marketing the message

Brent Finnegan -- August 11th, 2008

If you’ve seen these signs around town, taped to light poles and planted in front yards, you may have been wondering what they are. Turns out it’s an ad campaign for Aletheia Church.

Reminds me of some viral marketing version of Lovemarks. Or this documentary produced by a former Harrisonburg resident.

140 Responses to “marketing the message”

  1. Emmy says:

    I noticed those this morning and it just made me mad. I’m not looking forward to seeing all those laying around on the ground.

  2. Emmy says:

    Oh and for what its worth, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “marketing” a church so to speak. When I was looking for a church I was hesitant to just walk in to one I knew nothing about. Maybe that says something about me, I don’t know. I tend to think word of mouth works best, but I know my church is looking for ways to let people know about our church, especially college students. If my opinion is ever asked, I’ll be sure to steer them away from this idea should it come up.

  3. Brian M says:

    It was cool to see some people on the video that I recognized, several good friends actually. And you’ve got to agree that the song is pretty darn catchy. I’m humming it in my head…

    Oh no. Now it’s stuck there. Grrr…

  4. mikekeane says:

    Does it take modern marketing techniques for us to finally equate churches to viruses?

  5. mikekeane says:

    This church can’t use their own parishioners in their add they need to go out and find cool young people to bolster their appeal. I would be irate if I found myself in an add like this. I seriously doubt the person behind the camera was up front about his/her purpose.

    Aletheia (????e?a) is the Greek word for “truth”, and like the English word implies sincerity as well as factuality or reality. The literal meaning of the word ?–???e?a is, “the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident”.

  6. Brooke says:

    Does anyone know *for sure* that they didn’t get permission to put up the signs/flyers, and that the people in the video are no members?

    If so, yeah, I do find that not only odd, but ethically questionable.

  7. Brooke says:

    Seeing the video, I’m kind of torn.

    It’s not like they were in any way portrayed as church members, or promoting the church. They were just answering the question about what the shape looks like to them. And for that I think you wouldn’t necessarily use your members – you’d ask the public at large.

    It’s a fine line, to be sure. I will say, I’m fairly certain one of the people I saw in there is an atheist (if they’re who I thought they were) and I’m not sure they’d be ok with being used in a video to advertise a church.

    I guess it comes down to whether or not the people were told why they were being filmed and gave their permission to use the footage for those purposes.

    If not, yeah, that’s kind of shady.

  8. Emmy says:

    I don’t think its legal to put up flyers on signs and such. I’m sure someone can tell me if that’s in fact true.

  9. Brooke says:

    Doesn’t it depend on where? I mean, political signs get staked out all over the place during election seasons.

    I’ve never really had occasions to look into the technicalities, so hopefully someone in the know can set the record straight, but I always thought there were channels you could go through to get permission for such things.

    But I agree with you, whether it’s not allowed period, or they just didn’t go through the proper channels, it was the wrong thing to do, and especially for a church, which should go above and beyond in upholding the law.

  10. finnegan says:

    I can confirm that the several of the people featured in the video are not members.

    As for flier permission, I don’t know. The City Manager is (or was) a leader in that church — he’s featured on their website. If the city grants permission for that sort of advertising (which I suspect they don’t) one would think they would have requested and been granted permission.

    Speaking as a documentary filmmaker, any time you shoot video of someone, you need them to sign a release form. Having said that, very few videographers actually do it. I have most (not all) interviewees fill out forms for documentaries I produce. But generally, when I’m shooting a quick interview for hburgnews, I simply tell them who I am, what it’s for, that it’s going to be up on YouTube, etc. I usually try to record them consenting to be interviewed.

  11. Brian M says:

    I just spoke with one of my close friends who is featured in the video and he was amazed and surprised. He was never told that his image would be used in this way to advertise in a marketing campaign for a church. Allegedly, he was told (or led to believe) that the video project was for a focus group and wasn’t going to be used in this way. The female individual never informed him of any affiliation with a religious group. This seems to me to be a pretty slick way to get people on their video.

    Shame on them (or at least the videographer).

  12. finnegan says:

    City municipal code, section 6-1-25.

