Since its foiled attempt before Christmas to run an advert before cinema screenings of Star Wars: the Force Awakens, the Church of England has been busy plotting ways to reach out to a potential new congregation. Up its sleeve for Easter is a series of films for YouTube, featuring former homeless people and ex-drug addicts whose faith has helped them turn their lives around, it was announced this week. Without doubt, the Church's initiative is ambitious. But with an estimated 500 hours of new video now uploaded to YouTube every minute, is it bold enough to cut through?
"The Church is preaching to the converted," says Tim Page, vice-president at media technology company Adaptly. "If its goal is to engage with existing communities, then YouTube and their own online sites are fine."
The campaign, known as the "Psalm 22 Project", revolves around the real-life accounts of five men and women, who each present their own interpretation of a scene from the Passion of Christ, says Reverend Arun Arora, communications director for the Church of England.
Ten adverts that shocked the world
Ten adverts that shocked the world
A poster from an anti-smoking campaign by Les Droits des Non-fumeurs
This poster of a grotesquely over-developed child is part of a campaign by ad agency Serve, commissioned by the Family Violence Partnership in Milwaukee, to raise awareness about statutory rape. The tagline reads 'If you see a child as anything more, it's wrong.'
This bizarre advert appears to show a young woman getting intimate with a dog. It was designed to promote a new magazine for jetsetters 'Deutsch Magazine', although quite what the 'international lifestyle' it claims to promote consists of, one might wonder.
Dubbed 'Vaginads' by the media, the campaign for Tom Ford's menswear featured a series of close-ups of naked women with a cologne bottle covering their most intimate parts. Naturally, we couldn't publish such raunchy pictures, but you'll find a variation on the theme above.
A spoof campaign for the virtuously eco-friendly Prius portrays three immoral scenes - murder (above), prostitution and adultery- bearing the tagline 'Well, at least he drives a Prius'.
A South American beauty clinic called Xiomara Coronado Beauty Center launched this campaign featuring digitally enhanced images of Angelina Jolie and Paris Hilton, alleging that they'd look that wrinkly in years to come if they neglected their skincare routine.
M&C Saatchi is responsible for this campaign for the Australian Red Cross aimed at promoting blood donation. The gruesome image of a blood filled donation pot certainly provokes a reaction.
This Benetton advert features a photo of Aids sufferer and activist David Kirby and his family by Therese Frare (1990). The original picture, which won the World Press Photo Award, was published in black and white, but Benetton's advertisers decided they wanted to use a colour version to make it seem more shockingly like a real ad. The ad was designed to raise awareness of Aids and Kirby's family and Frare approved of the photos use. But it provoked a storm of criticism from other Aids activists who claimed the campaign was in some way a vindication of homosexuality.
Bearing the slogan 'Fair trial, my arse,' this Agent Provocateur advert bears a cheeky message. Having teamed up with human rights campaigners Reprieve, the sheer orange undies were part of a wider campaign against the illegal detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
Fashion designer Kenneth Cole's 'We all have Aids' ad campaign caused ripples because the posters (see above) so closely resembled normal fashion ads. The tagline 'We're all potential carriers' refers not to the bag the model is brandishing, but to Aids.
"Psalm 22 includes the words 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' said by Jesus on the cross," he says. "The film explores the themes of suffering, and the coexistence of faith and doubt."
We'll be able to see the full film on Easter Sunday. Until then we can view teasers – each focused on one person – which are being released over the five weeks until Easter. The first went live on the Church of England's website and its YouTube channel on Ash Wednesday this week. Related blog and audio content is also being released, week by week.
Since November 2014, when it launched a weekly podcast and relaunched its official You Tube channel, the Church of England has been working hard to become more digitally focused in its communications, and more engaged with social media – creating content that it hopes followers will share with friends. As well as a presence on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, it is also on Pinterest and Tumblr – proof if it's needed that social media is the 21st-century equivalent of the old town square. Yet, despite its latest efforts, some can't help wondering if the new, digitally minded Church of England might be missing a few tricks.
Choosing the right platform is key, for example. Facebook, which now generates eight billion video views each day, is deemed by many content creators to be a far better video-distribution platform than YouTube, for example. And, despite being favoured by many well-known personalities, Twitter's numbers are now starting to stagnate.
Viral content – that which is so compelling that viewers freely choose to share and pass it on – is a powerful way to grow an existing audience and build new ones, says Joe Wade, co-founder of Don't Panic, the creative agency behind viral hits such as Most Shocking Second a Day for Save the Children and Everything is Not Awesome for Greenpeace.
"If they want to reach people beyond those visiting their own online platforms already, they need to reach out – by taking their content into different online communities," he says. "Humour helps when you want people to share a film, but you don't have to be funny. More important is to actively build in to your content elements appealing directly to different groups to encourage them to share. Whatever you do, if you want to stand out online, you've got to be bold."
These films form the second part of the Church of England's JustPray.uk campaign, a website dedicated to prayer with a live prayer feed from across the globe via Twitter, Vine and Instagram. To promote its launch, the Church of England commissioned production company Constellation Films to make The Lord's Prayer – a film featuring Christians from all walks of life praying – which it tried to get shown by leading cinemas as part of the ad reel before the Star Wars movie in the run-up to Christmas. However, after the UK's three largest cinema chains refused to show it, the Church ended up distributing the advert on its own online platforms – just as it is doing with these new films for Easter.