Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"The Grandest, Most Compelling Story of All Time!": Dominant Themes of Christian Media Marketing

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"The Grandest, Most Compelling Story of All Time!": Dominant Themes of Christian Media Marketing

Article excerpt

The Story, published in 2005, is an abridged, reformatted NIV translation of the Bible. The chapter and verse markers are gone, and the text is laid out to read more like a novel than Scripture. The Story focuses on bible stories that have a plot rather than mere teachings or philosophies--the lives of Joseph and Daniel warrant their own chapters, but the Psalms, Proverbs, and other non-narrative material are absent. The publisher, Zondervan, lauds The Story as "The grandest, most compelling story of all time!" (Zondervan 2013a). This appraisal that an abridged Bible is "The grandest, most compelling story of all time!" might sound a little hyperbolic, but it should not be dismissed as mere over-enthusiasm. Rather, this pitch is composed to both move a product and rouse religious sensitivities.

Far from being a meager, niche, underground business that serves a modest consumer base, the Christian media industry generates an estimated $4.6 billion a year (Association for Christian Retail 2013e). The Association for Christian Retail (formally "Christian Booksellers Association") represents around 1,700 Christian retailers and 500 producers, and hosts a retail show each year that features 300 exhibits and 5,000 attendees (Association for Christian Retail 2013a). The association conducts detailed demographic research to identify the ideal target consumers for Christian media (Association for Christian Retail 2009). The two largest Christian retail chains operate over 400 stores in the United States (Family Christian Stores 2013; Lifeway Christian Resources 2013). Christian media are also stocked at mainstream outlets, including Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, and Apple's iTunes store. Further, Christian media are not produced by marginal businesses; the more popular Christian media publishers and labels are tied to larger, mainstream media conglomerates--for instance, Zondervan, the publisher of The Story, was purchased in 1988 by HarperCollins, a division of News Corp.

The author wishes to acknowledge Maureen McGee for her assistance with this project.

Popularity and profitability aside, Christian media have the potential to shape how audiences understand the world. As media, they are the means through which consumers are exposed to different ideas and perspectives. As religious texts, they also influence how we make sense of the world. The texts alone do not shape religious faith, though; their marketing and distribution also projects particular meanings onto religious beliefs in their efforts to sell products. How do these marketing efforts to appeal to religious sensitivities re-create Christian belief? What does it mean that Christian media are marketed by appealing to a consumer's faith? What is the "Christianity" of Christian media marketing?

This article analyzes the marketing materials from the bestselling Christian books and albums of January 2013 to identify their campaigns' dominant themes so that we can better understand how Christian media negotiate between marketing products and marketing faith, and how the campaigns frame Christianity to sell products.

Framework

Critical cultural studies give us a nice framework on which to build our exploration of the Christian media industry in general, and its marketing in particular. They acknowledge and explore the roles that cultural texts play in perpetuating hegemonic beliefs and in shaping how we understand the world. Mass media are recognized as powerful agents of hegemony by stabilizing dominant ideas through selective exposure of the world and through portrayals of daily life that create and re-create mainstream beliefs. Critical cultural scholars oftentimes criticize media for perpetuating ideological systems that can undermine the audience's interests, at the most, and at the least, pacify audiences from significant engagement with the world (Adorno and Horkheimer 1993).

Critical cultural studies recognize advertising as a key tactic for shaping how we understand daily life. …

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