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Unprecedented Super Bowl advertising strategy

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The five Dallas Cowboys Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophies (Credit: Brandi Korte via Flickr)

A Super Bowl advertising phenomenon is making history this week.  As I mentioned in a recent commentary, CBS has announced that it will charge $3.8 million per 30-second slot.  Typically, Super Bowl ads are a source of great anticipation.  However, advertisers this year are trying an unprecedented approach.

First, they are asking fans to create their own ads.  That’s been done in the past, but what’s new is the second part of their strategy: now they’re asking fans to vote on which fan-created ads they want to see.  For instance, Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign has engaged more than four million people so far who “like” their Facebook page and have voted for the fan-made video they want to see on Super Bowl Sunday.

Pepsi is using half of its 60-second ad to display photos submitted by Pepsi drinkers.  “Pepsi consumers want to be active participants, not observers of life,” one advertising executive explained.  Before the game, people whose photos will appear in the ad will be notified by the company.  “That will create a lot of talk value and pass-along,” another marketing director added.  “A Pepsi brand communication going from friend to friend is much more powerful than brand to consumer.”

What can these advertisers teach us about sharing our faith?

Years ago, I spoke at an evangelism conference for one of the nation’s largest churches.  This congregation was a pioneer in developing services intended to attract the unchurched.  The night before my conference, some friends and I were eating at a restaurant near the church campus.  When we asked our waitress about her spiritual life, she told us that she had never attended a church service.  I asked her about the nearby megachurch; she replied, “I’d never go there.  It’s too large.”

My intent is not to criticize that church, but to make the point: if people are going to come to Jesus, we must bring them.  To paraphrase the Pepsi executive, “A gospel communication going from friend to friend is much more powerful than from church to consumer.”

Here’s proof: Thom Rainer, CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, conducted a national survey of thousands of non-Christians.  One of their most common responses was, “I wish a Christian would take me to his or her church.”  One person interviewed said, “I really would like to visit a church, but I’m not particularly comfortable going by myself.  What is weird is that I am 32 years old, and I’ve never had a Christian invite me to church in my entire life.”

After Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, some Greeks came to Philip with a request: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus” (John 12:21).  Today, Philip must go to the Greeks.  Who will hear about Jesus from you today?