Beyond the Bunny

Ali Burnett from ChurchAds.Net has been putting bunnies through boot-camp.

I have the Controller of Radio 4 to thank for a lightbulb moment …

At a Church and Media Network seminar, Gwyneth Williams was lamenting how, when she hears a brilliant programme, it gets an audience of “only” 3 million on a Monday at 3 pm, when so much work has gone into it. Yes, it may be repeated, but by and large, as they say in the fashion sales, “When it’s gone, it’s gone!”

Suddenly the Holy Spirit speaks; not in so many words, but the gist was: “See? It’s not about religious programmes any more, or your ego as the presenter. What you’re doing reaches far more people, because advertising gets repeated – not once but many times.”

In 2007, after 25 years in secular and religious broadcasting, I came across the work of ChurchAds.Net, the UK’s only ad agency for the Christian faith, and their excellent radio ads, now part of the nationwide “Christmas Starts With Christ” campaign. Since then, I’ve been a member of CA.N and privileged to have the role of liaison between the churches and the radio stations (churches don’t do radio, radio doesn’t understand church, so yours truly is piggy in the middle). It was inspiring to learn that 15 million people heard or saw the campaign in 2011.

But, great though CA.N’s efforts are, they are limited to once a year. And Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas.

In 2012, churches in Milton Keynes started using the CSWC radio ads on their local Heart station. In 2013, they linked them to a local website and measured the effectiveness via unique hits. By Christmas 2014, they had over 30 of the city’s churches, of all denominations, working together to raise money for airtime. They spent a modest £2.5k (modest when shared between 30 churches!) on reaching 100,000 Heart Radio listeners, for most of whom church, and faith, isn’t even a blip on their radar.

But so keen were these churches that, having attended one of my “Making Waves” media workshops, they ended up with too much money in their airtime budget. So they took the decision, for the first time ever, to use the surplus to create an all year round advertising budget and to start with that even more neglected time of year, from a PR perspective – Easter.

On Saturday 28 March, their radio campaign started on Heart MK. In 16 hours the click-­through from the radio link had 854 views – the Easter Bunny had gone viral! And the best of it was that, based on Engels research, 85% of those clicks were from people who’d never go near an Easter service, and care about its meaning even less.

Please pray for our gracious God to use this initiative – and that more and more churches will catch on to what, for me, is blindingly obvious. To communicate with today’s world, we need to be not just in media but in advertising. It’s a no brainer.

For more info, email with the subject “Easter Blog”

Paul Arnold
  • Good piece Ali. It’s an interesting place for a Christian message to be, amid the carpet store and ‘we buy any car’ ads- but I agree, it’s a good place to be. The challenge for Christian communicators in this area, in our culture, is to put over a message that’s clean, simple, crystal clear, assumes very little knowledge and hits the listener where he or she itches.

    • This from Ali:

      Bruce, thanks for your kind words. I agree that clarity of message is crucial, but onceyou have that, I have found an even greater challenge. Our biggest headache in ChurchAds.Net is not so much creating the material – we have a superb and proven creative – but convincing churches to raise the airtime funding; a far smaller outlay than that spent on the average outreach event, and reaching masses more genuine outsiders. Sadly, many churches fail to realise that advertising and mission today must be viewed as one and the same. If anyone wants to engage in this effective form of mission in their area, PLEASE get in touch and become a ChurchAds rep. Responsible ads with Christian content could be on air where you are tomorrow. And I honestly believe we disobey Jesus if we hide our light under a table by failing to advertise. As the founding father of ChurchAds, Robert Ellis, put it: for the Church to ignore advertising is akin to St Paul ignoring the boat, or Caxton the printing press.

      Any takers???!

      • Thanks Ali, well put. And I always enjoy hearing the Church Ads. We’ve made some ads too with Whistling Frog Productions in the past, including for a Southampton Passion event, The Real Easter Egg and The Real Advent Calendar. We’re having a team vision meeting tomorrow, so will bear your challenge in mind about how to interest churches in funding ads more, and will get back to you if we have any ideas how to help!

  • Mrs Chubley

    Did this translate into more people attending local churches? I think its fine to use advertising to promote the Christian message but I do wonder if this results in any more people actually going to church.

    • This from Ali:

      Hi Mrs Chubley. Yes, it can result in increased church attendance; one congregation in Manchester ran a small campaign on a tiny station and saw 25 new faces at its services as a result. On a larger scale, Back To Church Sunday saw a 121% increase in the national number of returners (people going back to church) from 37,000 to 82,000 after just a fortnight of ad campaigns on 4 stations. But both these ads issued specific invitations to church as their main point and thus attracted a relatively small audience of people who had previously been. The Easter bunny ad, and others like it – the Christmas Starts With Christ campaign, for example – are targeted not at the small percentage who might go to church, but the massively larger group who would never go, but might visit a website, and perhaps be made to smile, and think, as a result. Bums on seats is one thing, but even Back to Church Sunday only saw 4,000 returners who had stayed 4 months later. Attitude-shifting takes longer, but lasts longer. The Kingdom grows slowly, like yeast in bread dough. Please pray for that!