And to think it all began with The Church Without Pants

Sunday, August 28, 2011

That's my brand ...

The "Hollister" brand is incredibly popular and people pay big money to be seen with "Hollister, CA." waving gently over their boobs and asses. They don't make anything big enough for my ass (probably intentional), but my daughter, who used to work at a Hollister store, is just the right size.

They have a dress code for their employees: Hollister, or something that the common shopper would mistake for Hollister. They also have an ingenious scheduling formula. My daughter was one of 150 young people on payroll and she worked 5-6 hours per week at minimum wage. Even with her employee discount she (and 149 others) earned just enough to purchase a pair of pants and a couple of blouses or shirts each month. She tried shopping elsewhere, but good luck finding Hollister ware at Target.

She worked there for 8 months and I don't think they ever had to pay her a dime.

But this isn't a story about Hollister. Hollister, CA is just good fodder for a story about marketing and branding, the lengths we will go to be associated (or not) with a "brand" and the price we pay for falling for this crap.

The Hollister* brand evokes thoughts of sunny California beaches and California girls. The kind whose asses you want associated with your brand. It is so "beachy" that their stores are set up in the style of oceanfront cabanas.

I had a friend in college from Hollister. His name was Tim and he didn't surf. That's because Hollister isn't near the beach. Hollister is right next to Gilroy, CA., "The Garlic Capital of the World." You can smell Gilroy long before you even know you're in Hollister. Just a little further away is Salinas, "The Lettuce Capital of the World." Salinas is more of a beach town than Hollister. In fact, before the clothing line came out, Hollister's only claim to fame was it's proximity to Gilroy. Just ask Tim.

Here is a picture I took of Hollister, CA. in 2008.

It looks just like Hollister did in 1978. And it looks a lot more like Iowa than it does "beach." It feels more like Iowa, too.

And it still smells like Gilroy.

But for some reason no one uses Hollister and cows (or garlic) in the same sentence.

I just think the whole marketing/branding thing is amusing because it seems to be a game of asking, "How far from reality can we go before we're discovered?"

It's almost as if the strategy is to clearly identify what we are, evaluate whether what we are will sell, and if necessary, change the equations to something that will sell. In the case of Hollister the equation would look something like this:

Farm = Beach

and everyone will buy it because

People = Cattle

In my town, Mega Suburban Church (not their real name) decided recently that their "brand" was stiffling their growth and so they've changed their name. They dropped the denominational tag because they no longer want to be associated with a denomination that is known for building "walls and fortresses" and behaving like "hyper-separationists" (sic). (This was such big news it made the front page of our local paper not once, but twice!)

Not that they no longer want to be associated with their denomination. In fact, the pastor affirms that all denominational ties are intact and healthy and that the church will continue to affiliate with the denomination and support denomination endorsed causes.

They just don't like people thinking that they "build walls and fortresses" and act like "hyper- separationists" (sic) like others with the same name.

"We feel we can tell [a better outreach story] if we don't make people outside our church think we're something we're really not."

Really. And Farm = Beach.

Mega Suburban Church, the one that just changed their name, has their own school (up through 12th grade). They do their own form of "biblical" counseling for personal psychological, emotional and social issues. (I know of a woman who was in a physically abusive marriage and the "biblical" counsel she received was to stay in the relationship and "submit" to husband.) And someone there is teaching their congregants that other denominations (for example, Orthodox Christians) are heretics and that people specifically in Big Old Church (where I work) are not "saved."

How far from reality can you go before you're discovered? Pretty far, it seems. A few years ago the senior pastor at Big Old Church**, a woman, called the senior pastor at Mega Suburban Church to ask what the deal is and why they find it necessary to slander other Christians. I was with her in her office and she began the conversation by stating, "I'm sure we have more in common than not, so could we talk about this?" He said he didn't have time to talk to her. Ever.

Just imagine what Mega Suburban would be like if they were the type who built walls and fortresses or acted like hyper-separationists.

I think it would've been more appropriate for Mega Suburban Church to totally drop Church from their name and replace it with Institute. (Then they could be known as Megatute.)

But that would change the equation to Farm = Farm.

And that will probably never happen because Hollister is right, People = Cattle.

* A note about Hollister ware. I've heard that the brand is named for a person. While that may be true, the clothing often reads something like, "Hollister, CA."

** A word, or two, about Big Old Church and the Megatute (Mega Suburban Institute). For example, we carry the same denominational "brand" that Megatute used to carry, we both have schools that meet on our grounds and we both have had counselors and therapists in our congregation. A few differences between us would be that we haven't dropped the brand (yet), the school at Big Old is a public school, and the therapists at Big Old support laws that protect family members from each other because of their faith. We both teach "submission" - but at Big Old we find that mutual submission captures the essence of the Scriptures more fully than just having our women submit to men. We both have a story: Megatute’s story is crafted and told by a pastoral staff of about 10 (men) and a deacon board of about 31 (men); Big Old's story includes men and women who serve in every capacity and in any position of leadership within our church, even as senior pastor. We both seem to affirm and celebrate our Christian and denominational roots - but the people of Big Old can join in on projects with other denominations and serve the community along side people who don't share our religious or spiritual values without hiding behind judgmental and slanderous comments. I could go on but then I'd eventually have to talk about all the stuff Big Old sucks at, so ... let me just say I'm not sure we're the ones who are currently building walls and acting like the "separationists" that Megatute says prompted them to change their name. A bit of irony here, though, is that whenever Big Old is in the news (usually for something like feeding people downtown or hosting an event that may not include "Praise the Lord" in the dialogue) our local media almost invariably gets confused about our names and they end up putting Mega Suburban’s name on what we’ve been doing. I think repeatedly seeing and hearing their name put on something the people known as Big Old (Super Fortress) Church does really pisses them off. So much so that they finally had to change their name. But whatever the reasons they give, I’m glad they did ...


  1. Just read this on the Opinions page from the executive editor of the local paper: "[They] should go all the way and change their name to Church (with a registered trademark). That way, whenever people say, 'Didn't I see you in church last Sunday,' they'd be talking about them."

    The guy said in two sentences what I couldn't get across in 122 pages. And he said it better. That's why he's an executive editor of a newspaper and I write a stinkin' blog.

  2. I should take my wife there (Megatoot), I've always wanted a slave.


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