    Posting advertisements, flyers, etc.; prohibited.
    No individual, business, organization club or group of any description, shall, without advance written permission of the director of public works, post, attach, affix, or cause or encourage another to post, attach, or affix, any sign, flyer, poster or notice, to any object or surface, such as a utility pole or traffic sign or signal, within a public right-of-way or on property owned or leased by the City of Harrisonburg; nor shall any mark of any nature be made with any implement or substance.

    For what it’s worth, my band used to post fliers for shows on telephone poles in the late 90s. Before MySpace, of course ;)

  13. Brooke says:

    finnegan – so I guess it comes down to whether they got that “advance written permission.” In light of how the video thing went down, my guess is they did not, any more than they were up front about the making of the video, their affiliation, or the purpose of the video.

    That’s really not a great reflection on that church, IMO. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. You need to be sure you *find out* what the rules are before you embark on something like this.

  14. Barnabas says:

    Yeah but what if they tell you you can’t do it? Then you’ll have to have your music festival in a basement.

    Whats the big deal?

    Isn’t the site with the video a separate sight than that of the church? The video doesn’t promote the church, the link underneath takes you to the church site if your curious enough to click. If a band did this most people would think it was pretty cool. But it’s not a band, it’s a church, so they will be judged more severely. I think it was well produced and that the people who made it must have been pretty excited. From what I know of Aletheia it’s a rather young congregation. I wouldn’t doubt id they used a flyer canvassing because thats the same thing they would do to promote their band or Chicken BBQ sale.

  15. Annie Hololob says:

    These posters were all over Harrisonburg Crossing shopping center, and I spent time tearing them down off of the B&N windows this morning. Like most businesses we have a very strict no solicitation policy and I for one don’t need to waste time cleaning up someone else’s litter. As far as I’m concerned, this is as obnoxious as the Amway sales people that harass our customers shopping for books, and I would happily call HPD to have them removed, the same way we do with the Amway folks.

  16. Brooke says:

    It’s a bigger deal because of what churches (usually) stand for. I’m not saying they should be lashed or put in stocks, and I don’t think it makes them a bad church or bad people, but yeah, I think a church, any church, has an obligation to be above reproach in how it goes about conducting itself, and *especially* in how it chooses to promote itself. The very nature of promotion and marketing is that you’re going to be more visible, so make sure, in making yourself more visible, that you do so in a way that reflects well upon your church and your beliefs.

  17. chrisfb says:

    At least two of the kids in that ad are atheists. So, the person behind the camera was definitely not up front about the video’s purpose.

  18. mikekeane says:

    For the record I support an individual or group’s right to post bulletins publicly – regardless of city municipal code.

    That is certainly not what is at the root of what is wrong with this, and many, evangelical churches informed by marketing strategies rather than compassion. Youth ministry, especially from obscure churches more and more ventures in the the realm of a chilling and treacherous battle for our minds, souls and wallets.

  19. mikekeane says:

    *…in TO the realm of…

  20. Brian M says:

    To Barnabas:

    Spend your life picking up litter from others and maybe you’d feel differently about having a community trashed by anyone, church or otherwise. It is very frustrating to see business ad and political signs posted on City property. When it’s being mowed, an employee has to remove that material. It’s not very attractive to see tape and slivers of colored paper littering a City electric pole. If I wanted to post something then I would be darned sure to follow the rules even if I didn’t agree with them. The policy is to ensure that someone is responsible for taking down the signs when the event has passed. Will anyone be taking down these signs and every bit of tape that was used when the signs are no longer readable? If so then they are among the first to do so.

    There are outlets in this community to provide other citizens with nonprofit messages. There’s the City Span (Ch. 3 on ComCast) which is free. There are community interest bulletin boards throughout the City. If none of these legal options are enough then they should pay to have their message heard like any other group or individual in the area.

  21. Josh says:

    I can’t help but admire their video and website. Sure, I agree with others in that the way they created the video was a bit shady (I’d be upset if my interview was on there), but, wow!, they’ve done a terrific job promoting their brand!

