February 15, 2024

The Superbowl Ad Didn’t Get Jesus’ Superpower

But do we get him?

Advertising Jesus’ Superpower

There has been a lot of ink spilled over the He Gets Us Superbowl ad. Here’s some more!

For all of the to-ing and fro-ing, the biggest mystery to me is why a multi million dollar advertising campaign didn’t play to the product’s strengths. Now I’m not in the outraged “It did more harm than good camp”. I just think it missed a trick. A trick central to advertising. And it’s this: It didn’t highlight difference. It didn’t highlight Jesus’ superpower.

I’m no marketing guru, but I figure Marketing 101 would tell me to highlight the difference – the superior difference – to other products on the market. The point of good advertising is to play up your difference and demonstrate why a customer should explore – and then purchase – your product as opposed to others.

This ad did not do that. In fact it downplayed the difference Jesus makes, and instead played up one virtuous fruit of the gospel that has become so accommodated by the modern West, that it risked subsuming Jesus under it. And I think that means that the average person, if it does lead to a conversation, has to do a lot more of the heavy lifting than I think should be warranted from an expensive ad campaign.

Simply put: the modern West believes that you can love your neighbour without Jesus. Sure, if you want to co-oopt him to your love your neighbour program, do that. But it’s no longer considered a point of difference. It’s not longer a superpower in the way that it was when the Roman Empire ruled the roost, and it’s crucifixion power, rather than the gospel’s cruciform weakness, held sway.

You see, as the likes of secular historian Tom Holland, and Christian communicator, Glen Scrivener point out in other contexts, the Western world is so thoroughly Christianised that it assumes that the specific virtues given it by the gospel are universal values.

The secular West has forgotten the roots of the gospel that gave rise to the service of others, even others who do not belong to your own tribe. But as Holland points out, it’s the revolution that wins that we no longer see. The winning revolution so infuses the air that we breathe (shout out to Scrivener’s book of that title) that we assume its ubiquity. We assume it rose up from the primordial slime.

But as Holland points out, universal human rights are not universal! They do not form the basis of cultural assumptions outside the Christian framework, though they may well be imported into them from that most compelling of worldviews.

Secular Assumptions

Which means, in this context, that in our post-Christian West, one of the most common assumptions of those who reject Christianity, is that its the other way around: That Christianity has co-opted such values (and often, sadly, not displayed them), and that one does not need to be even remotely Christian to be a servant-hearted lover of one’s neighbour.

And even if there is tacit acknowledgement that the gospel gave those values to the secular world, the neighbourly thing can chug along quite nicely without the Jesus stuff.

And that makes sense when we talk about how many people we know who are not even remotely Christian, or even may be hostile to the gospel, display a level of care and kindness for other people that sometimes we don’t achieve ourselves as Christian. Turns out some of them “get people” better than we do.

I realise that part of the ad’s purpose is designed to break the perception among some that the church is not simply a hate-filled group of people. But to be honest, I’m probably over that particular trope. I’m over being told that if I don’t agree with someone on something I’m hate-filled towards them.

If I’m honest, too much of the tone of the ad felt like it was tipping a lid to the Left who hold the cultural reins. But that’s not really my main concern. As I said, it doesn’t play to the Jesus’ superpower – and hence just isn’t all that interesting. Would it really drive traffic to the site? I’m not convinced.

What is Jesus’ superpower? What is the point of difference? How would he – in marketing parlance – speak into the customer journey in a way that achieves cut through?

I don’t think Jesus’ superpower is that he gets us, but that he saves us!

And that’s how some quick wit in Northern Ireland figured it too.

So I think that this ad, done quickly and in response to the Superbowl ad, warms my heart and challenges my assumptions. Would it scandalise people and shock them? You bet! And if you don’t think that’s central to what advertising tries to do in order to garner eyeballs and clicks, then you’re not in advertising, right?

The creator of the alternate ad was interviewed, and contrary to what some might expect, he was warm and effusive and not at all snarky in pointing out the deficiencies of the Superbowl ad. Have a watch:

Messaging From the Margins

And perhaps this is the primary take-away for me: The most incisive, compelling Christian messages will come from the margins.

The truly prophetic voices always come from the desert (often not always, as the examples of Tim Keller and Francis Schaeffer would attest). But so often the will come from the places where the money doesn’t reside, where the influence doesn’t live. They will not come from the people tasked with conducting massive amounts of research, and being given heaps of time to sit around board tables to come up with strategies.

The truly prophetic voices will come from the places that don’t have millions to spend and to put in front of crowds who need to be entertained. The truly prophetic voices will be Holy Spirit inspired, and men and woman will be sent from the Jerusalems and the New Yorks to inquire as to their origins.

The creator of the He Saves Us ad lives in Craigavon in Northern Ireland. I used to live in a housing estate in Craigavon, and trust me, it’s not the centre of power in Northern Ireland, never mind anywhere else!

Oh, and dare I say it, he speaks about his alternate ad, and the original in, dare I say it, a winsome manner. Clear, honest, and winsome.

The prophetic voices that have a sweet and sour message for the world will come from the creative minorities. And I think that the alternate ad, compiled in a matter of hours, and subsequently viewed by millions, is a prophetic voice from the edge of the culture.

That’s why it has cut through. That’s why it has a compelling edge to it that is moving and shocking at the same time. Those two aspects – moving and shocking – are the tell that indicates the gospel is lurking below the surface ready to pounce.

And that’s why, even if the original ad tells us that “He Gets Us”, the primary problem is that we don’t get him! The gospel tells us that time and time again. We don’t get Jesus. We try to nail him down and when we can’t we, er, nail him down!

The superpower of Jesus, the cut through, the advertising genius, is that he saves us! We sent him to the cross because we didn’t get him, but he got us so thoruughly that he turned that on its head through the cross.

Or to put it another way:

If YOU hurt ME, I’ll make wine from MY tears.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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