Mercedes latest ad campaign Grow Up is an astonishing piece of story telling. It’s sticky, grippy and gripping in an emotional sense. It’s what I call a Velcro Story and it clings like a burr. It’s a full blown relationship story that has anger, sorrow, betrayal, frustration. Oh, and a Mercedes.
It’s a game changer. It’s a Velcro Story, throwing down the gauntlet in a consumer world of Teflon Slogans.
Mercedes does what few companies have had the gall to do. It refuses the happy, shiny world of two dimensional TV land, the Teflon Slogans of which we have become weary and all-too-aware, and gives us a complex three dimensional story. And it’s not all happy endings. It’s a contested future that we get to decide. Grow Up: Start a Family it says. Have a watch, it’s brilliant.
And that’s only part of the story. Other roll outs by Mercedes include Grow Up: Settle Down. It’s as if they know we’re on to them. That we know there’s not such thing as a final happy ending rolling down the highway into the sunset towards the beach. And that they know we know, and we’re not going to allow them to take us for fools any longer
It’s brilliant and it’s a step ahead of its competition. Our modern culture is assailed with Teflon slogans; shouty words with little grip that slide right off the consciousness and emotional lives of those who walk past them. Mercedes has called it out.
Born into and borne along by a hyper-modern age of advertising and three word statements that are invested with meaning beyond their capacity to hold, we have become inured to them.
Of course such slogans have a measure of grip – for a time. Linked to products and experiences they have a faux hold on our imaginations, until the product or experience is complete, obsolete or stale through over-use.
The result is a cynicism and weariness in which the latest thing hardly gets its grip into our lives when it suddenly becomes the last thing, and therefore not merely an object to ignore, but to shun, scorn and spurn.
That’s our Teflon Slogan world. Meaning is stripped from words, removing their grip and enabling them to slide teflon-like into the abyss of noise beneath our feet.
But stories? Complex, contested stories? Stories are Velcro. They grip and hang on tight, refusing our desire to shake them off; paying no attention to our 21st century affectedness, our urban sophistication in which we assume we are above unconscious desire, and are instead well-researched, highly aware choosers and consumers of our own destinies.
Faced with a reality in which the self-conscious self is a product that we now sell back to companies and organisations, with all of our social media sloganeering behind us, the only thing left to do was revert to stories – true stories.
Big Brand has been late to the game. They’ve been pitching us unrealistic stories for so long, simple, trite, lite slices of a Truman Show unreality. And our defences have gone up, and their sales have gone down. We’re on to them Just as Coca Cola Amital how it’s all working out these days. The tweeness of late twentieth century’s Coke Adds Life would not cut it in this most self-aware of decades.
Why should this desire for a complex story surprise Christians? Why should that be an oddity to those of us who possess the stickiest story in the world, the Velcro Adventure of the God’s work in the world, culminating in his Word striding like a colossus across the history, exploding into the narrative and transforming the script.
The gospel story gives God’s people a sticky, grippy story that counters the myriad slogans-as-stories assailing our broken, sin-sick culture.
We were created to be part of a story. The materialist worldview first gave us a narrative that there is no narrative, that we’re all just here and just happening for now and that there is no meaning. But that was not emotionally and existentially sustainable. People need a story, even modern, secular people living in the immanent frame in which we are hermetically sealed off enchantment and mystery.
The new materialist story has had to grow ever complex, recognising our need for meaning; first helping us find it in things, before finally settling and embedding in the one place we’re now being told to look for meaning, within ourselves. Space is not the final frontier after all, the deep unconscious yearnings of our heart are.
So we’ve got a better story. My fear, my concern as I look around, is that we have not availed ourselves of it as we should have. We have not told that Velcro Story often enough, loud enough, or in the right way enough for it to catch at a significant level. Faced with a consumer culture, we blinked and did consumer church, slicing and dicing the Story into a Slogan, turning the Velcro into Teflon, and watching our imagination, and influence slide away with it.
As we draw towards the seemingly inevitable conclusion of the same sex marriage debate in our country the church is going to have itself some searching questions, not least of all why the best we could come up with was a hastily devised slogan campaign built around the word “No”.
Leaving aside the toxic, shouty nature of some of the Yes campaign, the question has to be asked when those who hold to a biblical view of marriage (the Genesis 1-2 viewpoint that determines the definition of the union) were left scrabbling to find a creative, positive campaign.
I fear that we left our run to tell a Velcro Story to our culture a little too late. It’s as if in the fifty years since the illegitimate birth of the Sexual Revolution, we have only decided now that we have an alternate story worth telling – a story that sticks like Velcro in the heart and imagination. We have the marriage story, the great woo-ing par excellence in the gospel, and we’re rushing around at the end trying to tie up the loose ends that we have left unattended.
We’re scrabbling around for Teflon Slogans that come across negative. It’s no wonder we’re dismayed at the number of Christians who will vote “Yes” purely on the basis that we have not challenged the secular frame’s story of the satisfied self being our greatest hope. The younger generation in particular has not been invited into the marriage stories of our discrete, privatised family lives, in order to see what truly self-sacrificial godly marriage looks like.
We’ve had our own “Yes” campaign for years if only we’d thought about bringing it out into the open earlier, a preemptive strike so to speak. For all of our evangelical cultural analysis these past decades, we’ve been caught on the hop.
If we’d been paying attention over the past two decades as to where the culture was headed on this one we might have been at the creative edge for the sake of the culture. If we’d been as brave as Mercedes and figured out that people think at a level complex enough to see that our Yes to traditional marriage would not confuse them about our intentions.
But faced with a binary choice on a postal survey, like the obedient little subculture we are, we signed up on the hop to the negative only and everything I’ve seen and heard seems little more than a slogan that slides off the sides of people’s imaginations.
Granted there are definite negatives as a result of a Yes vote, I won’t back away from that, and it’s going to have serious implications down the line for religious freedoms, but the way forward is to win hearts and minds. Slogans don’t do that, only stories do.
For if truth be told, Love is Love is merely a slogan too, a Mobius Strip that bends in on itself that seems more style than substance, more glitter than grit.
It’s time to regroup. Time to rebuild a church centred on a Velcro Story, that faithfully acts and tells that Velcro Story. A Velcro Story that centres on a Bridegroom who gives up everything for His bride, not so he can be fulfilled and complete – as is so much the narrative in our culture when it comes to marriage, whether traditional or same sex marriage – but so that she can be fulfilled and complete.
History is not decided. It’s merely another Teflon Slogan that tells us we’re on the wrong side of history if we reject the new sexual ethic. Stories outlast slogans. Velcro sticks and Teflon, no matter how much cultural glue and gaffer tape is attached to it, slides away eventually. Let’s hold our nerve, hold on to our story, regroup and tell it to a world that I believe will come back to the Story when it’s sick, weary and unfulfilled by the Slogans.