- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2023

A multiyear, billion-dollar effort to “market” the message of Jesus Christ to a skeptical population will get high visibility Sunday, when the “He Gets Us” campaign airs two commercials totaling 90 seconds during the Super Bowl.

Inclusion and kindness are among the ad campaign’s dominant themes, and that’s intentional, organizers say.

“What began as a campaign to answer the question, ‘How did history’s greatest love story become known as a hate group?’ has quickly grown into a movement, with more than 400 million views of the commercials online to date,” a news release states.

Jesus welcomed the huddled masses,” reads a recent digital billboard in Times Square and other locations. An Instagram-style image reads, “Jesus made space for everyone.”

Jason Vanderground, president of Haven, the marketing firm that created the ads, told The Washington Times the $20 million, one-day advertising buy will bring a Christian message to the event “like never before.”

“What we’re trying to do is create a brand around what it means to demonstrate the radical love of Jesus and to have that presence and gravitas in mainstream culture,” Mr. Vanderground said in an interview.

Instead of promoting a denomination in the same manner as Coca-Cola or Pepsi markets soft drinks, the campaign’s goal is to reach those uncertain about the faith, he said.

“We’re focused on people who are spiritually open but very skeptical about Christianity,” Mr. Vanderground said. “Essentially what we’re promoting to them is the radical love of Jesus. That is the thing that is really transformative in our life and our culture.”

The “He Gets Us” campaign, which first appeared nationally last March, has placed much of its advertising in public spaces such as Times Square, the Las Vegas Strip, and college football and basketball games. Funded by donors such as the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame, organizers said a nonprofit called Servant Foundation is administering the campaign.

Ads ran during “almost every” NFL game, including the recent playoffs, according to a news release announcing the Super Bowl ads.

Unlike earlier mass-marketing campaigns promoting evangelistic messaging, “He Gets Us” is taking a low-key approach.

“It’s been so long since we’ve taken a hard look at the confounding radical love of Jesus and just go, ‘There is this example of love and forgiveness and peace and acceptance,’” Mr. Vanderground said.

He said surveys indicate “85% of Americans are profoundly interested” in that “radical love” message.

Those who respond via the HeGetsUs.com website can be directed to an online Bible reading plan, live online chats with counselors, or connections to local groups.

“It’s all at the direction of the person who initiates the contact with us,” Mr. Vanderground said.

After the Super Bowl, the campaign will air messages tied to the Lenten season, he said.

“We’ll actually look at how that played out in Jesus’ life; the things that he gave up were power and money and taking revenge on his enemies,” Mr. Vanderground said. “It’s always about what are the examples of confounding love, forgiveness, grace and mercy from the life of Jesus mashed up with what are we going through as Americans.”

Marketing expert Jonathan Ogle, founder of the Infinite Agency in Dallas, Texas, says this approach might be right for the times.

“Since 2016, Christianity has been in a soul-searching moment, especially in America,” he said in an interview. “You’ve seen the rise of Christian nationalism. You’ve seen a lot of people who maybe had experiences with Christians and with Christianity not being pleasant over the last few years.”

Instead of focusing on the “brand” known as Christianity, Mr. Ogle said the “He Gets Us” approach might “change [how] people approach Christianity and see the faith in a different, new way.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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