The Chosen and its unorthodox marketing campaign

The Chosen and its unorthodox marketing campaign April 16, 2022

It’s Holy Week on the Western calendar, which for some Christians means extra church services. For fans of The Chosen, on the other hand, it has meant reruns, discounted merchandise, and one highly unusual — and controversial — ad campaign.

Series creator Dallas Jenkins has been hosting an eight-day binge-watch of the series on YouTube and other websites since last Sunday. At two episodes per night, the entire sixteen-episode marathon will reach its conclusion on Easter Sunday — at a time when some churches will still be meeting for evening prayer.

More controversially, the show’s current billboard campaign took an unexpected turn this week when the ads were “defaced” with graffiti bearing harsh slogans like “The Chosen Is Boring” and “ChosenSux.com”, the latter of which turned out to be the URL for a website featuring a video in which Satan complains about the show’s success:

While it’s clear from the video that the graffiti was part of an elaborate ad campaign, many fans — not knowing the larger ad campaign — reacted badly to the “defaced” billboards, and Jenkins apologized for any confusion the campaign may have caused in his intro to the Wednesday-night edition of the week’s binge-watch series:

In a press release, Jenkins apologized for not cluing fans into the ad campaign earlier, and he said the primary aim of the campaign was to attract new viewers:

“I do regret not informing and including our core fans in our defacing gag, because that caused some unintended confusion and disappointment,” said Chosen creator Dallas Jenkins. “But moving forward, we’re extremely excited about this campaign and are already seeing new audiences who previously weren’t interested in the show.”

Interestingly, there are aspects to the ad campaign that would have been controversial to earlier generations of evangelicals but don’t seem to have attracted much comment.

For example, words like “sucks” (or “sux”) would have been beyond the pale in evangelical pop culture not too long ago. Indeed, the use of that word caused a stir in the mainstream press when a kid said “You suck!” in an episode of Uncle Buck in the early 1990s.

Also, the video suggests that demons are often ascending to Heaven because they want to be like Jesus, which deviates from the once-standard evangelical belief that no one goes to Heaven after being sent to Hell — not humans, and certainly not fallen angels.

The depiction of demons going back to Heaven is particularly striking in light of the fact that it’s reminiscent of a similar plot element in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, which some people found quite controversial at the time — and much of the hype surrounding The Chosen has explicitly tried to distance the series from films like that one.

The video’s depiction of the demons is also interesting in light of the fact that The Chosen has depicted at least two exorcisms so far, but no scenes of Jesus interacting with Satan himself. At the risk of taking this video too seriously — clearly it was meant to be taken as a joke — one cannot but help but wonder what it says about the underlying theology of the show itself. The producers say the video was supposed to be satirical like C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters — and certainly, depicting Hell as a job training site fits the bill — but I don’t think Lewis ever contradicted the actual theology he was trying to teach.

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