the easier it is to keep my eyes focused on Christ. Ads and commercial often distracts and blurs our focus, especially those containing material to spark our lusts in one way or another.

    Ads also play at making us discontent with our present situation, possessions, etc, when the Christian attitude should be contentment and thankfulness. During my years serving in Africa, often in places where there are no ads (apart from Coca-Cola of course!), I find myself more content and at peace.

    Just a few days ago I came across this Wikipedia entry on the boiling frog. Thought you might like it too http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog

    Mikael Stenhammar
    Sweden

    • rogereolson

      Thanks! I should have looked that up on my own. Thank God for wikipedia! (Note to my students: Don’t rely on it alone for your information when writing formal essays and research papers!)

  • gingoro

    I suspect that a Christian could attempt to run an ethical ad agency but that staying in business would be very difficult except possibly an agency placing ads in a small town rural area. Have never met a Christian in the advertising area. In marketing as opposed to sales IMO a Christian would not likely have any problems in say a large computer manufacturing company or any similar enterprise. I was a developer in a large software and hardware company. One of our projects was developing betting terminals. With no problems I found other projects to work on.
    Dave W

  • http://www.christusvictoratonement.wordpress.com Ryan Mahoney

    I am going to jump in on this question with a decisive NO. Watch the PBS Frontline program “The Persuaders.” Understand that the ad industry at this time in history has a better anthropology and ecclesiology that the American, evangelical church. By that I mean, the ad industry understands humans, the imago dei and how we work better than the church, and they understand the import of narrative, memory and liturgy in community formation better than much of the American church. (See James Smith “Desiring the Kingdom”).

    However, while their method (anthropology and ecclesiology) are spot on, the aim to which they seek is a false idol. They are seeking to speak to us at a pre-cognitive level through image, story, meaning-making and community/identity formation about a disposable product or service. They are doing with image, narrative and community/identity formation through products what the church should be doing with Jesus, the Gospel (McKnight’s definition), and formation of the Kingdom/Church through the scriptures.

    It is theoretically possible to establish a Christian agency and do advertising Christianly, but the refusal to engage in current method and practice (which should be reserved for the church in using the biblical narrative, image, meaning-making, and identity shaping for the gospel) would leave that agency crippled as a business. In other words, a Christian agency could not use the current grammar and language of the industry thus leaving them in a powerfully disadvantaged position.

    • http://bydimarco.blogspot.com/ Marcus

      Do you really think that God’s will is for an industry to be doomed? We are supposed to be salt and light, and marketing is not necessarily evil so those Christians called to it should go into it and be salt and light, preserving the industry.

  • Andy

    Dr. Olson,

    I wanted to post yesterday, but was delayed.

    I’ve been a campus minister for the past eight years at Northwestern University and am in the midst of pursuing an MBA there with one concentration in marketing…hence why I didn’t post yesterday because of the work I needed to do for my classes. Most of what I wanted to say was already said, but there are a few things I’d like to clarify.

    - Marketing as brand building is different from advertising. The equivalent of what you said here would be like saying biblical theology and systematic theology, and liberation theology are the same. They are different subsets of theology, and sometimes overlap, but if you put them in the same room they don’t think they are doing the same thing.

    - Marketing as an orientation is putting the voice of the customer first and foremost. You are actually “marketing” through your blog by “building the Roger Olson brand,” whether you are doing it consciously or unconsciously. If a savvy marketer, Christian or not, would find a segment of folks like you and cater to your needs, they might put an advertisement by saying, “come see a movie on time without the commercials.”

    - We see LOTS of marketing in the American Evangelical Christian subculture. Early American church history is essentially a tale of a free religious market with a lack of supply of pastors leading to the rise of itinerant preachers and lay leaders. Another more contemporary example is the ESV responding to the TNIV. Sadly, biblical translations are just as much about marketing now as it is about literal translation and dynamic equivalence. What is most dangerous about this is that Christians copy tactics from the world without knowing it.

    But your issue with marketing brings up bigger ethical issues for Christians engaging in the greater culture. For instance, if one is involved in cross cultural missions, should one pay a bribe when it is viewed locally as a tip because it’s assumed as a part of the culture? The bigger question is, how does one engage the culture well? An anabaptist bias would certainly give one answer, but for those within the field it is often insufficient.

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  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Should a Christian work in the field of “advertising” and “marketing?” Well, Jesus endorsed this profession when he said, “And the gospel must first be published among all nations” (Mk 13:10 KJV). The apostle Paul was not too concerned about misleading advertising, saying, “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill… But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil 1:15,18 NIV). In this respect, perhaps all these different Christian denominations are a good thing. They’re all preaching Christ, but at some level they all have different doctrines concerning Him.