    Mikekeane’s latest comment is very insightful. Churches are sometimes informed by marketing strategies rather than compassion. Enter the rise of the megachurch and church plants like this in valley. Think about it. With our multitude (many dozens) of churches, some thought there was yet another group that was somehow not being reached out to. Market research.

  22. Thomas Paine says:

    I can’t believe the hostility I’m seeing at this ad thing. There are thousands of flyers and road signs up all over town at any given time of the year. Now that it just happens to be promotion for a church, everyone’s irate??? Harrisonburg is really showing its small-town mentality this time.

  23. David Miller says:

    A church is a business as much as any other, except that they pay no income, property or other forms of taxes. They have income and strive to bring parishioners to their “store-front”. They do so for different reasons than most businesses but the correlation is realistic. For this reason I disagree with their marketing methods. If I have to follow the rules for my businesses, shouldn’t everyone else? Also, don’t litter up a community when you’re mission statement reinforces serving that very community “Our mission at Aletheia is to serve our community and local area colleges and universities.” (source mission statement link)

    Otherwise good website, minus the immediate loud music that I struggled to find a mute button for.

  24. Brooke says:

    I would also agree about the dangers of emphasis on marketing, rather than on actual mission and message.

  25. Thomas Paine says:

    I agree that too great an emphasis on marketing is a bad thing for a church. But in this case, I think they are simply using it as a means to a greater end. They aren’t trying to sell a product, they’re trying to give a message. Churches everywhere are struggling with finding an effective way to share the message of Christ. This just seems like a clever (and successful) way to do it.

  26. Mike says:

    Illegally hung flyers creating visual clutter and eventual litter? What a pity.

    Everyone knows God would prefer you to spray paint “Jesus loves you” up and down the interstate…

  27. Brooke says:

    Look, I’m a Christian, too. I understand the need to get the message out there, but ignoring the law, creating clutter/litter, and using people’s likeness under misleading pretences, some of whom would NOT appreciate their likeness being used to promote a church, is NOT the best way to do it.

  28. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    It’s okay, Brooke…I saw some people using a likeness of a church to promote their humanistic ideas. Fair is fair.

    Seriously, though, if littering is happening it needs to stop. Other than that, this is a pretty awesome campaign for any local organization to put together. Maybe I should see if they could help me put together a viral campaign for Crocktown.

  29. Emmy says:

    I have no problem with a church or a band wanting to get the word out there. I don’t have a problem with any group trying to get their message out. I am equally irritated when I see band material all over the place…but we aren’t talking about that, we’re talking about this church. I’m also amazed at the number of these things I saw today in a very short commute to work. Its excessive, so that’s why it came to my attention. There are all sorts of businesses who will put up your stuff and I’m sure that the members of this church own some of them or have other means of spreading this message.

    The video is really good and its a great idea. However, I think if you are going to use someone’s interview you need to tell them what it is for.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that this is a church, except that you would expect that a church would be following the rules and open about their intent.

    My church has a pretty big congregation, but we don’t have a permanent home. So, we can’t just hope people drive by and want to stop. We have to look into other ways to get the message out. We’re on MySpace, Facebook, and my pastor has a blog. They were in the Christmas parade too. It isn’t that big of a town. You don’t have to litter to get the message out there.

  30. Benjamin E. says:

    Whenever I see signs taped to light poles, in the median strips, or posted elsewhere illegally, I think of the crew of Public Works employees that are going to be wasting a whole day (or more) removing them all. 4 people * $15.00/hr * 8 hour day = $480. That doesn’t even take into account gas mileage. Neat marketing idea though not thought out well. They should have just kept the signs in their yards.

