By Philip Gull
The Closest Dot of All
Disclaimer: I have zero personal interest in telling you what to believe. Most days my faith is weak. Often, I go without it.
In the beginning was the Word.
So it was in the beginning.
But the Word was found to be economically beneficial, and was consequently used to sell indistinguishable brands of butter, unreliable French motors, and unnecessary home insurance.
So it is now.
At SCA, Marc encourages us to collect ‘dots’. The ‘dot’ is the unit of culture. Marc stresses that collecting dots is a real-world activity, and that dots are in discrete locations.
SCA is on the 4th floor of St Matthew’s, Brixton. Two floors above the church. About 8 metres as the crow divebombs.
Why is my advertising brain interested in church?
98% of copy can’t sell margarine at £1.99. 98% of copy annoys you. 98% of copy can’t command your attention for over 2 seconds. 98% of copy slides noiselessly, almost gracefully by, the faintest of informative winds.
And yet, for 1 in 2 people on this planet, there is Copy which transforms and shapes their entire world-view, and their view of subsequent after-worlds. It appears in books with very few pictures, on compressed, double-columned pages, daring you not to reverence its ugliness.
Slogans are seasonal. And yet, there is Copy which outlasts countries and civilisations with consummate ease. Copy which induyrs, and endureth, and endures, changing less than the very language that transmits it.
Church is not a fashionable dot. But it is a big dot. So yesterday, I went to communion before school started.
And for half an hour, I found myself in an environment where language seeks breath, transforms, becomes muscular, beating, able to shape, move and alter things substantial. And that was pretty f†††ing cool.
Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
Modern advertising relies greatly on faith. What lots of brands are trying to tell us is the same thing many trendy twentysomething pastors – the type with minimalist tattoos of their favourite Hebrew – are trying to communicate. It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. If you’re Audi or The Body Shop, you want your flock to buy into your intangibles (intangibles, being free, are hugely profitable): your ethos, your brand truth, your perspective.
You don’t believe Audi or The Body Shop. You believe in Audi and The Body Shop, in Nike the non-goddess.
There are many people, and some of our mentors, that like to downplay the importance of advertising.
Advertising only sells soap, they say.
Don’t get too caught up in the bubble of self-importance, they say.
Advertising is definitely not life-or-death, they say.
These people, and these mentors, are categorically wrong.
Advertising is absolutely life-or-death.
If God is real, He operates by faith. This much is clear, because we haven’t seen Him.
(If we could see God, life would be unimaginably awful. Imagine waking up and seeing His thunderous brow through the clouds on your way to work, knowing every unkind and unsanitary thought you had was being catalogued. Helping yourself to Sarah’s instant coffee. Existence would be an awful preamble to eternity.)
If God is real and operates by faith, your salvation, my salvation and your aunt’s salvation hinge entirely on advertising. It all comes down to how persuasively your preacher, or priest, or a solitary book of Copy can convince you that this life is nothing but a small room in a rather expansive mansion.
And if God is real, hopefully his Copy is sticky enough to draw me in in the long run.
Either way, there’s a group of people that gather three times a week downstairs, and pray for ‘the advertising school in our building’. And that’s something we should all appreciate.
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