The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, April 21, 2003

SELLING JESUS
getcher jesus, right heee-ah!
The tower ad at right has been making the online rounds quite a bit lately, most noticably on Yahoo!. As you can see, it's promoting a special series of scholarly essays to be found exclusively on BeliefNet. BeliefNet is a site that features a range of religious discourse, including those dealing with The Big Three (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and also, in the words of The Simpsons' Reverend Lovejoy, "Miscellaneous" (Buddhism, Hinduism... you know, those religions with only a paltry 3 billion or so adherents). Very interesting reading.

This ad works quite well at attracting attention. I'm a seasoned Websurfer, well-adept at mentally screening out most ads. This one definitely caught my eye, and kept it (obviously, to the point where I'm now writing about it). So based on my strict standards, this qualifies as successful online advertising.

I think having the image of Jesus at the very top, so that it's likely the first thing you see as soon as the ad loads up, is a big part of the effectiveness. I'm also kind of bemused by the type of Jesus image used here: It looks more Eastern (Orthodox) than Western (Catholic, Protestant) to me. Eastern Christian imagery brings to mind the mystical aspects of the religion; not sure if that was intentional here or not.

As for the offer behind the ad... It's intriguing. This being the Easter season, I'd think it's the right time to pitch some quality writing on the Messiah. Of course, is this intriguing enough to get people to cough up some dough for access? It's notoriously hard to get people to pay for any kind of Web content. News video clips like the sort Yahoo! and CNN are trying to sell for around $10-20 have been tough to move. Entertainment content, like sports and movie stuff, hasn't fared much better. Financial services and--ahem--porn are about the only two areas of online content distribution that have been cited as being successfully monetized (i.e., in-demand enough to persuade people to pay for it). What makes BeliefNet think there's a market for this offering?

I guess the timeliness of this--again, Eastertime keeping contemplation of Jesus on the minds of a lot of people--is a key to the appeal. I'm thinking the target audience is not as much the general population as much as it is those with some academic or professional interest. If you look at it like an educational course or seminar, then it's a pretty attractive sell (especially if there's some level of interactivity, like feedback for the authors, chatroom time, etc.) But for a casual browser, it's probably not going to convince him/her to open the pocketbook.

Like I said, I'm intrigued by the offer. Depending on the details of the deal, I might even spring for it. Then again, it's certainly not something I have to have.