5 Church Marketing Lessons from Mad Men

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If you haven't at least heard of the AMC television series, Mad Men, allow me to fill you in. It's a television drama set in the 1960s based on an advertising firm in New York City. It's a show filled with modern philosophy, art, business, and a lot of alcohol. It's essentially a modern soap opera and is hugely successful- considered by many (TV Guide, American Film Institute, Emmys, etc.) to be among the top 10 shows ever produced. And whether you've watched the show or not, there are hundreds of marketing lessons from Mad Men that churches can take away and use. Here are 5 lessons I think are particularly effective for ministries.

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1. Let the Idea Drive the Work

Sometimes visual people forget their job is to create a message. As a beginning freelancer, when a client needed a logo, I'd search through books, websites, and design magazines to find inspiration - searching for elements or techniques that I could piece together for my client. But the creatives in Mad Men begin the process at a very different place - the raw idea. In fact, most of their energy is devoted to the development of the idea, rather than its execution.

I discovered the power of this simple process last year- and it has radically improved the quality and the message of everything I help create. Before you do anything, sit down and write the message. "Easter is... new life. It's victory. It's celebration. It's world changing- what do all those things look like if they come together in a video?" Craft your idea - your message - to the utmost point. Then, and only then, get to work.

"In the beginning was the Word..." John 1:1

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2. Befriend Your Audience

Some people say you should get to know your audience. I think Mad Men argues you should go to the next level - befriend your audience. Understand them and make them feel like you are their companion - as though they can experience their deepest desires with you- Because of you. As a church, this shouldn't even be difficult if we actually believe that Jesus is at all compelling and that he offers any healing. That's a HUGE promise! But it requires humility to authentically communicate. There's a huge difference between saying, "you need Jesus," and saying "We need Jesus." Let your audience feel like you are their friend because you are their friend. Get to know them, make a promise, and deliver.

Mad Men - The Wheel

3. Craft an Experience

The creative geniuses in Mad Men always focus on the experience of a product. At the end of episode 13, Don Draper describes the power of experience to Kodak about their new slideshow "wheel" projector. Rather than focus on the wheel or other technical elements of the product, Don focuses on the experience using the product. He says,

This device isn't a spaceship. It's a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called "the wheel". It's called "the carousal". It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again. To a place where we know we are loved. -Don Draper, Episode 13

Personally, I've noticed a lot of sterilization in church marketing as if it were the stock advertisements of any number of corporations (e.g., a picture of a puzzle piece anytime a church wants people to "connect"). Don't focus on the technology - the fact that your church can afford to post a billboard on the highway or broadcast to a local TV station - focus on the experience. What do people feel when they step into your lobby? What do they feel when they launch your app or website? When a church crafts an experience, they understand the most human parts of ourselves (including sin and brokenness) and respond to it with (hopefully) the character of God. Who cares if your stage lights are LED? What does it matter that you design on a new Mac Pro? How does creative work affect people who are in need of Jesus? That's the question we should always ask and always work to answer. Our "products" and technologies are just tools to craft an experience.

4. Don't Follow Trends; Create Them

Because advertising and marketing is an art, the solution to each new problem or challenge should begin with a blank canvas and an open mind, not with the nervous borrowings of other people’s mediocrities. -George Lios

I believe everyone is, at some level, an artist. I truly believe creating things is an integral part of who we are. God created us in his own image - and he is THE creator.

Yet so often, we follow a trend rather than explore something new. Trends are safe. They're guaranteed success. I remember when Apple started using reflections under all their products, within three years EVERYONE used reflections under everything - including churches. It's just the easy thing to do.

I heard a great quote by Steven Taylor yesterday, a Christian film director, who simply said, "Bad art made by Christians is still bad art."

The truth is, following a trend is like putting on a cloak of invisibility. You can't look stupid because you're effectively invisible. Did Jesus do what was trendy? Did he fall in line with the expectations of the people (earthly king), which would have made him popular? Not even close. He created something new - something that got him mocked, beaten, and killed. And we're all saved because of it.

The church should stop following trends. Let's make something new. It takes courage to try something new. It's risky. And you're going to learn about what works and what doesn't. But eventually, people are going to start imitating you.

5. If You Don't Like What's Being Said, Change the Conversation

It's a simple phrase, first uttered by Don Draper in season 3, episode 2, and it is a great piece of advice for anyone. Take control of the message - be intentional about what is communicated from every level.