  31. Aaron says:

    Hey H’burg residents…

    I wanted to thank everyone for their insightful feedback. I guess we achieved our intended purpose which was to create a buzz; albeit a negative one for the most part (at least on this site). I appreciate all of you responding to our marketing campaign. I also want to assure everyone that when the campaign is over with, we are planning to personally remove every poster on every post in the city.
    We care about people and if we have hurt anyone through our methods, then we apologize. The greek word for aletheia is “not concealed” and we are not concealing anything with this. The purpose of what we are doing is to bring attention to our church and more importantly God; I think that people understand that. We have used other methods as well such as knocking on over 20,000 doors in the last 7 years as well as putting ads in news papers and radio.
    We are trying to relate to our culture and that is why we did what we did. Just as some of you commented…bands as well as other businesses and people having yard sales have used the same tactics.
    We attempted to cover all of our bases as far as the legalities go, but maybe somehow we missed something.
    Oh, and the city manager had no part in this.
    The people on the video were interviewed for the purpose of answering the question of “what is it?” That’s all. There was no other reason than that. The interviews are nowhere on the church web site and they obviously in no way connect these people with Aletheia Church, its beliefs, or even God.
    We hope that those of you who are taking the time to post on this blog site will give Aletheia Church a chance and come check out our church sometime.
    I’d love to sit down with any one and explain more of who we are as a church and why we did what we did because I know how these blog sites can get crazy.
    Once again, we had no ill intentions or bad motives and we are sorry if you are irritated with us or think badly of us. We are just normal human beings just like you who like to be creative and express our creativity in different ways just like you do. Thanks again for the feedback.

  32. Brooke says:

    I have a home church, but thanks.

    I am glad you are going to remove all the signs once you are done with the campaign, but what about the ones that will have blown off in the meantime? What about the fact that they are up in places where they are unwanted, or illegal? Does this not concern you?

    How did you attempt to cover all the legalities if you didn’t even check to see what the laws were concerning putting up flyers? Attempting to cover all your bases means checking to see what the law says, and then adhering to it. It means calling a city official and finding out where you can and cannot post them.

    As far as the video, I’m sorry, but it is connected with your church, because you’re using the video as part of a campaign to draw attention to your church. No, they’re not being asked to give testimonials, but did you ask any of them permission to us their likeness in the campaign? Did you get releases signed? Did you tell them after you asked your question, that this was a campaign for your church? You admit the flyers, and the symbol, are part of a marketing campaign, to get the message out, so I’m not getting how the video, where you ask people about the symbol and then it links to the church site, is not part of the same marketing campaign for your church? Did it not occur to you that some of those people may not wish to be in a video that was a marketing campaign for church? As has been pointed out, there are a couple atheists in the video, who probably aren’t too keen on the fact that they were unknowingly used in a church’s marketing campaign.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do I think your intentions are good, your heart is in the right place, and I’m sure your church will do good work in the community as far as spreading the Good News, but as a fellow believer, I think you really need to be very careful, when presenting yourselves to the community, that you respect the community, and follow the law. I really kind of feel that you could have done a much better job of that.

    Nevertheless, I’m hoping your church will grow and flourish. :-)

  33. mikekeane says:

    “Hey H’burg residents…

    …I wanted to thank everyone for their insightful feedback. I guess we achieved our intended purpose which was to create a buzz; albeit a negative one for the most part (at least on this site). I appreciate all of you responding to our marketing campaign.”

    “not concealed” – aletheia

    Well, another church awkwardly wields the modern powers of marketing only to shoot themselves in the foot and create a bad name for themselves.

    Its disturbing to see the appropriation of edgy ideas and new technology for these misguided messianic ends. That seems to be what this church is all about – their schtick appears to involve a rock band lifting some punk guitar riffs, a fog machine, glow sticks, a slick website, blogs, viral marketing, a facebook page and pay pal solicitations all target marketed at the soul. The new face of christianity seems to look a lot like a creepy Madison Avenue executive. It just seems like so much pandering to me…

    The creepiest part must be the video encouraging the viewer to use their evangelism model. It consists of several College students all reiterating the same wishy washy 4 step program for talking to freshmen about joining their church under the pretense of friendship.

    The donations they are soliciting aren’t even for charitable works they are for more evangelism (camera, building, van, etc). The link to the blog tells of a recent trip to Peurto Rico involving an American Idol audition and evangelizing to 15 people!

