In the beginning was the brand

Recent initiatives in the once-sleepy world of religious publishing prove Christianity is not averse to the power of branding, says Sarah Woods

Religious organisations often try to distance themselves from the commercial world, but at the dawn of Christianity, around 2000 years ago, the art of marketing was born and used to spread the word.

While the average church-goer may be unaware of the power of the branding when perched on their Sunday morning pew, it appears that basic modern business values, such as mission and vision, have always been at the heart of spreading the Biblical message.

Type the word ‘Bible’ into Google and never has there been so much choice. With the great book being the world’s number one bestseller, there is an obvious need for God to remain relevant in the present day. Arguably, it is therefore important for Christian organisations and religious publications to display these ancient marketing skills and use branding and communications to position themselves in a crowded market.

That said, designers suggesting fresh ideas for a Christian audience must be aware of the risk of causing offence. So a balance should be struck between using contemporary design, imagery or even humour, and remaining empathetic to the cause.

This year, publisher Hodder & Stoughton’s scripture range is to be rebranded by Unreal to stand out among the competition. The New International Version series, which includes 26 different versions of the Bible in traditional, contemporary and everyday language styles, will undergo a revamp, focusing on the design of the jackets.

It is not necessarily important for a Bible to stay up to date with its look for its audience, but it is critical in attracting new buyers, suggests Unreal managing director Tim Lewis. ‘Publishers are always looking at ways of creating new readers and the Bible format is no exception, with Manga Bibles and other cartoon Bibles competing with more traditional designs. I do feel that, once they have adopted a strong and recognisable enough look, they should persevere with it and not constantly reinvent it,’ he says.

‘We thought we were pushing it when a committed atheist and a Muslim took the initial brief. However, we assumed several considerations to help advise the design teams in delivering the final concepts: meaning, accessibility, relevance, authority, guidance, and love and warmth,’ Lewis adds. ‘We wanted our designs to stand out from the clutter and did explore how far we could push the design, but keeping to the values we originally attached meant we were able to present several non-offensive ideas.’

In the past ten years, there have been further updates to the Biblical world. At the beginning of the decade, renowned designer Derek Birdsall came up with a ground-breaking design for the Church of England’s new service and prayer book, Common Worship. The project began when the chairman of Liturgical Publishing, the Lord Bishop of Guildford, established a design panel, led by Sir Christopher Frayling, Rector of the Royal College of Art. A list of designers was named, which included Atelier Works, Graphic Thought Facility and Pentagram Design following Angus Hyland’s Bible-as-a-series-of-booklets covers.

With both Birdsall’s and Unreal’s designs, typography feature strongly, while the use of photography has been discarded. Photography tends to be more subjective than type, says Lewis, and type lets the book speak for itself.

The Bible Society, an organisation that harks back to 1804, stays true to traditional values in its work to make sure that the Bible ‘is shaping the lives and communities of people everywhere’, but uses contemporary and humorous ways to convey its message.

It has commissioned Dunn & Co to carry out a rebranding exercise, to consider its brand architecture and tone of voice, and last year the society launched a campaign around the idea of the ‘world’s largest scratch card’, created by Arthur Steen Horne Adamson, with the objective of getting people to understand that the Bible is relevant today.

Do religious organisations such as these need to be sensitive in their brand communications? Peter Meadows, Bible Society director of communications and giving, thinks not. ‘The simple answer is no,’ he says. ‘Using humour is important. We want to come across as normal, rational people who you wouldn’t mind being stuck in a lift with. It is about tone of voice. Many church-goers think branding is about manipulation, but it’s about clarity and encouraging them to make a decision.’

Marksteen Adamson, founding partner of ASHA, agrees with the modern and humorous approach, having been involved with several religious organisations’ communications and design. ‘We talk about Christian organisations entering the commercial world, but it is the other way round,’ he says.

‘Some parts of the Christian world take themselves too seriously, but we have found using humour has received a positive response. There is a need for churches and church organisations to be relevant and communicate in a refreshing and new way. If you think about Christian music, it is so out of date, and so is its communications and branding.’

If recent history is to be believed, then God has never been so marketable, and the Christian community seems more willing to throw off its stuffy image and embrace contemporary and humorous ways of engaging with its religion.

Christian communications

• At the beginning of the decade, Angus Hyland of Pentagram designed the Bible-as-a-series-of-booklets covers, and Derek Birdsall created the Church of England’s new service and prayer book, Common Worship

• According to reports, at the end of last year the AH Trust charity announced plans to open a Christian theme park in the UK to champion the book of Genesis

• This year Unreal rebranded Hodder & Stoughton’s Bible range

• Harper Collins Publishers’ Mission Praise hymn book will become the first to be made available on-line

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  • alex mayor November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    good god this article was not only banal but off the case. An appalling case of poor history, mistaken start points and dire dire dire use of context. Where to begin? I have never read such dull commentary on religious texts as para 10 where the author relates that ‘the bible is “shaping the lives and communities of people everywhere” but uses contemporary and humorous ways to convey its message’. Good literally god is this the best you can do?! Christianity has a real REAL difficult issue with details and message, and kid, it has nothing to do with some two bit talking shop called the Bible Society (number of members? number of important designers? Number of … anyone?)

    This article was beyond superficial and dire, it had nothing to say and a subject that frankly didn’t even deserve the coverage unless you were prepared to really think about it. Look at paragraph 12: “MA agrees with the modern and humorous approach, having been involved with several religious organisations communications and design “We talk about Christian organisations entering the commercial world, but it is the other way around”, he says. This entirely bizarre almost nonsensical claim is not explained. You cannot in a design mag end the paragraph with this! What does it even mean!? Terrible editorial, terrible writing.

    The article ends on a total non-sequitur, with a conclusion that is not only unsupported by what precedes but also just so bloody lazy “If recent history is to be believed, then God has never been so marketable…” Really?! A/ what does this mean? B/ Where in the article is this establihsed? C/ I thought recent history if anything showed people were never more sceptical about Sky God based explanations (Dennet, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris et al). What is this sentence slyly hoping to alude to? LAZY Sarah Woods! Do some research or bother to bloody well write something of substance or don’t bother!

    Basically – god is this magazine badly written and over-reaching!

    Cheers all


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