Catholics Come Home Goes National, but Is It Worth It?

Catholics Come Home just announced they’ll be airing their most popular video “commercial” for the Catholic Church on a national, prime-time scale from Dec 16, 2011 through January 8, 2012. It will show on “CBS, NBC, Univision, TBS, USA, TNT, CNN, FoxNews, and other networks during shows like 60 Minutes, NCIS, Kennedy Center Honors, NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, Jay Leno, O’Reilly, major sports, and highly rated sitcoms.”

They report that the “positive message will reach 250 million television viewers in over 10,000 U.S. cities and every diocese throughout the United States, airing over 400 times during the three-week period spanning before Christmas through the Feast of the Epiphany, January 8, 2012.

[...]Where these ads have aired, Mass attendance has increased an average of 10%, and helped over 300,000 people home to the Church, just since 2008.”

Here’s the brilliant ad (below), in case you’re one of the few who haven’t seen it yet. The commercial has been shortened from its original form due to the time constraints and costs of TV ads, no doubt. The original, full-length version is much better, but this one is still very good:

I’m pretty stoked about this. However, a recent study by CARA showed that the successes claimed to have been made (increased Mass attendance, etc.) by showing this commercial within specific dioceses in the past may not be as significant as estimated. The CARA study makes the case that the airing of the commercial had

no significant

lasting effect, and perhaps even very little short-term effect in regard to activating inactive Catholics. Check out their report for the interesting analysis and why the cited increase in Mass attendance may not have been because of the ads at all.

If true, this then begs the question, is it worth spending all this money on national TV campaigns for the Catholic Church?

I’d say, regardless of the study, Yes. Here are a few thoughts why:

1) Anyone in marketing knows that while immediate, direct and quantifiable results for advertising campaigns are nice, that’s not often how it works. It’s very common that the effects of a campaign are more indirect and difficult to measure. I think that’s going to be the case with ad spots like this. It does have a specific call to action (come home to your parish, visit our website), but I don’t think we should expect that’s all it’s going to take for most people.

2) An ad like this is only one part of the solution. So it’s incomplete to measure it all by itself. For instance, at least one other part of the solution should be a campaign of active Catholics reaching out to inactive Catholics personally, inviting them back to Mass or other activities at the parish. That would surely yield positive results, and anyone that has seen the commercial would likely be more receptive to such a personal invitation after seeing it.

3) We also have to examine what we’re inviting Catholics to come home to? Let’s say somebody does check out their local parish after seeing this compelling and beautiful commercial. What will they find? Are they finding a thriving, welcoming community rooted in the sacraments? Do they encounter a beautiful and respectful liturgy worthy of those sacraments? Are they finding answers to their questions? Solutions to their problems?

4) Actually, let’s back it up a bit more. What is the first thing a person would do who sees the commercial and then decides they need to get to Mass? They are gonna do just what you or I would do—go straight to the Internet and find the website of their local parish. But what will they find there? Does their local parish website (if it even exists and can be found) easily give them the information they need? Does it make a good first impression? Does the experience of the website impress them by matching the promise and beauty of the commercial they just saw? Or does it remind them of why they stopped going to Mass in the first place?

5) I’d be interested in the uptick in Google searches for “Catholic Mass times” or “Catholic parish [city name]” after this ad campaign runs. That would be a much better metric for an ad campaign like this. The analysis of the traffic to the website as a result of the campaign would also be helpful, of course.

6) Commercials like this, I think, may actually end up being more effective online than in massive traditional media campaigns—mostly because online they are easy to share in a more personal way. And so they become a handy evangelization tool that empowers Catholics to go out and share their faith, make personal connections with people, start conversations, get feedback from viewers, answer questions, etc. Which are important next steps to bringing people back to the Church for good and to initiating lasting conversion. That’s why I was surprised a couple years ago when Catholics Come Home had just launched these amazing commercials, and they weren’t letting anyone embed them and share them online (without first sending people back to their website). That has since changed—which was most certainly the right thing to do.

7) This kind of commercial, in my opinion, is more like a Nike ad, rather than a local car dealership ad. Nike ads are generally for “branding” purposes. They’re purpose is not to send you running to your closest Nike retailer. It’s to affect what you think of and how you feel when you see the Nike logo or hear their name. Their purpose is branding, not a specific call to action. Yes, the Catholics Come Home commercial has a call to action (come on home to your parish), but I think the call to action serves more of a purpose of “branding” the Church as a welcoming place. It reminds people that the Church—and Jesus—is always close by, waiting for you to come back. It reminds viewers of what the Church has contributed to humankind and all of the good she does (something you won’t hear from most media, especially in light of the sex abuse crisis). It may not compel a person to run back into the pews, but it at least reminds them how amazing our Church is and will help people think of her in a more positive light when they hear her name. Metrics like that are harder to capture and quantify. But they are still real and important.

8) Forget the stats for a minute. When you watch this commercial, don’t you just want everyone to see it? I do. Deep down, you just know that it is doing something good for people.

What do you think? Are these kinds of ad campaigns worth it even if we don’t see a direct increase in Mass attendance because of them? Why do you support or not support these kinds of efforts?