    • rogereolson

      “Publishing” is one thing; “advertising” is another thing. My question was about whether a Christian work in the contemporary American advertising industry given its tendency to encourage deceit and manipulation.

      • James T

        What about all the porn that’s published . . . should Christians stay out of publishing ;-)

        Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

        • rogereolson

          If it’s impossible or even very difficult to work in the publishing industry without becoming involved in producing or promulgating pornography–yes. I think you’re comparing apples and oranges there.

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  • John

    I just actually quit my marketing job today, because i couldn’t compete with dishonest and deceitful people. I didn’t even trust what my team members were saying to me. best decision ever was quitting, getting a job in youth work now

    • http://bydimarco.blogspot.com/ Marcus

      Ya, these types of fields are hard. Without a real vision for how something should be and good understanding of how to get it there, it’s not good.

      One should probably find something else that they do have a strong vision for and understanding and love for.

      Also to have a love for the type of people in the field is also crucial.

  • http://bydimarco.blogspot.com/ Marcus

    The reason marketing is so bad is there are not enough Christians in it to be a good example to the rest.

    The way you be a good example is to work your butt off improving methods and being honest about mistakes so that the honest way becomes the more profitable way.

    That is what I have done in science.

  • Linda Johnson

    Politics too. If you don’t lie, you die. And all liars have their place in the lake of fire. It makes you wonder, if you didn’t doubt it already, whether God was really behind those prophets who told us for thirty+ years, and keep telling us, that God is trying to raise up an electorate to vote for godly candidates, because He never sent any godly candidates for us to vote for. Not a single one.

    • rogereolson

      Well, in my opinion, Jimmy Carter did his best to be a godly president. But I’m not sure it’s possible.

  • Linda Johnson

    If you are promoting your own business, you’ll be under the obligation to do it honestly. Not only that, but marketing is concerned with getting people to want to buy your product or service. They say something like this: your job is to make people aware of something they don’t know about, to make that awareness a desire, and to make that _desire_ a “need.” Guess what this principle doesn’t care about? The sin of covetousness! So, if you market your own product or service, faithfulness to the Lord demands that you do it in a way that doesn’t exploit the human tendency to be covetous as well as that you do it with honesty about what you have to offer customers. We don’t have the right to tempt people to sin, even if this is America and 2011 and business is considered sacrosanct, and we need to make a living. So, what about a job in marketing? Saying you can do all things through Christ does not mean that He is going to give you a job in which you can do marketing honestly. If He doesn’t, then that is one thing that you can’t do in Christ, with His help: something that is against His will! It sounds great to say “be salt and light to the industry,”
    but being salt and light in the marketing industry would mean that you would refuse to lie or deceive in any way, and that you would refuse to help make people more covetous. Otherwise, you would not be salt and light, you’d be “that typical Christian hypocrite.” To have a job in marketing that allowed you to be salt and light without punishing you for it, you’d have to providentially find a _real_ marketing job that did not require deceiving people or tempting them to covet the products you are trying to get them to buy. You’d have to find a firm that would tolerate your scruples against these things, and continue to pay you when your scruples cost them business because companies preferred a more aggressive pushing of the product than you were willing to give. More likely, you would be salt and light for that company when you were fired for not giving them what a basically sinful business demanded; you’d be salt and light, then, being pushed out the door because you wanted to be faithful to Jesus. So, see, it sounds theoretically good to say “be salt and light to the industry” but you have to think about what this means in a real world, with real businesses run by real people.

    It is sometimes possible to find a sales job that does not involve lying or covetousness. I had an uncle who sold meat to the Krystal hamburger restaurants (the south’s White Castle) for awhile. That job did not involve covetousness because the Krystal was going to buy some meat, whoever it was from. There are jobs selling auto parts to repair shops; some of those might not involve covetousness or dishonesty. But, it is the actuality of the situation and what it will entail that determines whether it is a sinful job for you. Promoting cotetousness is wrong in particular situations, and it is also wrong to give thumbs up to the pervasive covetousness of our society, isn’t it? Yet it might be, in a particular case, that someone could have just the right job in marketing that was truly a gift of God, and where God placed them, and then it wouldn’t require lying or covetousness-tempting. But it would only be from God if you could truly do it without sin or tempting others to sin.

    • rogereolson

      My colleague wrote (and his book was just published by HarperOne) “Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy.” I haven’t finished reading it yet (I just bought it yesterday), but it looks like a powerful expose of American materialism, consumerism and the advertising industry. My colleague teaches in the School of Business! This is the kind of prophetic cultural criticism we need more of from Christians.

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  • fran

    what about christain mingle!!!!!!!


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