A new Pope has been elected. The seat of Saint Peter (A.K.A the Pope) in Rome is no longer vacant. A flock of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide await and need a new shepherd. Cardinals from the various corners of the globe had made their way to Rome to elect this new shepherd from what had seemingly become more and more a herd of wolfs camouflaged as sheep. So as we await the big reveal later today, we observed an interesting branding scenario
Last week, the eyes of the world were on Pope Benedict XVI, as he left the Vatican by helicopter (like all rock star priests these days) to spend the final hours of what many would characterize as his scandal-dogged papacy. According to The New York Times, “Onlookers in St. Peter’s Square cheered, church bells rang and Romans stood on rooftops to wave flags as he flew by.” To the thousands of survivors of the Roman Catholic Church’s worldwide sexual abuse scandals, however, there was little to cheer about
Amid all the scandals that have hammered the Catholic Church over the last few decades surprisingly enough the catholic church continues to grow. At the end of 2009, the worldwide Catholic population increased by 15 million or 1.3 per cent, slightly outpacing the global population growth rate, which was estimated at 1.1 per cent, according to a statement by the Vatican press office. The scandals continue to mount just last week Britain’s most senior Catholic clergymen looks set to face a Vatican inquiry over allegations of sexual misconduct with the body that was once headed by Pope Benedict set to lead the investigation. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican council charged with confronting major transgressions by clergy, will likely launch an investigation into Cardinal Keith O ‘ Brien once the new Pope is chosen. The Catholic Church in Scotland has been plunged into crisis after the Cardinal admitted in a brief statement on Sunday evening that allegations against him from three current priests and one former clergyman that he sexually molested them had some substance. After initially threatening the journalist who broke the story with legal action, O ‘ Brien admitted in his weekend statement that his sexual conduct had fallen below the standards expected of him. Surely a brand that has been rocked by such grand scandals should be facing declining numbers?
Let’s look at another church brand; Hillsong. The happy-go-lucky mega church does not enjoy a Godly reputation in all quarters, it’s been on the receiving end of some bad press for a lack of transparency over its finances, sordid goings-on that led founder Brian Houston’s father to depart, a book by a former “Hillsonger” that called it ‘toxic Christianity’, and allegations of vote stacking in Australian Idol.
But Hillsong is one of Australia’s few global brands. It is one of the most powerful Australian youth brands. And it is the fastest growing church in a country where religion is in decline.
Hillsong has grown from a congregation of 45 in a school hall in Baulkham Hills in Western Sydney in 1983, to a rapidly expanding network that packs 20,000 people into stadium-sized arenas all over Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, the UK, the US, Germany, France, Ukraine, Russia, the Netherlands, Sweden and South Africa EVERY SUNDAY! So what’s the secret to Hillsong’s and the Catholic Church appeal? And how does the church – which doesn’t use an ad agency – market itself.
Main stream brands can learn a lot from the Hillsong and catholic brands. Let’s start with Hillsong; unlike other churches, the Hillsong brand is about enjoying life now. If you buy into this brand of God, your finances and health will be taken care of in this life, and the next. This is packaged into dramatic, theatrical services. It’s served up by passionate, articulate pastors who deliver their sermons with the sort of persuasive gesture that any charismatic speaker would be proud of. Pastors use the word ‘cool’ a lot
There are similarities between Hillsong and Old Spice. Old Spice took masculinity and re-framed it for the younger generation. Hillsong did a similar thing with Christianity. It does not deny its heritage. But it re-imagines it in a younger, contemporary context.”
Hillsong has worked out that it’s difficult to sell something to anyone if they’re not listening. If you can enthrall the audience with music and theatrics, then what you tell them after is on fertile ground. Through all their faults and bad publicity Hillsong has built such a strong brand loyalty that the consumer (church goers) feels any attack on the Hillsong brand is an attack on themselves.
This same strong brand loyalty is true of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is a “family business”, it’s part of the consumer’s life story passed down from generation to generation, so once again people will continue to defend the church brand regardless of the news stories on CNN. I can say that these two brands have packaged their beliefs better than anyone even Coca-Cola. It’s about creating a brand that connects with people emotionally, making the consumer ‘fall in love.’
See one can forget what a brand says, one can also forget what a brand does but one will never forget how a brand makes one feel.
Thats our piece and tell them you heard it from Matt “The Rat” Mkhize