Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Marketing" Jesus

The other day in my graphic design class we had an intersting discussion that got me thinking about a few things. We were considering graphic design and advertising. What are the distinctions? are they the same? At first I suggested that advertising is a sub-category of graphic design, but then as I thought about it and heard what others had to say I'm thinking it may be more nuanced than that. Designing something in an attractive way, wether it be a poster, a book, a sign or an ad presents that something, and the values and ideals attached to it, in a more appealing way, giving it an image of credibility and quality. The question of morality came up. We are familiar with ads which try to make you feel bad about yourself and therefore more inclined to purchase a product. Or even misrepresenting the truth and making what is actually bad for you seem appealing. Examples of this are manifest in our culture, just look around critically. What is most concerning for me is presenting certain negative and harmful values as glamorous or normalizing them. And this goes beyond graphic design, although that's a dominant element of culture which permates our lives, to music, movies...basically any means of transmitting culture. I know I at least at times will catch myself singing a song with a catchy tune but an objectional message which I know to be false. Even knowing it to be false the appeal of the tune can influence me on some level to emotionally accept the message of the song. Same goes with something visually well presented. That being said advertising in and of itself is morally neutral, it becomes a problem when we use it to manipulate people or "sell" a product or message that is false rather than using it to serve others. So what does this have to do with me? The reason why I'm trying out graphic design is not that I'm interested in selling something like toothpaste or making a profit so much (not that there is anything wrong with that), it's because I think the skill would be useful to have for designing material that will present the faith effectively. The challenge for me, and this would apply to me as an artist whether or not I continue with graphic design, is presenting the message behind an image or design in a way that doesn't compromise the freedom of or manipulate the viewer. Presenting something in a visually attractive way is necessary (to a degree) if you want people today to even consider the merit of your message on its own terms. The question becomes how do you present or "market" the gospel in a visually compelling way while at the same time encouraging people to think for themselves rather than assimulating a message, no matter how good, based on the aesthetic value of its presentation rather than its actual merit. Granted nothing has more merit than Jesus but still this is a concern for me. I don't want to "brainwash" people, but I do hope to influence them. What are the distinctions between the two? Input appreciated!


  1. Hey! I'm from PhatMass, and followed to your blog from the Theology of the Body thread! Very nice blog!

    You make a good point... it's awesome to see people becoming so enthusiastic about using new media to share the Gospel... and we are definitely seeing it used in compelling ways... through films, the internet, etc... At the same time... you don't want people to embrace it because it "looks good"... but because they realize it's value. At the same time... I think beauty in its most essential form will always direct one to God... every human being seeks beauty... and when they have the good fortune of finding genuine beauty, it will inevitably be coming from God. Beauty and the divine go hand and hand... you can't really separate them (really, satan can only lie to a person about what beauty is... he can't make anything evil genuinely beautiful). So if someone is attracted by beauty... I think they ARE genuinely being attracted by God... it couldn't really be otherwise. Does that make sense? I guess what I mean is... real beauty can never manipulate freedom, because God never manipulates freedom... so beauty, as it is found anywhere, including the media, is really, when you think about it, is the natural habitat for the Gospel... which simply needs to be reclaimed for God... and because it is it's natural habitat, it isn't possible to abuse it really. Of course, Christians are always capable of misusing it... but if the Gospel itself is shared in all honesty, it will always leave an individual free to embrace or reject it, just as some embraced and some rejected God incarnate who was beauty in the flesh. LOL... sorry enough incoherent rambling. Anyway... Great blog! I look forward to reading more of it!

  2. Hi Jennifer!

    Welcome to my blog. I totally understand where you are coming from and have articulated very well many of my own opinions. Thanks for your input! :)

  3. You are a very good writer Shana.
    This topic caught my attention because, although I am not an artist or graphic designer by trade, the position I am in now requires that I make ads and what not.
    Several months ago I found a Catholic TV station that started recently in Canada, called Salt and Light TV. They were attempting to do what you are talking about in your article. Trying to present the Gospel message in an appealing way.
    They have some things out on YouTube. You may want to check them out.
    God bless.
    Sister Rose Therese, O.S.F.

  4. I am a bit slow in responding to this, sorry about that. But if you're looking for someone else who has thought about Jesus and advertising/marking, you should talk to Ashley Fantigrossi at IV. You two might be able to bounce some ideas of each other.

  5. Ah Shana... you are asking the question I wish every marketing student asked themselves. "I don't want to 'brainwash' people, but I do hope to influence them. What are the distinctions between the two?"

    Believe it or not there is a science behind marketing, and a choice. Marketers research ways to subconsciously effect people, and they can use this in a positive, or negative way. Advertising, in your case, only becomes "brainwashing" when the person receiving the message is confused. THe only thing we can do, as people who recognize this vulnerability, is educate viewers and keep them aware of the control that advertising looms over us.

    The sad thing is, people who create the ads are often just as seduced by the glitz of advertising as your average Joe (no offence kool kat). That is where I feel called to influence. People typically choose what is easiest when they have no other option, so by sharing my faith and revelations about advertising I am able to give them options.

    This is really our responsibility as people who see the world differently: like an impression of our faith we shake the masses loose with the revelation of our soles.