Sunday, July 10, 2011

When It Comes to Shameless Marketing Schemes, Even God Needs Them

The two churches up the hill from us have been promoting their Vacation Bible Schools (or “VBS” as one denomination refers to it) on banners.

“Pandamania! God Is Wild About You!”

That’s the headline on one, though the attention-getting factor on both banners is an illustration of a panda bear—one in cool shades, the other midst bamboo.

Influencing people to change or do something—switch brands, save the environment, patronize museums, pay higher taxes—requires marketing on some level. And the language of influence must appeal to the target audience.

Even animal shelters rely on experts like Seth Godin to help them “move product.” Godin once suggested that shelter dogs would be adopted more readily if they were labeled “Golden Retriever [the über family companion] Mix” or a “____________ Blend” (fill in the blank with whatever the breed du jour is). No matter that the pooch has a chocolate-hued Staffordshire Bull Terrier face. Well, probably especially if the pooch has a chocolate-hued Staffordshire Bull Terrier face. (I’ll address this kind of truth-bending in a future post.)

When I saw the banners, my first thought was the heavily advertised film Kung Fu Panda. What? God uses cinema tie-ins to entice youngsters into the fold? I guess it’s no different than a shelter full of Golden Retriever Mixes. Ideas for silly headlines started popping into my head: Panda-ing to Children, for instance.

However, on the banner touting “God Is Wild About You!” Psalm 139 was cited as the source of the “excerpt.” I don’t know what Bible edition this is from, but it’s a far cry from the old King James I had as a child. The quotation made me wonder about the choice of visuals on the banners—maybe it wasn’t a movie tie-in after all. Why was a panda used? Because children these days are naturally drawn to the look and cuddliness of wild pandas? Because children are concerned about conservation of the wild—which the panda represents?

I conducted a quick Web search on my phone for some answers. First I checked to see how many films involved pandas (thinking this was a trend I was clueless about), but horror of horrors! Google gave me panda movies, all right, but the first page of results was all porn. I didn’t look further. And I’m not going to.

Perhaps you can enlighten me about why porn flicks are panda movies and why pandas fascinate children and which Bible translation includes “God is wild about you.” Until then, I’m content to stay under this rock that’s apparently shielded me from recent culture shifts.

[Top pic from Animals Gallery; bottom pic by Bernard de Wetter for World Wildlife Fund.]

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