Marketing Lessons From GOD

Recently there have been a number of firms voluntarily restricting their marketing activities to kids.   The driver behind self-regulation is the recognition that children are easily misled by advertising and “authority.”  In short, they are gullible and wide-open to marketing messages*.  And obviously it is not right for large organisations to exploit this.

Cadbury Schweppes says
Advertising to children is appropriate, only when it is conducted in an environment that supports the parental role, or where the child has reached an age of cognisance and reason, which is now generally accepted as eight years.
However some organisations just can’t resist the urge and are happy to market ruthlessly to young people.  And we let them get away with it…
Churches are the original masters of harnessing emotional benefits in exchange for cash and consideration  (they also were the first to work out franchising).  So we brand marketers can learn a lot from them.  Take a look at this brilliant – and unethical – marketing from All Saints church in St Peters, Petersham (Sydney).
This church has no shame.  But they are smart marketers – just look at the clever way they are doing their recruitment.
  1. PLAYTIME:  A ministry for PRESCHOOL KIDS (yes, a “ministry”)
  2. CLUB WOW:  A ministry for KIDS IN YRS 4-6
  3. SALT: A ministry for HIGH SCHOOLERS
Why unethical?
Because this church is deliberately setting up a well-targeted campaign to catch and funnel children at preschool age through a series of “ministries.”  And their intent is very clear.  Their church bulletin tells of their kids’ ministry:  The over all message of these stories has been Jesus loves the children and they need to follow Him.

If Cadbury had advertised to a similar age group and suggested that the kids need to buy Freddo Frogs (and on pain of eternal damnation), there would be uproar because KIDS are susceptible to this kind of message.  The will BELIEVE more readily than adults.  Which of course is why the All Saints marketing is so wickedly well planned.
Back to the funnel.  Once the littlies are in the swing of “following him,” they can be shepherded (i.e. like SHEEP) through the different stages of continued brainwashing ministry – through CLUB WOW and then to SALT.  In marketing terms – the perfect brand funnel.  By the time the kids get to SALT, they start recruitingrepresent2-240x300
And if you doubt how business like churches can be, take a look at their business plan, from the December church bulletin.  It could be straight from a marketing textbook:
Their mission – to RECRUIT (seek and save) and then to develop brand LOYALTY over time by networking and repetition (Strengthen Faith).   And they link this all to a higher purpose – a VISION of service to the church (INCOME) and community (VISIBILITY and…. RECRUITMENT).
This is really quite an excellent summary of how churches manage to codify and repeat a process to keep themselves alive – and all despite all of the normal challenges of running a business.  It’s especially good when you consider that the brand benefit they are promising is intangible and only accessible beyond your death, and the premium price they are asking is a 10% tithe from your gross income!   Nice work….
You may have noticed that the noticeboard also advertises “LEARN ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE… contact the minister” – which is another example of great targeting.  I would imagine that someone arriving in Sydney, and with limited friends or family to connect with, would be an ideal target for recruitment too.
Hats off to these guys – they are marketing masters.  I just wish they’d leave the kids alone.  Adults can make up their own mind, but the littlies should be able to live without a business model forced on them.

*Richard Dawkins suggests the predisposition of children to obey and believe authority figures may be due to an evolutionary advantage picked up by children; i.e. if they “do what they are told”  (as opposed, say, to ignoring parents or authority figures and subsequently being eaten or falling off a cliff).   He also considers child-indoctrination into religion a form of child abuse.

6 thoughts on “Marketing Lessons From GOD

  1. Thanks for your blog, it’s an interesting angle…
    I just want to make a few points to consider:
    Firstly, on unethical marketing to kids… The “product” All Saints Petersham is marketing is not a consumable like lemonade or chocolate, it is in fact a community or more precisely it’s a relationship with other people and with Jesus. Therefore what is being marketed (to use your phrase) is more akin to a club or community group. This widens the scope of your comment to include Scouts, Community bands, little athletics etc. as also being unethical because they target children… I think you’d be pushing the fringe of opinion to claim that those groups were unethical in targeting children.
    Secondly, the nature of community groups is that they include the family. Children come attached with parents. An 8 year old does not make their own way to Club wow without their parents knowledge or consent. The dominant voice in a child’s life is not the kid’s club they attend once a week for an hour and a half, but the parent figures they spend the majority of their life with. To claim that kids have a “business model forced on them” denies the dominant voice of the parent figure, perhaps if they were made to leave their parents and their home (as is the practice of cults) you could claim that they were being brainwashed, but an hour an a half a week is hardly that.
    Thirdly, this is advertising to the family, not just children. All Saints recognises the whole family unit and wants all people to love and follow Jesus not just kids.

