Monday, July 28, 2008

Branded By Oprah

How well have you been “branded”? Not branded like cattle in a Western movie, but able to recall the slogans, jingles, and logos that companies bombard us with daily in order to “brand” their product into our life.

See if you can name the products that go with the following advertising slogans/campaigns: (You can check your answers at the end of today’s entry.)

1. “They’re Grrreaaat!”
2. “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”
3. “A little dab’ll do you.”
4. “It’s the real thing!”
5. “Finger Lickin’ Good!”
6. “For those who think young!”
7. “Just Do It!”
8. “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is!”
9. “Where’s the beef?”
10. “The Quicker Picker-Upper!”
11. Ask any mermaid, you happen to see, “What’s the best tuna?”
12. Double your pleasure, double your fun.

Even though some of these slogans haven’t been used for decades, they became so embedded in the culture that many of us still remember the commercial and/or jingle that contained the slogan. If you fall into the category of those who could identify eight or more products, you have been effectively branded by corporate America.

However, the goal is not simply to get you to know about the product, but to buy it and promote it; in other words, the goal is to develop “brand loyalty” – to prefer and support a particular brand over other brands of the same product. There is still some degree of brand loyalty today, but certainly not like it once was. This is due, in no small part, to the economic downturn in the 1970s which caused many people to put more emphasis on value than on brand loyalty, allowing smaller companies to compete with the big, name brands.

This paved the way for the introduction of generic brands. Today we know these as “store brands”, but when initially introduced they were packaged in white boxes, or cans with white labels, typically with green or black lettering that simply started what was in the container – coffee, for example. Within a few years, almost every major grocery store had a “generic” aisle.

Certainly there was some skepticism about buying a white can simply labeled, “coffee”. But after thirty years, and the white label being replaced by packaging similar to that of the brand names, most of us don’t have any problem picking up the “store brand”. It certainly doesn’t hurt that these also usually cost much less than the comparable name-brand product.

This “generic” branding carried over into prescription medications, electronics, and almost every other product line. But does this popularity of the “store brands” and willingness to stray from the “name brands” only apply to the goods that we buy? Or, are Americans also less likely to practice “brand loyalty” in other areas of life, such as religion?

Once, Americans were passionately loyal to their Church, religion, or faith (Historically, this was almost exclusively Judaism or Christianity – Protestantism or Roman Catholicism). However, by the 1970s, the U.S. was experiencing an increase in the number of, what might be called, “generic” religions. The popularity of Eastern religions was on the rise and by the 1980s “metaphysics”, or so-called “New Age” religions, were becoming entrenched in the mainstream of American culture.

Americans were proving that not only did they want options in product consumerism; they wanted to be able to pick and choose among their religious “brands”, as well. Many were replacing, “Jesus is the only way” with, “Jesus is one of many ways.” And, while one can certainly believe whatever they want, such statements are particularly troubling as many who make such claims, say they are doing so as Christians. A good example of this is Oprah Winfrey.

In the mid 1990s, I recorded one of the Oprah shows and released a few clips from it on the Internet. One, that has garnered much attention lately, features Oprah stating (in reference to the statement, “Jesus is the only way”), “There can’t possibly be just one way.” Following is an excerpt that contains this statement and others that are revealing as to her beliefs.



Naturally, this statement has also received much notice and commentary from Christians. One group, a small consortium of Christian news publishers, contracted for an article to address Winfrey’s theology. The resulting article was released to a number of Christian newspapers and distributed through other venues, such as churches.

When Ms. Winfrey’s production company, Harpo Productions, was approached about the story, a spokesman affirmed Winfrey is a Christian, stating: "Oprah was raised Baptist and has stated many, many times that she is a Christian and that she believes in only one God," said the spokesman, who asked not to be named. "She has also said, 'I'm a free-thinking Christian who believes in my way, but I don't believe it's the only way, with 6 billion people on the planet.'" (USA TODAY, www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-07-07-oprah-christian_N.htm )

In supporting the validity of Ms. Winfrey’s views, her spokesman referred to the findings of a recent report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that 70% of Americans said, "many religions can lead to eternal life". This spokesman must not realize that the Pew report was reporting what Americans believe, not which beliefs are true. Truth is not determined by a poll, or vote.

For example, 200 years ago the majority of Americans believed Jesus was the only way to enter into a relationship with God. Did the fact that the majority believed this make it true? And if so, does this mean “truth” is fluid, or changing, based upon majority views, or cultural trends? Of course not. While how many people believe something might be a statistical fact, it is not proof that what they believe is true.

As Americans, we are guaranteed the right to believe and practice any religion we want, as long as it does not harm or interfere with the guaranteed rights of others. Ms. Winfrey has the right to believe many ways lead to God. However, to do so while claiming to be a Christian is somewhat disingenuous; as the Christian Church has, since its inception, proclaimed that Jesus is the only way. It is our “brand”, you might say. To proclaim otherwise, is to deny the faith.

If Coke wants to reach Pepsi customers, it can’t do it by putting Coke labels on Pepsi products, or by promoting Pepsi as a Coca Cola product. To do this would violate the truth in labeling and advertising laws. In the same way, one cannot simply place the “Christian” label on their beliefs and claim to be Christian while proclaiming beliefs that are anything but Christian. The product, or beliefs, in this case, must match the label.

Without question, the Christian “brand” is being greatly infringed upon, as are those of other world religions. A new brand is being substituted as evidenced by statements like those of Ms. Winfrey, who attempt to blur the distinctions between Christianity and these new religions. If the findings of the Pew Forum are correct, it certainly seems to be working.

Therefore, it is especially important that Christians are able to articulate our beliefs and accurately represent them in the marketplace. It is also time for Winfrey and others to admit that theirs is not a “free-thinking Christianity” but an entirely different religion, or spiritual understanding.

Answers: 1) Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, 2) Chiffon Margarine, 3) Brylcreem, 4) Coca Cola 5) Kentucky Fried Chicken, 6) Pepsi, 7) Nike, 8) Alka-Seltzer, 9) Wendy’s Hamburgers, 10) Bounty Paper Towels, 11) Chicken of the Sea Tuna, 12) Doublemint Chewing Gum

1 comment:

Tim Faulk said...

Far too often in this culture "Christian" and "American" are thought to be synonyms. Far too many people who are members of churches and claim to be "Christians" have never put their trust in Christ and fundamentally do not understand the claim of Christ to be THE Way (not "a" way) and that apart from Christ, their "good" works aren't sufficient to merit God's favor nor an eternity with Him.

Satan is a cunning adversary, knowing that he only needs to taint the truth ever so slightly as to keep people from understanding the REAL truth. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" Prov 16:25.