John 8:12 (NRSV)
 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
Do you know which of the Super Bowl ads is considered the greatest ad of all times? According to Forbes Magazine, by overwhelming consensus it is the Apple Macintosh 1984 ad. That ad only aired once in January of 1984. Commissioned by Apple Founder Steve Jobs and brought to life by director Ridley Scott , it instantly went viral before viral videos existed. It was re-broadcast over and over again on television news and it put one of the world’s most important tech companies on the map. That ad changed the world and changed advertising forever, just like Jobs said his computer would do.
People ask me all the time why I do this particular sermon? Why do I use the commercials and comment on them. I do it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s kind of fun and challenging for me.
But the main reason is because of the influence of that 1984 ad. Years ago I began to notice how much advertising and the arts influences our everyday lives. Over the years it became obvious that the world was having as much, if not more, influence on our lives than our faith and our churches.
We don’t like to admit that. Preachers especially don’t like to admit that. We like to think that the church and preaching still has the same impact on society that it did years ago. But it doesn’t.
We live in a very multimedia, multi-sensory society. The world’s message is everywhere. It bombards us constantly. Commercials come as pop ups during your favorite TV show. They’re on web sites, DVDs, email, they show commercials in movie theaters before the previews begin. The funding for some TV shows comes from product placement. The most obvious and blatant I’ve seen is the BMW ads in White Collar. Every time they get in the car, something is said about a feature of the BMW. Heck, we show commercials High School kids have made as part of their education, during basketball games.
You may not think those commercials have much effect on you but the truth is they have an incredible amount of influence on our buying habits. That’s why companies are willing to spend $4 million for 30 seconds of air time.
Finally, while the message of the world is everywhere, we need to remember that so is God’s Word. If you listen with the ears and heart of faith and look with the eyes of faith, you can hear and see God’s Word moving in the world. The World needs us to “reflect the light of Christ” so we can point out the presence of God in the world. And that takes a Leap of Faith.
We need to be aware of the message the world is proclaiming. But John Wesley was right, God’s Prevenient Grace, God’s Nudging grace is all around. We just have to look. So, let’s look at some commercials. While there weren’t as many that grabbed you like the Mini Darth Vader Volkswagen Commercial, there were plenty of really good, subtle messages. All in all, I thought the commercials were smarter this year.
I love the Doritos commercials, especially the whole idea behind them. The ideas for these commercials are solicited through a contest: Crash the Super Bowl. The winners receive $1 million dollars and this year the two winners will work on the set of the upcoming sequel to the Marvel Movie, “The Avengers” Avengers Age of Ultron. I show them just because they’re fun and because of the opportunity which Frito Lay has made for young filmmakers and aspiring advertising people. That in itself I think is inspiring.
As is the case every year, there were a plethora of car commercials. The Hyundai Genesis commercial about Dad’s 6th sense could be equated to God’s protection but that might be stretching it. The Jaguar Villains commercial was good. The parody of the movie “The Matrix” with Morpheus singing opera was both funny and kind of bizarre. I don’t know about you, but I thought the Bruce Willis Honda Hugfest commercial was really just kind of creepy. But there were three I really liked.
I think the Doberuaua is just hilarious. It also reminds us that there are some things that are best left to nature and not to mess with them.
The Carmax commercial is a little more subtle. If you’re a sports movie fan, you probably got it, if not right away, then as soon as you saw Sean Astin. He portrayed Rudy in the movie Rudy. And the slow clap scene when Rudy returns to the field is one of those iconic sports movie scenes. Carmax plays on that idea that even though they’re not one of the big Auto Manufacturers, that they will never be the star, they still have an important part to play. A part we can all appreciate.
It reminded me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NRSV) “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
And then there’s the Maserati commercial. I haven’t thought about Maserati in a long time, they sort of fell off the grid. They used to be a force in sports cars and racing, especially the Grand Prix, but not in four passenger family sedans, but I liked this comeback commercial. It has some dystopian overtones, some overcoming the bullies with smarts and not fists overtones and even a little bit of science fiction/fantasy mythic story telling overtones with a sense of expectation. “We wait until they get sleepy; wait until they get so big they can barely move, then we walk out of the shadows; quietly walk out of the dark and . . . strike.” And I love their new tagline. “Maserati, the absolute opposite of ordinary.”
That’s what we’re supposed to be. That’s how we’re supposed to live as Christians, “the absolute opposite of ordinary.” Paul put it this way in Romans 12:2 (NRSV) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
In John 15:19 (NRSV) Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. [But] you do not belong to the world, I have chosen you out of the world . . .”
There were two commercials which I thought actually emphasized one of the great Christian Principles found in Mark 10:27 (NRSV) Jesus said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
I love that line from Derrick Coleman, “they told me I couldn’t do it, but I’ve been deaf since I was three, so I didn’t listen. And here I am.” And then Weathertech being told constantly that they couldn’t build their company like they wanted. Sometimes we struggle, It’s true. But as Christians we have a power within and that power doesn’t come from Duracell, it comes from the Holy Spirit, the presence of Christ with us every moment of every day. The presence of Christ who constantly reminds us what John wrote. John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! For I have conquered the world!”
The Chowbani Yogurt ad reminds us that How is Important, how we live, how we treat one another, how we act, how we do our job and especially How we represent God. “How is important.”
