Adspeak becomes gospel

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The Independent Online
RADICAL advertising urging people to go to church rather than the pub this Christmas marks the start of a new phase of religious campaigning in the UK.

The promotion is the first work of Christians In Media (CIM), a small group covering a range of advertising disciplines, and united in a desire to use their skills to help the Church.

CIM was established after the publication earlier this year of a report on the Church and advertising, which formally endorsed advertising as part of the church's communications mix.

In charge of advertising activities is the Church Advertising Network (CAN), an affiliate organisation representing the Church of England, the United Reformed, Baptist, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches.

CAN's co-ordinator and communications officer for the Diocese of Oxford, the Rev Richard Thomas, says that when CAN was given the green light to develop advertising, it chose tobase its work on volunteer efforts through an in-house agency. "We felt it was better and more theologically correct to work from a position of poverty."

CIM has produced two campaigns encouraging people to go to church this December. ": One is aimed at young people and appears at London bus stops: "Christmas '92: Up the Pub; Christmas '93; Up the Pub; Christmas '94: Up the Pub. You thought Christians were boring, why not give church a try?" CIM's chairman, Francis Goodwin, says, "Younger people can be quite cynical but they are also heavy trialists. We tried to react to them in a way that's relevant."

This kind of advertising is a radical departure from the rather bland word play of recent years. In 1991 through its ad agency, Genesis, the Church offered up the twee "Give Jesus a Birthday Present: Wrap up the Kids and Take them to Church". And last year brought us: "Give Jesus Your Christmas Presence. Deliver It Yourself".

Many argue these campaigns are more likely to elicit a groan than challenge perceptions of Christmas. Yet the Church is wary of being too adventurous. Mr Goodwin says: "We can't be too wild and wacky. But if it's too bland people won't take notice."

The new campaigns are certainly more daring than anything the Church has attempted before. The main poster campaign combines images of Christmas with humour and a reference to the homeless. A classified-style ad says: "Bethlehem. One star accommodation.

Self-catering only. Animals welcome. Cot provided." The tag-line encourages consumers to "Make Room for God this Christmas."

Mr Thomas says the success of the campaigns will be measured by attendance at services. CAN's research has found numbers can rise by as much as 14 per cent in areas where local churches actively support the campaigns.

But is advertising an appropriate medium for the Church? Mr Thomas argues that although the message may sometimes be corrupt, the medium is neutral.

Mr Goodwin says: "We can't afford to be Luddite about this. Initially the Bible was retold verbally. When printing came along, it was made available to larger numbers of people. We must make use of modern media. We are not spending lots of money. We relyon favours and don't pay commercial rates. Our budget is about £25,000."

Plans include Christmas and Easter campaigns and mailshots.Mr Goodwin does not rule out television, though not along the lines of US televangelists. More likely, says Stephen Bampfylde, director of the consultancy Saxton Bampfydle, is database marketing.Data on churchgoers could be collated at Christmas. "Then the church could target lapsed users the next year."

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