    There is a range of points I’d like to make on a 10% tithe(?), on the intangible benefits only recieved after death(?) and so on, but this will suffice for reflection.
    But as one last word, perhaps it’s worth making one last comment on this point about Churches pushing their message “on pain of eternal damnation”. The quip is a little cliche, but the doctrine of hell (which I believe is what you’re referring to here) is actually a doctrine of love that liberates those who do not want to follow Jesus. It is not a threat “follow or else”, it’s a reality and an expression of God’s love. Think of it this way: what sort of loving God would force people to spend ETERNITY with him if they didn’t want to be with him? I image that if the thought of following Jesus now and being with his people now is abhorrent to you, then it wouldn’t be very loving to make you spend an eternity worshipping Jesus with a whole bunch of Christians you don’t want to be with – that would probably sound like hell to such a person… So God does what is loving, if you don’t want to be with God then you don’t have to. If you don’t want to enjoy all his loving kindness then you don’t have to, there is another place for you to go.

    Here’s a parable of Jesus that will give you the inside story of how Christians think about “marketing” the message of the gospel: Mark 4:1-34

    • Hi Mike

      Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the perspective!

      I agree; for consistency the same argument should cover other organisations targeting kids as well. I’d argue that secular organisations such as little aths would be more like health food than junk because they carry the benefits of community association you mention, but without the risk of negative effects – i.e. of early exposure to dogma to what we know are plastic, developing minds.

      Jesus said (Mark 4:29)

      “As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

      I think that having a ministry for pre-schoolers is putting the sickle through the harvest before the mind has ripened.

      Now we know that young minds are too impressionable to ethically advertise chocolate to, then (for someone who thinks kids should develop logical faculties first and freely choose a religion later) it follows that religions of all stripes should also wait a while before their pitch commences, so that adult minds can decide for themselves?

      I take your point that much of the real marketing is in the hands of the parents; some parents let kids watch late night alcohol ads but it doesn’t make it a good idea to let the kids watch. Again, too young.

      By the way I was serious with my praise for the overall marketing thinking and branding strategy though – it is a well-thought-out system.


      PS – I do like your version of hell a LOT more than the fire and brimstone of Revelation…. 🙂

  2. Matt,

    If you’re prepared to say strong things on a blog then you need to be prepared to let people comment. Will you approve my comments?


    • Hi Malcolm
      Of course, and I approved them straight away. But you put your comments on the “about” page – click the tab above.

  3. Hi Matt,
    Thanks for your thoughts on advertising especially to young kids. I read this blog a number of days ago and cannot stop thinking about it.
    I must lay my cards on the table, I am an Anglican Minister of a Church not too far away from the one you mention, and also a bit of a follower of atheist thought. I did an honours Thesis on the work of Richard Rorty who died a couple of years ago.
    Your comments on advertising to kids were spot on, however the issues I am concerned about have to do with they value labels you attached to the “product” being “sold” For example you say

    “However some organisations just can’t resist the urge and are happy to market ruthlessly to young people. And we let them get away with it…
    Churches are the original masters of harnessing emotional benefits in exchange for cash and consideration”

    “Let them get away with it”?
    “harnessing emotional benefits in exchange for cash”?

    Matt; we really need to sit down with a coffee and chat about this. I can only think you have had some very bad experiences in the past. If you have, let me apologise for the people or events who have left a sour taste in your mouth. Christians quite often get it wrong, and when they do their fall is great due to the standards they claim to keep.

    But back tot he content, some of what you say is really disturbing. Richard Dawkins is obviously brilliant in his field, but once he leaves biology he has become the very ideological zealot that he deplores. In his dealings with biology I cannot debate he is the expert, but when he approaches history, philosophy and even religion his writings show that he has left fair mindedness behind. and even in his own field, the invention of memes (you mentioned them in another blog) is fanciful at best and totally disregarded by many in his field. Perhaps you need to put Dawkins down and read Alister MacGrath who has the same qualifications at the same University. He is really insightful. Another good read is Rodney Stark, not a Christian man but a man who can actually read history with a better parity.