Before we move on, I want to point out a change in advertising. For a while they used the absurd, things like the Trunk Monkey, Geico’s Camel celebrating hump day and those kinds of ads. But there is a shift in the trend which was seen in both the Duracell ad and the Weathertech ad. And the new trend is Story.
How many of you remember the Paul Harvey commercial from last year, “God made a farmer?” Do you remember what product it was used to sell? NO? But you remember the ad because of the emotional attachment made to the story. The story was told in pictures as well as words and it drew us in it made us feel a part of the story. It was Dodge Trucks.
Story is one of the most powerful ways to get us to remember something or to associate with something or someone. Story builds not only a memory but one strengthened by an emotional bond. When we allow ourselves to enter the story it becomes part of us. Why am I telling you this? Because advertisers exploit it all the time. They play to and on our emotions but positive and negative.
Every year there seems to be one commercial that unintentionally stirs up a tempest in a teapot and a torrent of negativity. They seem to bring the haters out of the wood work. Something within the story sparks something in the viewer. The ad touches something deep. This year it was Coca Cola’s tribute to America.
Personally, I don’t get what all the outcry is all about. I found the commercial to be very touching and moving. I actually got a lump in my throat. Not only did it remind me of what Paul said about life in Christ in Galatians 3:28 (NRSV)
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
But it also brought to mind the Emma Lazarus poem, The New Colossus, which is engraved on the Statue of Liberty which has been a beacon and a symbol of hope and freedom for the whole world since it was presented to us by France and dedicated in 1886. The most famous lines of the poem read:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
My ancestors came here from Scotland, Ireland and England so they could be free. Mary’s family came from Germany, Ireland and France for the same reason. Both of our families fought in the Revolutionary War. I know that. To me singing America the Beautiful in the various languages of our multicultural nation was absolutely beautiful. It drew me into the story of my American heritage and the many cultures which make us who we are as Americans. That’s just my two cents. Moving on.
I want you to look at these two pictures. They’re photos of the same wine glass. The one on the right sells for about $2 apiece. The one on the left sells for as much as $12 apiece. There’s no difference in the glasses. They both hold 10.5 ozs. What’s different is the setting. One just shows the glass. The other shows a setting which primes a story in our mind. You picture yourself entertaining friends or actually travelling to Napa Valley. It’s very open ended. But it draws you in. And advertisers count on that.
It isn’t wrong, but you do need to be aware of what is going on as they subtly try to influence your buying habits.
Jesus told us in Matthew 10:16 (NRSV) “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
And then Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:15 (NRSV) “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,”
There were three ads that were very well done which used this technique of drawing us into the story. The first was the Microsoft Ad.
Technology can unite us. It transforms, it gives hope to the hopeless and voice to the voiceless. Just as education was and is a great equalizer, now technology can be and can do the very same thing. I love that commercial but it also made me a little sad because people use to look to the Church for those things because through Christ people found hope for the hopeless and a voice for the voiceless. And now? Some people think the church is obsolete.
How do we regain that voice? How do we once again build that relationship? That’s a big part our challenge as we try to live our faith and be faithful every day.
One of the things the next two commercials have in common is not only the fact that they tell touching stories which draw us in but they both do it without a single word of dialogue. First there was the Best Buds commercial.
Every year the Budweiser Clydesdales tell a story. They don’t show anyone partying, they don’t really show anyone drinking. They don’t really even show you the beer or mention it until the very end. But they tell a heartwarming story that draws you in. Who doesn’t like the Clydesdales? Who doesn’t like puppies? Who doesn’t like friendship, loyalty and teamwork? Who doesn’t like romance?
Did you notice, this is the same guy from last year’s Bud Commercial? Last year was about the horse and the trainer and the bond they had. Last year the horse ran down the street after the parade just to see his trainer. That same kind of emotion ties the horse and the puppy together.
Notice that they are subtly talking about brand loyalty. Your emotions have subtly been tied to the Clydesdales. And they evoke a feeling about friendship which they hope will tie into your choice of beer. And who knows, friendships can actually lead to romance.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with the story, there’s nothing wrong with the emotional ties to the story. You just need to be aware of how the advertising industry works. Ephesians 5:15 (NRSV) “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,”
The final commercial I want to show you and comment on, was in my opinion, not only the best told story, but the best use of in a positive manner of an of the advertisement we’ve seen. Of course it could just be my altruistic sensibilities which they tapped successfully.
Here’s why I think this Chevy ad was the best commercial of all. First, not a word is spoken and yet a powerful message of survival and hope is portrayed through the look of fatigue on their faces, eyes tearing up, the touch of a hand and a smile. Even more than that was the setting. Did you notice they were driving through the frigid cold of winter? Did you notice they were on the road alone out in the middle of nowhere? No other traffic. That’s how some cancer victims and their families feel, alone with no one to help them and on a cold hard journey that seems to have no end.
But finally, did you notice they were driving from night into the dawning of a new day? All of this was accompanied by the haunting music and lyrics of the Any Brun song “Don’t Leave.” I think it will leave a lasting impression on a lot of people because we all know someone struggling with cancer or who is a cancer survivor.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
The challenge is to stay in the light of Christ and not be distracted from the shiny lights and objects the world puts before us.
Do you really want to pay $12 for the same glass you can get for $2? The Challenge is to be aware of what is going on as advertisers subtly try to influence our buying habits.
Jesus told us “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” He told us this so that we could point to the true light of the world, the light that changes lives, that light that brings hope to the hopeless and gives voice to the voiceless. And that light is Jesus.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Forbes Magazine