Amid all the celebrity-filled brand spots, blockbuster movie trailers and beer ads, He Gets Us—a campaign to reintroduce Christianity to viewers—is a bit of an outlier.
Rather than selling a brand or product, the $100 million campaign is running two Super Bowl ads that aim to “inspire those who may be skeptical of Christianity to ask questions and learn more about Jesus” and “encourage Christians to live out their faith even better,” a spokesperson told Adweek via email.
He Gets Us joins a relatively small canon of religious ad campaigns with major funding and widespread distribution—similar to efforts like the “I’m a Mormon” campaign, which ran between 2011 and 2018, and Scientology’s regional Super Bowl ad spots, which have run in local markets since 2013.
But it’s unclear how viewers will respond to these ads—and ROI is tough to measure on a spot that’s disconnected from a product or service. Experts that Adweek spoke to expressed skepticism regarding the ads’ ability to resonate with viewers, pointing to the group’s political ties, the aggressive tone of “Confrontation” and the price tag associated with 90 seconds of Super Bowl ad time.
“Some say sport and politics shouldn’t mix, others will add sport and religion shouldn’t mix,” said David Waller, associate professor of marketing at the University of Technology-Sydney and author of a 2021 journal article on religion in advertising.
While some may appreciate the focus on Jesus during an event like the Super Bowl, “others will just be turned off by it and look forward to the next ad or the game itself,” Waller added. He also noted that some may question the decision to spend $21 million on ads rather than “directly helping the poor.”
While He Gets Us has only been around since 2021, one of its funders will be familiar to American consumers. David Green, co-founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, is one of the few backers who’s been publicly identified.
Green, a conservative Christian, has been at the center of several controversies since amassing his fortune through the arts and crafts retailer. In addition to denying contraceptive care to his employees, he’s also been a major donor to lobby groups like the National Christian Foundation, which is responsible for pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation.
He Gets Us is funded by The Signatry, a donor-advised fund, of which Green is a funder. The campaign declined to answer questions regarding who else is funding the project.
“The sole purpose of this $100 million campaign is for me to change my mind from ‘Christians are hypocritical’ to ‘Jesus was a really cool guy,’ right?” said Mara Einstein, professor of media studies at Queens College, City University of New York. “It’s a lot of money to spend for a guy who really already has some pretty good brand recognition.”
A two-prong approach
The Super Bowl ad time for He Gets Us is split between a 30-second spot, “Be Childlike,” which runs between the first and second quarters, and a 60-second ad called “Love Your Enemies” slated for the fourth quarter. The group worked with Dallas-based agency Lerma and Michigan-based agency Haven on the ads.
The spots seem to represent two contrasting approaches—the first urges viewers to act “childlike,” stringing together heartwarming videos of kids sweetly comforting, caring for and helping one another, set to Patsy Cline’s “If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child).”
The second takes a harsher tone. Black and white stills of people fighting, yelling and protesting flash across the screen as Rag’n’Bone’s “Human” serves as soundtrack for the spot. It seems to pull from much of the political division that the U.S. has experienced over the past few years—invoking racial tension, disagreements over mask-wearing and the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The concluding message shown at the end is “Jesus loves the people we hate.”
A play for lapsed churchgoers?
He Gets Us told Adweek that the ads aren’t targeted toward a specific demographic, but anyone who’s “spiritually open and is interested in learning more about Jesus.”
Still, experts noted that young people are less inclined to attend church or identify as religious than previous generations. Over a third of Gen Z is unaffiliated with any religion, according to a 2021 study by the American Survey Center. But rather than drawing young people toward the church, “Love Your Enemies” has the potential to simply remind lapsed Christians why they left, noted Elizabeth Minton, associate professor of marketing at the University of Wyoming.
“There is definitely this stream of younger consumers going away from faith and turning spirituality or turning to agnosticism or atheism,” Minton said. “If they feel like that religion is not representative of diversity or inclusion, or some of the other hot button social topics right now, they could feel like, well, this is the confrontation that’s being created by religion.”