    “The trip was unique in that we didn’t have the overwhelming amount of opportunities to share Christ with people. This is true especially when compared to the past trips we have taken to other Latin American countries. Since we quickly realized this after the first couple of days being there, we started asking God to send us to those few people who were so ready to hear the Gospel. And that is exactly what God did. I think we shared the truth with 15 people while we were there and 9 of them accepted Jesus. And those 9 people were so genuine in their commitments.”

    oh, and this:

    “…Finally, the second worship set. We ended with “Take It All” by United and I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never seen so many fists being pumped at one time in God;s house. It felt more like a heavy metal concert than a worship service. It was Awesome with a capital A.

    We are now anxiously awaiting the return of the college students this fall and wondering where in the world we are going to seat everyone. Thank goodness that the Harrisonburg city manager is on our leadership team. He may have some ideas ”

    oh, its rich:

    “We started our new series “Reset” and it was amazing. We set up a bunch of alarm clocks on the scaffolding next to the top cab speakers as props. All of the clocks were blinking and I swear that at one point I was being hypnotized. It definitely got the point across.

    Also, it was Fathers Day so you know the band had to melt some faces off and rock out for the dads. We played a couple new songs, one of which was the Aletheia original “A Call To Arms.”

    So – church seems to consist of something like an emo show.

    If you watch the YouTube videos you’ll see them baptize someone in a hot tub:

    Show off their van, brag about how much it pollutes, then ask for money for another

    Parents: your lonely children go off to college and these guys snatch them up.

    Is this the same church group kicked of JMU’s campus a few years ago?

  34. Brooke says:

    Well, Mike, while the church is also supposed to help others, the primary mission of any church should be sharing the Gospel, so I can’t fault them for that. One takes care of temporal needs (good, and necessary) but the other addresses the soul and eternity.

  35. Benjamin E. says:

    “The interviews are nowhere on the church web site and they obviously in no way connect these people with Aletheia Church, its beliefs, or even God.
    We hope that those of you who are taking the time to post on this blog site will give Aletheia Church a chance and come check out our church sometime.”
    I am slightly offended that you seem to be assuming that we are ignorant to your evangelical methods. You used people as a tool to steer people towards your website and to you church. Of course it is all connected. That is why we are even talking about this.


    According to wikipedia:
    Vandalism is the conspicuous defacement or destruction of a structure, a symbol or anything else that goes against the will of the owner/governing body, and usually constitutes a crime.

  36. Jon says:

    I can’t believe the stir this has caused; I would rank the hanging of these signs up there with Watergate.

    Seriously, when we hung the posters this past weekend we thought we had covered our basis, but apparently we were wrong. I reiterate that we are sorry for any inconvenience we have caused anyone. We were anxious to get the word out and in our excitement we overlooked the fine print. This was not intentional and we made a mistake. I would bet that everyone reading this blog has made a mistake today.

    People can blog and pick apart our every word and assume to know our intentions but I don’t know why you would want to do that. I would venture to say that most of you that negatively are blogging us are smarter than myself and if we got in a verbal boxing match I would most certainly lose and I do not have the time to continue to write these blogs. So the purpose of this blog is not to pick a fight, but to call attention to some things that most of you do not realize and hopefully make you think twice before stereotyping our church or attacking our pastor.

    We are a church with a young demographic. So the music is different than any other church in the area. The way our pastor writes the weekly blogs is different than any other church in the area. Our graphic designing and the way we do ministry is different than other church in the area. We are not different in a better way, we are just different.

    Our mission goal starts with loving God then loving others. This remains our focus and this will be misconstrued by certain people. You should know that there are hundreds of students that came in to JMU and other local colleges that were partying, getting drunk and doing drugs and God changed their lives through Aletheia Church. Our pastors have bought thousands of dollars in meals (out of their own pockets) for other people to help them out. We have gone and cleaned up many yards after being littered with beer cans and red cups from the previous night. We have moved dozens of people (that don’t go to our church) because they couldn’t afford a moving crew. We have made thousands of visits within the community to share the Gospel. This isn’t a pat on the back, but it is to say that we genuinely care about other people and we have seen Jesus change countless lives at Aletheia. This is what gets us excited – seeing lives changed through a personal relationship with Jesus.

