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FIRST-PERSON: Chevy taps the evangelical niche

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Chevrolet has long billed itself as more than just a car company. The auto giant has long marketed itself as part and parcel of the American experience. From its 1960s advertising campaign “See the USA in a Chevrolet” to its ’70s emphasis, “baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet,” the carmaker has sought to position itself as the embodiment of all that is good in the United States.

In keeping with its wholesome, flag-waving, freedom-loving, family friendly identity, Chevrolet has chosen to be the lead sponsor for a series of Christian concerts. The “Come Together and Worship” tour will kick off in Atlanta Nov. 1 and travel to 16 cities. The events will feature recording artists Michael W. Smith and Third Day as well as popular author Max Lucado. Remarkably, some believe there is something wrong with Chevrolet’s sponsorship of this concert series.

Phyllis Tickle, described as an expert in religious marketing in a report appearing in the Detroit Free Press, told the newspaper, “This is surprising — a real blurring of the lines between the commercial and the sacred. And it’s unfortunate, because it compromises both sides. We know that church and state are never supposed to meet, and I think it’s also a bad idea for the church and Wall Street to be meeting like this.”

Christian concerts are as much entertainment as they are sacred. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that. When wholesome entertainment choices seem to be going the way of the dinosaur, many families see Christian concerts as a healthy alternative.

Ms. Tickle asserts the “sacred” will somehow be compromised by the corporate sponsorship of a Christian concert. We are not talking about billboards in a church sanctuary. I doubt very seriously that Chevrolet will begin to market itself as the carmaker endorsed by Jesus.

Simply put, Chevrolet is seeking to market itself to a significant population in America it believes shares its values. “This is about selling cars,” declared Steve Betz, General Motor’s marketing manager for the southeastern United States.

Marketing has changed in the last 20 years. With the advent of cable and satellite television, a new era of advertising has been ushered in. Where companies once broadcast their message to a mass audience, now they narrow-cast to segments of the population. This emerging manner of advertising had been christened “niche marketing.”

Advertising now focuses like a laser beam on specific groups. Niche marketing is facilitated by the almost uncountable special interest programs available via television as well as the myriad of magazines that support every avocation imaginable. Whether you are into tattoos or tiddlywinks, there is a periodical or program just for you.

It seems that today where two or three gathered for any reason, an expert in market analysis is lurking not too far away. Advertising is now crafted to appeal specifically to not only a variety of tastes and interests, but also to different age segments as well as various lifestyles.

It is little wonder that in this era of focus groups and consumer surveys that the Christian “market” would not go untapped forever. Companies, like Chevrolet, that have maintained — and marketed — their sense of tradition through the years believe it only makes sense to give attention this specific segment of the population.

It should be noted that Chevrolet is not targeting Christians per say but rather a segment of Christianity. In sponsoring the “Come Together and Worship” tour, Chevrolet is focusing on the niche with an affinity for contemporary Christian music. While this is obviously a significant market, it is not representative of all of Christianity in America.

Chevrolet’s sponsorship of a Christian concert series is recognition of the possible purchasing power of a certain segment within the Christian population, a segment Chevrolet hopes will identify with the wholesome values that undergird baseball, hotdogs and apple pie and thus become loyal customers.

If the carmaker were marketing to homosexuals, environmentalists or some other niche group, it would be applauded. Other companies do so and are given kudos. However, Christians today are to be seen and not heard, and certainly not marketed to.

Chevrolet’s sponsorship should not be construed as a validation of Christianity in America. Jesus Christ did not say blessed are thou when corporate America comes courting thy business. I do seem to recall him saying something about being misunderstood and persecuted, but not catered to.
Boggs is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs