Friday, May 13, 2005

Push Marketing and Push Evangelism -- Yecch!

Permit me a quick rant. Yesterday a representative from Cinergy came knocking on our door, offering his wares. He was an articulate young man who was offering a one month free trial of their new high speed internet service. All that was required of my system was a little modem about the size of a light timer – it plugs into the wall, and then we connect our computer into the jack at the very bottom. He told us it was high speed access, faster than other high speed services, and if we liked it after the month trial, it would only be $26 dollars a month.

Now perhaps this was a good deal, perhaps it wasn’t. But I was completely unreceptive to the offer, and this is why – they interrupted my evening. When this joker (er, I mean gentleman) came knocking on our door, I was in the process of taking Sarah Grace upstairs so we could do our nightly routine of reading a book, singing a few songs, and tucking her in to sleep. I very politely listened to his canned schpiel, and politely told him “no thank you.”

If I want to purchase something or find out about something – I will go looking for it. I don’t mind receiving catalogs in the mail (though I do get ticked off when we are sent catalogs that I’ve never heard of – simply b/c they bought a mailing list from someone else). Companies that invade my private time to peddle their wares just plain bug me. And from everything I read, they bug other people too. This is one of the reasons a company like bzzagent is attracting so much attention – they try to market products through less invasive means: by encouraging honest word-of-mouth by people who use the product (whether they are a success at this venture is a subject of speculation – there are many who view the idea of paying to stimulate word of mouth as an extremely insidious venture – visit their website to which I link above, and make your own decisions).

For many, particularly of younger generations who are more saavy about manipulation in media, the concept of “push” marketing (aggressively chasing after the consumer) is dying. Look at the outright mockery of network marketing in the film Garden State – the main character runs into a high school classmate working as a clerk in a big box store – the classmate begins a stumbling and awkward pitch about “a great opportunity …. For an ambitious guy like you” or something to that nature. At which point the main character promptly ends the conversation. I don’t cite this to say network marketing companies are bad (in fact I think they are quite good for some people), but they do have a cultural stereotype of being very pushy.

I think of my own experience buying a car (way back in 1993)– I went to the Geo dealership and asked to look at a car. I clearly stated that I wasn’t buying, just taking a look to compare various models. The salesman was a good old boy figure, and we talked about football and fishing. But when we wrapped up the test drive, he said “Let me introduce you to my sales manager,” who amazingly looked just like the character Booger from Revenge of the Nerds. This joker (er… I mean gentleman) begins the high pressure tactic “Sir, what can I do to have you drive home in this car today.” I told him that I was just looking, and he keeps on with his harangue, chasing me to my car as I’m leaving the dealership in a huff.

I bought a Saturn (which now has 160k miles on it – and still going strong). Geo lost my business simply for disrespecting me and my time.

So, being the theologian I am, this makes me think about evangelism – the old style of door to door evangelism is dying out as an effective model. It may have worked back in the era where door to door salesmen were accepted, but no longer. “Push” models of evangelism are plain offensive (and subject to lots of mockery by secularists). I studied Evangelism Explosion in seminary, and couldn’t help but thinking “how cheesy” – to suggest cornering someone in an elevator and confronting them with questions about eternity! You need to earn the right to ask me such questions! (again, no disrespect intended, it was a great program for its time, but its time has passed)

This is not to say that the questions aren’t important – these are life and death questions about eternity, about life purpose, about what we were made for. However the way we open the question directly impacts the way it is received. Perhaps before Evangelism happens (evangelism being the sharing of the good news of Christ’s victory over sin and death, and the implications it has for us), we need to engage in being salt and light (see Matthew 5 “you are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world” We need to so demonstrate God’s power by our lifestyle and our integrity and our dogged determination to demonstrate love to others. This isn’t some call to work harder – we can’t really live this way unless we have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. We will fight against our own inertia, apathy, and selfishness until the Holy Spirit overwhelms us and sends us out into the world.

In many ways, “Push” evangelism relies heavily upon our own knowledge, our own grasp of all the answers, our own ability to engage in debate and technique. “Permission” evangelism is doing what comes naturally when led by the Holy Spirit: Pray hard for other people, trust in God’s sovereignty during confusing or hard times, live lives of simplicity, beauty, and sacrifice. And being comfortable with saying, when confronted with those angry skeptics “Well, I don’t know about all that, but I do know Christ and his power in my life.”