    The raising of kids is much on mind as I have 3! The thing I never fail to be impressed with is how they pick stuff up I have never taught them. They are lovely but snatching, demanding, eating junk food and tantrums come easily. The short point is we do not live in a vacuum. Various forces are “marketing” to our kids from birth, the question is not “should we market to them?”, but “what should we market?” Parents “market” sharing, eating healthily etc. The Christian message, like it or not, (and Dawkins does not) is beneficial to children and adults alike giving many benefits to society as well. Yes you will say “Crusades” (again I apologise) But Christians since the first days have been at the forefront of education, hospitals, social justice etc etc. They still are concerned about these things.

    Now about the paragraph

    “You may have noticed that the noticboard also advertises “LEARN ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE… contact the minister” – which is another example of great targeting. I would imagine that someone arriving in Sydney, and with limited friends or family to connect with, would be an ideal target for recruitment too.”

    I’ve got to say, I would love to run an ESL class, but pragmatically if my goal is to get 10% of their money or put them to work they would be terrible recruits. Firstly, most of the people who come to these groups have poor paying jobs, (all the rich European immigrants don’t come). Secondly the language barrier makes it hard to communicate effectively reducing what us nasty old churches can squeeze out of them. Please consider the option that churches run these courses because the people who come have limited friends or family and we can genuinely help them. We don’t just want their money.

    As an aside this blog was a nice little “bait and switch” advertising method. You were advertising advertising, but really what you were pushing is atheism. I feel you have been a little misleading in what you are “marketing” to us in this blog.

    Love to hear what you think

    • POSTED BELOW ARE MALCOLM’S COMMENTS which he put on the about page by accident:


      You say:

      “This church has no shame” and that it is “unethical”.

      Strong stuff!! Do you say these things because you’ve been offended by someone from this church? Or have you had a bad experience in the past? Otherwise, for someone who knows nothing about the community of people that meet there, they are unreasonable comments. It would seem that what drives your invective is that you yourself reject Christianity. If you were in favour of telling your children about Jesus then you’d be in favour of such like programs. Because you reject it, it’s a bad thing. After all, children don’t grow up in a vacuum without influence.

      Otherwise, there’s just no logic to your argument. I have a little experience in marketing. I run a marketing conference and a media company.

      Anyway, why not pop over from Lillyfield and see for yourself whether it’s true? If it is, point out your concerns to people face to face. That’s the braver and more community minded thing to do.


      19/05/2009 at 10:15 pm · Edit

      Hi Malcolm

      Thanks for your comment and challenge on the underlying logic. For clarity, the argument I was running is:

      1. When kids’ minds are young they are particularly open to suggestion because they are still developing.
      2. Marketers and recruiters for services that require maturity to consume (due to the nature of content) should not market to kids -to do so is unethical.
      3. Concepts of religious faith (i.e. belief without evidence) require maturity to consume, so people should be able to make up their mind about religion as adults.
      5. Effective religious marketing such as “a ministry for pre-school kids” is aimed at exposing and training young minds to believe religious dogma as fact, and predisposes kids to follow a particular direction before mental faculties have fully developed.
      6. Therefore religious marketing to kids is unethical and should be constrained to adult minds only.

      The logic is not about Christianity – it would apply to religious marketing generally.

      You point out that I would support this kind of youth marketing if I was a member of your particular sect. Maybe, and if so this is precisely the problem (and why youth recruitment with parental support is so effective).

      I say these things because I am interested in the way society shifts its expectations of advertisers and media owners.

      You are right, children don’t grow up in a vacuum without influence – but that does not mean that we should allow kids to be exposed to everything. And our expectations of advertisers and media owners has been shifting as the science of child psychology develops. A matter of years ago it would be just as inconceivable to propose that a cereal company should not market directly to kids…

      Kind regards


      PS – Malcolm you left your comment on the blog post on my “About” page; I’ll move it over to the relevant post when I get a moment.
      20/05/2009 at 4:24 pm · Edit

      As a follow on, last night I noticed Kelloggs are advertising a toy inclusion as something that “measures the speed of your kids’ throw.” They are not only shifting their media but pitching the message itself to the parent. Interesting.

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