What Would Jesus Sell?

Apr 13, 2005

By George Anderson

You may have seen one worn on the wrist of a co-worker, perhaps by someone in a social setting or
at a Christian worship service. You might even own one yourself – the WWJD (What would Jesus do?) bracelet.

Back in 1989, Janie Tinklenberg was reading the novel, In His Footsteps, written by Rev. Charles Sheldon with the youth group she led at Calvary Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. Characters in Rev. Sheldon’s 1896 work constantly ask themselves before acting, “What would Jesus do?”

From a humble beginning, Ms. Tinkleberg wanted to make bracelets for her group as a reminder of what they learned, WWJD became a marketing phenomenon as Christian stores and then secular stores stocked up and sold out of all types of goods with WWJD imprints.

Fourteen years later, the sale of Christian-themed merchandise of all types has become a huge business and companies are rolling out new products to meet demand.

A case in point is the new talking Jesus doll, part of the Messengers of Faith line of Biblical characters from the One2Believe division of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co.

The new blue-eyed, foot-tall Jesus doll will be able to recite five verses from the Bible and initially, at least, will be sold directly to consumers over the Internet (http://www.one2believe.com/). The Jesus doll along with Moses, David and Mary models will retail for $24.99. The company said it would offer discounts to churches and on orders of three or more dolls.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News, David Socha, one of the founders and executive officer of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear, said, “It’s been on my heart to do these for at least three or four years. We are targeting the inspirational market, to do good things for children, something that adds to their quality of life and doesn’t corrupt their minds. Our company has always created very conservative products.”

Mr. Socha, explained the decision to sell the Messengers of Faith directly to consumers and not seek distribution in stores selling toys to CNN/Money. “In the beginning we don’t feel it’d be right to put it in Toys R Us and be next to a Barbie or a Bratz,” he said.

Joshua Livingston, who heads the One2Believe unit told RetailWire, the company expects to sell 50,000 dolls from the line by the end of the year. It already has plans to introduce new Biblical characters moving forward.

The company has no plans to make direct contributions to charitable organizations from the sale of the Messengers of Faith line, but Mr. Livingston said supporting worthy causes with proceeds from its business have been a part of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear’s “culture since the company was founded.”

Mr. Livingston also said his company is in communication with churches for feedback on the line. One of the possible changes in the future may include Jesus having a change of
eye color from blue to brown.

Moderator’s Comment: How are (should) mainstream retailers market to the demand for Christian and religious items for other faiths? Should the question,
“What would Jesus do?” enter into the decision-making of a retailer deciding whether or not to stock and sell a particular item?

We had a flashback moment when we read about the Jesus doll.

We thought of a visit a few years ago to a pediatrician’s office where, while waiting to be called, we saw two young boys pick up Barbie-like dolls and
pretend they were guns to shoot at one another. When they tired of that, they began dueling with them as though they were swords. After that they just had the dolls pretend fight.
The bigger of the two, took the other child’s doll and began pummeling it on the floor.

We couldn’t help wondering if this same sort of scene would be acted out in some other place with the Messengers of Faith and what would Jesus do if he
saw it taking place?

George Anderson – Moderator

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6 Comments on "What Would Jesus Sell?"

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Ed Dennis
Ed Dennis
17 years 1 month ago

“Judge not that ye be not judged.” BUT a comment may be necessary.

It is possible that increased discussion as a result of the intoduction of this and related items might spark a sense of curosity in all of us. It could lead us to study the religion behind these icons. No one, in my opinion, is worse off after investigating an issue, reserching it’s beliefs and history and coming to a decision as to what is right for them.

Jerry Gelsomino
17 years 1 month ago
Several years ago I was doing consulting work with a group of theme parks. During the year I noticed that on the Christian Camp Days, the black t-shirts emblazoned with sometimes tasteless art and slogans which the parks normally sold, were replaced with religious themed items. Often, they looked to have been produced by the same designers, but this time with a religious theme. As far as effective merchandising goes, I thought that this was a very clever switch, catering to a new market. Everyone should have the freedom to voice their opinions or passion. Particularly when you are in an environment with those of similar point of view. However, at the same time, I run luke warm to some items that become just as tasteless in the religious arena. Manufacturers shouldn’t take religious or even political icons and make them kitsch. However, recall in the 70’s when designers started incorporating the Stars and Stripes motif into all sorts of clothing and the uproar that started. But nobody complained after 9/11 when suddenly, poorly designed,… Read more »
Mark Burr
17 years 1 month ago
Retailers should market these types of items in not much of a different way than they market similar items. That is, if they are marketing their similar items in a tasteful way. While taste is always a matter that is subjective, good sense and good judgment (a seemingly lost virtue) should be used. People of faith (not just Christian) are an overwhelming majority of the population. Whether it has been 9/11, a change in society since the 80’s and 90’s, “The Passion,” books like “A Purpose Driven Life,” or other events, the outward expression of faith has become more acceptable. It’s growing and it’s a valuable market. I don’t believe it’s ‘a fad’ or just ‘popular.’ Interestingly enough, my child wears a “WWJD” bracelet. My wife and I have had many discussions about it and also about our child’s friends that wear them as well. Sometimes, that has drifted to the question of will it make a difference or do they really know what it means? To them, it may be partly fashion and partly… Read more »
Gerard Marrone
Gerard Marrone
17 years 1 month ago

Can the Mary Magdaline and Judas dolls be far behind? Come on, just answer the original question – WWJD – what do you think? This is just another example of a business taking advantage of a major upswing in what a pastor friend of mine calls the “whole Jesus thing.” We are seeing a significant increase in demand for Christian based things – probably fueled by the huge commercial success of The Passion, and that is NOT a bad thing – people are talking. But there are also always companies looking to turn a profit, or capitalize on what might appear to be a trend – but Jesus is carried in the heart and mind, not in the hands. Why not take all proceeds after expenses and purchase bibles that can be distributed to the poor – that would be what Jesus would do.

Mark Hunter
Mark Hunter
17 years 1 month ago

Retailers should sell whatever they feel fits their customer base the best. If it’s religious types of things that’s fine. Stores sell numerous items already that cater to only a segment of their customer base. Look at a typical music section and the different types from country to classic to jazz, each one appeals to different groups yet nobody gets offended by seeing these types. Religious items should be no different.

Bernice Hurst
17 years 1 month ago
Tough one, this, possibly solved by Scanner’s DTRT suggestion. I might consider one of those bracelets myself. Basically, however, I am of the view that people who choose to purchase religious items should certainly be able to do so but should be purchasing them through specialist outlets so that those who choose not to purchase them are not pressured and/or possibly even offended. I can certainly see our let’s-sell-everything-under-the-sun pride and joy, Tesco, introducing a religious section if they think it will add to their £2b profit line but somehow I don’t think it would qualify them for a DTRT award. If religious objects were to be widely available anywhere and everywhere, the next big thing would be arguments over which religions were acceptable and which were not (think about those young men who have been guilty of school shootings because of their religious beliefs, for example). The increasing acceptability of religious beliefs in the workplace is leading to all sorts of dilemmas which are difficult and complex to resolve. The arguments over pharmacists, for… Read more »

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