    Many of the people that spent countless hours working on this project take your comments to heart and that is not what pregnant moms and friends of mine need to be dealing with right now. So, if any of you have anything negative to say then I would challenge you to send me an email and let me know when you can meet for lunch so we can talk about it. It is a free country and you can continue to blog negative things, but that is the easy way and if you are really convicted about this then wouldn’t you rather talk about it? I will buy you lunch wherever you would like to meet. I most likely will not check back on these blogs, so email me if you would like to grab some lunch.

  37. Emmy says:

    Jon, I go to a young church too. The majority of our congregation is college students and we have really upbeat music as well. Getting college students to church is a difficult task, and getting them to hear the message is even more tricky.

    I was discussing this this morning with someone who is very involved with her church and they do lots of different things to get the word out about her church too. She watched the video and what struck her is that if you are trying to get someone interested in your church, then actually mentioning the church is probably a good idea. If nothing else, have the video redirect at the end.

    I’m sure the members did put a lot of work into this. When you put that much work into something and you market it the way that you have, then you have to expect both good and bad feedback. I’m sorry if they weren’t prepared for the latter. Hopefully, it will help you in future endeavors.

  38. Brooke says:

    Lame ditto to Emmy.

    My family also belongs to a church that has a huge population of students, so I do realize the need to reach young people.

    I think many of us here have been pretty clear that we think you guys had noble intentions, even if the execution was flawed.

    It is my hope that you can see some of the comments less as an attack, and more as something to think about in the future as you seek to draw awareness to your church.

  39. Jon says:

    My email address is

  40. finnegan says:

    Jon and Aaron,

    Thanks for your insight. I’m sure you’ll take all these comments under advisement before you plan your next marketing campaign. But I hope you don’t make the mistake of lumping all critics into the same category. There are sympathetic Christians saying one thing, city employees saying another, and still staunch atheists saying something completely different.

    In other words, the critics are diverse.

  41. Marty says:

    Staunch Atheist here with my $.02. I have no problems with a church ‘marketing’ or putting up flyers, but man, I would’ve been beyond PO’d if I was unknowingly used in a video like this.

  42. Peter says:

    For the record, I don’t go to any church, let alone this one. I just got an email from a friend saying that she saw me in the video.

    I’m not going to claim to remember the whole conversation with the girl who filmed us, but I remember getting the impression it was to be used for a ” project” of some sorts. I certainly didn’t think it was part of an advertising campaign. Looking back on it, I should have assumed it would end up on the internet, but the girl who approached me didn’t mention it. If I had known all the facts, I’m not sure if I would have done it, but I might have.

    They seem young, inexperienced, excited, and apologetic. I wouldn’t go too hard on them.

  43. Tom says:

    mikekeane: I’m pretty sure the campus group that got kicked off JMU’s campus was one that is associated with a local Church of Christ not the one that was advertising with the posters.

  44. Terry Ward says:


    The first time I saw one of the posters, I just KNEW that sooner or later the mystery would be explained here on –YEAY you guys.


    Now for April Fools’Day I want to post some random odd symbol (maybe a bootprint upon a fish or a pear within a hexagon –yes that’ll do) around town and whisper to three people what it means –and then wait and see how long it takes to get solved on this platform. Very impressive.


  45. mikekeane says:

    thanks for the clarification tom.

  46. Tim says:

    I know that I’m late on this whole discussion, but I have to say that I was really hoping those signs were related to something more important than another church jocking for position. They advertise the same way that the first “Pirates of the Caribean” movie did.

  47. Del says:

    Considering at least one individual and one business I saw in this video, I wonder what the position of this church is regarding gays?

  48. David Miller says:

    Illegal littering still not cleaned up, any word on eta. I like my city, please clean up your litter

  49. Draegn88 says:

    I’ve seen these posters around town, and I wonder, the places that have them, are they church member’s homes? Or did they just slap them up at any convient corner?

    I’m waiting for the wind to take the bedsheet sized ones somewhere. I wonder how HPD will handle the complaints.

  50. Emmy says:

    They are slapped at any convenient corner. If you stand at the corner in front of Bank of America downtown. You can count at least four of them on various objects.

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