Remembrance VI: The Jesus Brand

Many, many, many years ago I got a call from a church to design and produce invitational fliers. The church was new – it was a demographic outreach of a particular denomination. The church is located in the highbrow section of town. Successful people live in that part of town and certain pedigree of businesses occupy the real estate. It is an expensive locality, one of those areas rent is paid in dollars per square metre. The church comprised the affluent, the successful, the succeeding. They wanted to reach out to their kind – their business and professional colleagues.

In practical terms it is easier for the successful to preach to the successful. The poor don’t have access to these people. They’re barricaded in boardrooms and country clubs. Some live in forbidding estates behind imposing gates that reach up to high heaven. And some live in high rise condominiums. They have security guards. These serve as winnowing forks separating the wanted from the uninvited. Wealth has discriminatory capacity. These people won’t listen to the poor. And yet rich or poor we all need salvation. Therefore locating that church in that tony end of town was an evangelistic masterstroke. But the proposal given me by representatives of the church made no sense in my professional judgment. They were proposing to print cheapskate fliers as invites for the rich. I had seen those fliers before. They were very common in churches, still are. They are garishly colourful, employed as many typefaces as possible. It was graphic butchery. There was no discipline in the design whatsoever. I called them bread wrappers. Bread wrappers in those days employed similar graphics standards. The question was, how do you invite successful people to church with such quality of fliers? These people have rarefied taste. They’re used to high grade invites. And how do you invite them to church using the cheapest printing material? In those days broadsides – what we call evangelism tracts were printed cheaply, mostly 60grams bond paper, one colour, usually black. They weren’t particularly inviting. We can argue that those who printed those broadsides did what they could according to their means. Those tracts were mainly distributed in buses plying high density population routes. But how do you reconcile successful people using the same cheap materials to invite successful people to church? Those fliers won’t even get past their gatehouse.
The second and the more important issue for me was, I felt they were degrading the brand of Christ. That’s the most valuable brand in the world. No brand name comes close and Paul said as much: “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honour and gave him a name above other names…” Philippians 2:9. To get a sense of the value of the brand think of the price tag on a human soul. According to scripture the human soul is so expensive it’s practically priceless. “The ransom of a soul is too costly,” David wrote. Psalm 49:7,8. But the brand name of Jesus was the credit card used to purchase salvation for mankind. We were bought at a price. 1 Corinthians 6:20. That name has paid for billions of souls, and this has been going on for millennia. God literally issued an open cheque for the redemption of mankind. The economics of salvation is mind boggling. The challenge for me was, how do you present such a brand with the cheapest available print material? I was even more troubled when I learnt some of those present at the meeting printed their business stationeries in England. I told them in no uncertain terms I wasn’t going to do the job. Obviously that wasn’t a business decision.
This is what compounded my difficulty. At that time I was designing and producing materials for the Italian Embassy. I designed and produced the invites to programs of the Italian Cultural Institute. These were high grade productions. The Italians never ordered fliers. They ordered high grammage materials. The graphics standard was sophisticated. Now, the Bible says we’re ambassadors of Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:20. Each church to me is a mini mission, like the Italian Embassy is. Therefore same standard should apply. If the Italians could use high grade materials, God’s people should use high grade materials. That was my simple logic. Why weren’t they doing so I asked myself, especially when they can afford it? I was angry, very angry. I still don’t know why but I was. I was angry all the way home. I kept muttering in my thoughts, “They want to use bread wrapper for God, can you imagine!” I went to bed angry, and I was angry in my sleep.
Now, I’m not a temperamental type, I am very cool and so I couldn’t understand my anger. I was even angry in my dream! But God came to me in that dream. He told me to produce the materials and give to the church, free. Same standard as the Italian Embassy. I remember telling God in the dream does he realise how expensive that was! Contractually it was the cost of the annual rent for my office back then. But he told me to do it. So I took my money and produced high grade invitation card for the church. I went and handed it over. They were very pleased. The invite was so good the church rationed the distribution. This was thirty something years ago. It’s a story known to a few. And now you know.
I have never believed one should give God anything less than the best. He gave us his best. He’s called Jesus. And it’s not always about money. There has to be a reverence and respect for God and his brand. We get away with our disrespect of God because he’s liberal, very understanding and very accommodating. As people of faith we need to pay better attention to the brand of Jesus. I dream of a major advertising campaign for the Jesus brand, one that is no less than the standard of Coca-Cola. They’re both in the beverage business. Coca-Cola purveys carbonated water, Jesus gives living water. I find it a bit disturbing that churches spend so much advertising their programs but pay scant attention to the corporate brand of Jesus. We hardly advertise Jesus outside our programs. And yet everyone is running on his endorsement. It’s what we technically refer to as endorsed brand architecture in branding. Who will come to our church if his name is absent? He’s the star attraction, the mother brand. He’s our primary asset. I am particular about the visual representation of the Jesus brand. There must be brand standard. Such a standard should be no less than that of our corporate brands, even higher.
I do remember that after we designed the letterhead for Alder Consulting I felt ashamed of the letterhead of my church. It wasn’t impressive. The logo was a brilliant idea but the execution was amateurish. What I did was redesign the logo, bring it up to international standard. I added a flourish that was emblematic of God’s sovereignty. I did this in gold because our corporate crest contained gold. God’s logo could be no less. I had felt like David who lived in a cedar palace while the ark of God dwelt in a tent. 1 Chronicles 17:11. I showed the redesign to my pastor and he liked it, very much. He asked if I could reproduce it to that standard. I said yes. And so I took my money and replaced the entire stationery for the church. And I kept restocking at my expense for many years.
Does all this have a bearing on the fortune of our brand consulting practice? I don’t know. That wasn’t the motive. It wasn’t a quid pro quo transaction. I wasn’t making a deal with God. I just love God. That was all my motivation. God brings tears to my eyes when I think of how wonderful he is. He’s so nice, so accommodating, so forgiving, so kind, genuine, real, trustworthy, loyal, a true friend. And he doesn’t hold grudges. We can express our love for him in so many ways. And about that Jesus brand… We all need to do a rethink.
If you’ll like to know this God I speak about, please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”
© Leke Alder |