There is an old media theory saying that effective advertisements are like small sermons. They show people struggling with a problem and then they claim to show a solution to that problem. These mini-sermons end by showing the viewers how to make a leap of faith by doing whatever the ad tells them to do in order to solve the problem and, thus, improve their lives.
If you take this concept to its logical conclusion -- as I did while teaching at Denver Seminary in the early ’90s -- you can pay careful attention to advertising and, by doing so, learn a lot about the state of modern hearts, minds and souls. At the very least, you get a picture of what brilliant, high-paid advertising people think is wrong with our hearts, minds and, I would assume, souls.
Of course, I am talking about the old ads -- modern ads, as opposed to postmodern ads that center almost totally on emotions and attitudes. Here is how I put this a few years ago, in an interview with Homiletics:
About half the ads on television today make no sense whatsoever in a linear fashion in terms of having anything remotely to do with the product. They're getting across an attitude, a mood. They're asking, "Do you want to be the kind of person who uses this product?" One ad theorist has said that "they presume the product has a soul." If you think as a sacramental Christian, people are taking communion at the mall. They are consuming the product, the soul of the product, to become the essence of the product. It's a liturgical experience. They're taking communion at the mall. They are what they eat, which is the essence of the ancient church's definition of communion.
As you would expect, I have a love/hate relationship with the ads shown during the Super Bowl, the economic lifeblood of this mega-secular holy day. (Click here for a collection.) Thus, I was glad when a reader sent me a link to report by WFAA in Dallas that focused on a pastor who was trying to get his congregation to pay more attention to the ads, not less.
Here is a chunk of the text by reporter Bob Greene:
GRAPEVINE -- While a large amount of people anticipate the advertisements almost as much as the game during the Super Bowl, one North Texas pastor says when people search hard enough, they might also find a message. As he gave his sermon Sunday, Pastor Ken Diehm gave members of the First United Methodist Church of Grapevine an assignment -- watch the Super Bowl.
"... Think about what messages you're being sold," he told the congregation.
Diehm said finding faith and life-messages in Super Bowl ads is something he has done for years. "One year I was watching the Super Bowl and I was watching the commercials and I thought, those are great messages. I ought to talk about those," he said.
I'm sad to report that this story was about as deep as, well, a Super Bowl ad. Still, there is a subject in there worth exploring.
Like most critics, Diehm paid special attention to the Nationwide "life comes at you fast" ad featuring ex-Britney hubbie Kevin Federline. I thought the more interesting series was the latest offering from Careerbuilder.com and its hellish vision of what is, for millions of young Americans, their true home and spiritual sanctuary -- the office.
The office. Heaven or hell? Is improving one's pie charts a spiritual discipline? Perhaps workaholism is the subject hidden inside this sermon.
Hopefully there is some better coverage of this Super Bowl-related story out there, but I have not seen it. Did anyone else see coverage of this? Did anyone else see any mini-sermons in the ads this year?
Photo: Yes, this is an older Careerbuilder.com image. I am trying to find a way to link to the new jungle series.