What Would Jesus Buy?
By David Morse
“What would Jesus do?” I imagine that is a question that many a Christian has asked himself or herself. In this month’s issue of Marketing News, the question posed is “What would Jesus buy?” in an article about marketing to born-again Christians.
For most multicultural marketers, it’s not a segment that first comes to mind. We traditionally think of ethnic segments – Hispanics, African Americans, or Asians. Increasingly, we think of markets that are based on lifestyles or identities like the GLBT market or the Youth market. Where do born-again Christians fit in?
The traditional definition of a born-again Christian, though there seem to be many, is a Bible literalist who acknowledges having been born again through a religious conversion. Barna Research Group, a Christian organization, estimates the number at 72 million – about one in four Americans. The group includes a prominent list of people including President George W. Bush, former President Jimmy Carter and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.
Born-again Christians, like other niche consumers, shop at the same retail stores as everyone else and buy most of the same products; alcohol is an exception: only 32 percent say they drank an alcoholic beverage in the last month. What makes them unique, according to the article, is that they actively seek out and support companies that share their values.
And they are fiercely brand loyal. Said John Nardini, vice president of marketing at Denali Flavors, an ice cream company active in this market, “If you believe in something as fundamental (as religion), it pervades every single part of your life. If there is a brand that supports these causes, they’re going to support that 100 percent.”
It’s an easy consumer to target. Research from Barna shows that 74 percent are white and married, 54 percent live in the South, and a third are Baby Boomers. They are well organized at the grassroots level, are big consumers of Christian media and are capable of filling up stadiums at revival events like the Billy Graham Crusades.
The article goes on to say that marketing to Christians can be subtle and secular. Wal-Mart, for instance, will give to religious organizations but only those that benefit the community in general. Yet they’ve increased the number of Christian books carried while not stocking publications Christians find offensive. It’s a kind of wink – they can take a stand while denying religious affiliation. To quote the article, “the word gets out – and viral marketing takes over.”
Moderator’s Comment: Is it wise to market to Born-Again Christians like any other lifestyle consumer? Or is religion too hot a topic to our secular sensibilities
as Americans? Are the risks of alienating other groups too great?
I have to confess my personal bias here. I would not personally market to this consumer segment. Born-Again Christians tend to be against many things I
believe in – a gay person’s right to marry, a woman’s right to choose, the need to keep religion out of politics.
Still, as a marketer, I find a quote in the article compelling; “Respect that this is a lifestyle and communicate with them with words and images that are
respectful of them as a target market.”
I will exercise my right to choose. I choose to take a back seat and see what y’all have to say. –
David Morse – Moderator