"Benedict is very progressive about his brand," says Patrick McGovern, vice-president of Blade Creative Branding, a Toronto-based marketing agency, who gives the Pope credit for clearly expressing the values a core constituency holds dear. "If everybody is wishy-washy, (the institution) will wash away."
Two recent moves only reaffirm Benedict’s shrewd strategy: the revival of the Traditional Latin Mass and reaffirmation of the supremacy of the Catholic Church. In the former case, the Pope has allowed for expanded use of the old liturgy, which is very different from the current Mass which mimics many Protestant services. Benedict clearly intends that the Mass should be easily differentiated from other Christian services, while supporting a clear Catholic identity (brand). In the latter case, Benedict recently affirmed that Protestant churches are schismatic and deficient, and should only be considered “ecclesial communities,” while affirming the original church (his), as the one, true church (Newsflash: Pope Catholic!).
Both moves have sparked controversy in the media (much of it ill-informed) and the predictable Chicken Little cries from the usual quarters about how this will “split” the church and drive people away from the pews. It comes as no surprise to marketers, however, that the facts prove precisely the opposite:
The Vatican's financial statements for 2006, Benedict's first full year as pope, show a huge leap in donations to the papal charity known as Peter's Pence, ($101 million U.S. in 2006 versus $64.4 million the year before) in 2006, and the numbers of faithful flocking to St. Peter's Square in Rome are soaring. While marketing is likely the last thing on the Pope's mind, experts in that worldly field say Benedict's actions serve very powerfully to brand the Catholic Church in the eyes of the world, bringing a muscular "take-it-or-leave-it" approach to church positioning.
What should ordinary Catholics take from all this? A few things: first, being Catholic means something; you cannot, for example, be a Catholic and support abortion. The church may very well be one house with many rooms, but none of them are labelled “pro-choice”, “gay marriage” or “women priests.” Second, the Catholic Church is not going to be a cafeteria – you don’t get to pick the parts you like, and leave the ones you don’t; everyone at the table partakes of the same meal. There are to be core values around which all Catholics are called to rally, regardless of their political or economic preferences. Third, the church has very real authority that binds the whole community together through a chain of command instituted by Christ Himself, and obedience is to be rediscovered as an underappreciated virtue.
The Catholic Church. Universal. Apostolic. And kicking butt.