With the Christmas period fast receding into the distance, it seems entirely apposite to glance back at one of the more intriguing pieces of marketing in the run-up to what has become arguably the greatest target date in the global economy: the Church of England’s 96-second video clip that was the centrepiece of its Follow the Star campaign (‘FTS’, ‘#FollowTheStar’).
According to Adrian Harris – the Head of Digital for the official denomination of state in the United Kingdom’s largest constituent nation – the core concept behind #FollowTheStar was to get more people to attend church. To this end, his organisation’s 2018 Christmas advert follows real-life parishioners in their preparations for and attendance at what one assumes is a semi-fictional Christmas service.
The commercial itself is not the worst out there, although like many of contemporary examples of the genre it suffers from a lack of investment in developing visually compelling characters with truly arresting personalities.
However – after some reflection – we at Mediolana can’t help but wonder if, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, the basic logic of the ad is somewhat flawed. Understandably – in an era when attendances at Church of England venues are reaching unprecedented depths – the C of E is desperate to funnel warm bodies back into the pews; however, the depiction of a full church as displayed in the marketing spot is not just arguably a tad deceptive, but is setting up the viewer for a big disappointment should they ever follow through on their interest in the ‘service’ being proffered.
Instead, it could be posited that the Church of England should look at the problem from a near-opposite perspective and ask itself the basic question of why it is losing market share in the first place.
This is indubitably a vexed and complex issue, but one thing can be said for certain: any religious denomination whose teachings and general theological direction are virtually indistinguishable to that of mainstream opinion in what is easily one of the more secular societies anywhere on Earth is in serious danger of not differentiating itself enough to be relevant – or even basically interesting – to those of a spiritual bent.
This is a problem which even the tremendous resources and privileges that the Church of England enjoys for historical reasons cannot solve. And until this essential weakness is addressed, the curious spectacle of the established church in the home of the industrial revolution experiencing biological leakage to stronger ‘brands’ such as Buddhism, Islam, and other Christian denominations risks continuing unabated.