Product Placement in the Pews
Secular companies want to market their products through your church. Will you let them?

A reoccurring issue on Out of Ur has been the effort of secular corporations to market to and through the church. But Leadership hasn't been the only one to notice the trend. The Wharton School of Business recently published an article outlining why companies are adding churches to their marketing strategies. Wharton's online journal, Knowledge@Wharton, was kind enough to allow us to repost the article for church leaders to discuss.

Church pastors last year had a chance to win a free trip to London and $1,000 cash - if they mentioned Disney's film "The Chronicles of Narnia" in their sermons. Chrysler, hoping to target affluent African Americans with its new luxury SUV, is currently sponsoring a Patti LaBelle gospel music tour through African-American megachurches nationwide.

Advertising has begun to seep into churches, and the phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down, say academic, religious and marketing experts. Among the wave of early adopters: the Republican Party, which successfully sold its platform to church-goers in the 2000 and 2004 elections; Hollywood, which discovered the economic power of faith when Mel Gibson's church-marketed film "The Passion of the Christ" became a blockbuster; and publishing, with Rick Warren's best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life, heavily marketed by a Christian publishing house.

Megachurches offer a particularly tantalizing opportunity for those intent on network or "word-of-mouth" marketing, a strategy that capitalizes on social relationships to spread product information and influence purchasing, according to Wharton marketing professor Patti Williams. "Megachurch members are drawn together by a strong common bond. Networks that exist naturally facilitate word-of-mouth marketing, because people tend to share information with those they are close to," she says.

Pastors make "great connectors," adds Wharton marketing professor Christophe Van den Bulte, "because they reach a large audience once a week, and their words carry extra weight." But the real potential for word-of-mouth marketing, he notes, lies in megachurches' micro social networks.

In order to create the intimate feel of fellowship in the midst of massive congregations, megachurches channel members into small groups. The affiliation groups can be based on any commonality, such as church-going neighbors, widowers, teens with divorced parents, home-schooling mothers and everything in between. In a weekly prayer group, says Van den Bulte, "you have the reinforcement of a dense social network. It's one thing to have a pastor saying something on screen, but it's a real turbocharger if you have a small group discussing it as well."

December 20, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 23 comments


January 07, 2007  3:37pm

I am absolutely flabbergasted by this article and the comments! I thought this was satire, a joke – but apparently, and sadly, it is not. I am not an evangelical; I am not a Protestant nor am I a Roman Catholic. I often peruse various Christian websites and blogs to get a broader view of what other Christians are doing and thinking. Does anyone out there in the Christian corner of Blog-land remember the story in Matthew about the "cleansing of the temple?" Does that sound familiar? If you or your pastors are marketing something during your worship other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, what kind of "church" is it?

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January 07, 2007  12:43am

While I plan to read this post soon, I couldn't help but comment now on the irony: Post Title: Product Placement in the Pews Tag: Secular companies want to sell their product at your church Giant ad on article page: Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness

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January 05, 2007  12:16pm

Sorry, but I go to church for spiritual guidance and fellowship. If I want a product I research it and purchase it. It has become "the norm" in some African American churches to "sponsor" products. The congregation is then expected to partake of the offerings! I have been in one and I left it. One local large church had a Chrysler weekend - cars on the parking lot and salesmen with cards. When the church I now attend begins to "advertise", I'll again vote with my feet. And you're right about the book thing - Maker's Diet, 40 days to this or that. Churches have made some authors what they are. If the book will help an individual that's fine, but don't make it a requirement for study if it is not relevant.

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December 23, 2006  12:51pm

Viktor and HL, Since I asked the question I'd love to respond to your answers. First HL. No one is saying lets advertise with Coors Beer. There are companies that do great business that would not contradict our values. If the potential is contradiction, don't advertise. For example, how about a filter service for computers? This would be helpful and comes straight from our values of purity and wholeness. It is not Either/Or all of the time. Viktor, your thoughts about call and being hired are great, but many people who are called are also hired. If I had a "called" youth pastor and I wanted to free him up to work full time instead of working another full time job and doing ministry too. It is a good thing to "Hire" people who are "Called" and I do not for a second suggest that we hire people because we raised enough money to hire them. You state: "At least, that's what I fortunately can see in the real world outside of the United States." I hope you are not suggesting that outside of the US the world is more real than inside the US. That is insulting and degrading. Does cancer, violence, death hurt less here? Our opportunities do not lessen the reality of our faith or life. I have traveled to many parts of the world preaching the gospel and faith is no more real, pain is no more real, God's love for those people is not greater or less.

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Viktor F. V.

December 23, 2006  12:51am

> What if I sold the advertising and used the money to hire a youth pastor or an intern? - I always thought that everybody must be called to ministry, brother, not "hired". Or is it a little old-fashioned approach to the life in Christ' service? At least, that's what I fortunately can see in the real world outside of the United States. It's time to look beyond the impressive deception of marching "purpose-drivennness", men of God.

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December 22, 2006  10:47am

Well, This pretty much epitomizes us here in southern Corinthia, oops!, I mean California.

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Tim Brown

December 22, 2006  9:35am

In the Old Testament, the inscription was "Holy to the Lord". Now we dare change it to "Holy to the Ford". This sickens me. But then nothing much surprises me anymore. Turn your "worship" service into a den of thieves, but I renounce it.

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December 22, 2006  8:21am

In the last year and a half I have come to realize that there are more true Christians in a rat-hole building with a light bulb hanging from the ceiling, located next to the strip clubs and bars, than in our self-serving tax-deductible palaces of entertainment, comfort and excess. May God drive out the moneychangers and bring holiness to his bride, the church.

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December 22, 2006  2:17am

> What if I sold the advertising and used the money to hire a youth pastor or an intern? Once our ministerial salaries are sustained by advertisements, how do ministers then preach about values that happen to contradict the advertised products?

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December 21, 2006  9:17am

As we enter the season of college football bowl games, the marketing trend is obvious there. Instead of the Peach Bowl, it is now the Chick-fil-A Bowl (Go Dogs!). Other bowls now have companies and their products as names. So is this the future of Church, Inc.? Instead of First Baptist Church, First Coca-Cola Church of Anytown or Disney Presbyterian of Anytown? What a great fundraiser idea (and I know Church, Inc. loves fundraisers)! Let the highest bidder put their name on the Church, Inc. sign! So much for the Church being salt and light. The church instead has become customers and consumers. That's how the world views the church now. Oh, wait a minute, that's how Church, Inc. sees and treats people too!

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