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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Reflections on the “He Gets Us” Campaign

What, really, is the message of this new media campaign?

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will offer his opinion on stories in the week’s news or, sometimes, offer a behind-the-scenes look at how and why we do what we do.

The “He Gets Us” campaign is still generating conversation following its big splash at the Super Bowl two weeks ago. “He Gets Us” aired an ad featuring images of people washing the feet of others. The foot-washing ad ran twice, at a reported cost of $7 million per airing.

The Super Bowl ads are part of a $100 million campaign funded mostly by the Green family, of Hobby Lobby fame. The campaign has included social media, advertising at sports events and elsewhere, and an infrastructure of research and follow-up. Some news reports suggest the organizers hope that – over a period of years – they will eventually spend $1 billion on the “He Gets Us” effort.

(If you want to take a deeper dive into this campaign, MinistryWatch has written a number of significant articles on this effort, which you can find here.)

I must confess that I have mixed feelings about the “He Gets Us” advertising campaign. I should disclose straightway that I know and like many people involved in this effort, including several members of the Green family. I have no doubt that their intentions are honorable.

I also appreciate the fact that none of the ads I have seen even hint at fundraising. It appears to me that this campaign is funded mostly by the Greens and a few other high-capacity givers. Again, that is commendable.

That said, I continue to have questions and concerns about the campaign. Here are a few of them:

The Medium Is the Message

One of the goals of the campaign is to help people see Jesus in a new way. The real Jesus, not the Jesus of the Evangelical Industrial Complex. Fair enough. But at this moment in history, 150 years into a digital era that began with the telegraph and now includes the works of media critics Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, it would be disingenuous to suggest that the medium does not, at times, overwhelm the message.

The philosopher Etienne Gilson said, “Piety is no substitute for technique.” He meant that having the right intentions is not enough. “He Gets Us” appears to be concerned with both piety and technique, but…is it? Has it really accounted for the fact that many people will not see the foot washing Jesus but the $7 million price tag of the ads? The answer to that question is not clear to me. The “He Gets Us” campaign, with its sophisticated market research and $100-million-trending-to-$1-billion spend, will inevitably – even if unfairly — appear to many to be the epitome of the Evangelical Industrial Complex.

What Is the Message?  

Even if you think people will look past the medium, what is the message?

Some missiologists — people who study missionary efforts and their effectiveness — are weighing in on the campaign, and they are finding flaws, or at least gaps, in the Jesus the campaign is pushing. Some are suggesting that the message of “He Gets Us” might have the unintended consequence of giving people just enough Jesus to inoculate them from the real Jesus.

Michael Cooper, an author and missiologist, who is a fan of the ads, says they communicate the human side of Jesus, but he also says that there is a fine line between a partial representation and a false representation.

Cooper and a colleague offer what he called a “constructive critique” of the campaign in the Journal of the Evangelical Missiological Society. That article calls for clearer messaging about the divine nature of Jesus.

One critic of “He Gets Us” went a step further and produced his own ad.

Jamie Bambrick is associate pastor of Hope Church Craigavon in Northern Ireland. In a remarkable feat of guerilla marketing and video production, he produced a high-quality video response to the “He Gets Us” Super Bowl ad in less than an hour. The video has now had more than 2 million views on X. He added this note: “A group known as ‘He Gets Us’ released an advert during the Super Bowl which, whilst perhaps well intentioned, failed to convey anything of the gospel to the hundreds of millions who saw it. Here is my take on what they should have done.”

A Needed Conversation

In fairness to the “He Gets Us” team, there is only so much you can do in 30 seconds. But I do think that Jamie Bambrick’s rapid response can and should be a lesson, and it could provide a possible next step in this effort.

Indeed, while the Super Bowl is history, the “He Gets Us” campaign is not over. The public conversation about the campaign continues. I am fond of the expression, “The universe rewards action.” Stephen Covey, in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, lists “Be Proactive” as one of those habits. So I commend the people behind the “He Gets Us” campaign for taking action.

It’s important to remember, though, that one of the benefits of taking action is that sometimes it produces success, but it always produces data, information – and lessons. Sometimes that information suggests the actions taken were not the right ones or were incomplete.

It is my hope and prayer that the “He Gets Us” team will continue to act, but that they will also be humble enough to listen to its critics and to the lessons this campaign is producing.

POSTCRIPT: If you want to continue this conversation, I recommend this David French’s assessment in the New York Times. I do not agree with everything French says, but his article has helpful links to those on both sides of this debate. I also recommend my friends John Stonestreet and Maria Baer at The Colson Center. In a recent “Breakpoint This Week” podcast, they discussed this campaign in some detail and raised some interesting points.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.