Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Touch It with the Match"

Part 2: The Dopamine-Driven Church

"The fake rose petals strewn across the tablecloth gave Milton Hobbs' booth a romantic aura. He stacked crystal-cut perfume flasks in a pyramid and set out pink candles tied with ribbon. The effect was almost sexy — at least compared with the other booths at the International Christian Retail Show.

"Hobbs liked it. He needed a striking display to call attention to his most unusual product.

"'Christian perfume,' he said. "It's a really, really new genre. We're the first!"

Virtuous Woman perfume comes packaged with a passage from Proverbs. But what makes the floral fragrance distinctly Christian, Hobbs said, is that it's supposed to be a tool for evangelism.

"'It should be enticing enough to provoke questions: "What's that you're wearing?"' Hobbs said. 'Then you take that opportunity to speak of your faith. They've opened the door, and now they're going to get it.'"
--"Christian Retailers Put Their Print on Products," Stephanie Simon, LA Times, 7/21/06.

In his book PyroMarketing (HarperBusiness, 2005), Greg Stielstra describes the wildly successful marketing campaign for Rick Warren’s bestseller, The Purpose-Driven Life. PyroMarketing is the name for this marketing concept, which is based upon the analogy of building a fire: 1) gather the driest tinder; 2) touch it with the match, 3) fan the flames, and 4) save the coals.

Stielstra developed a novel twist on network marketing that actually fits hand-in-glove with the structure of the New Apostolic Reformation cellular churches. It is now possible to market a new concept, idea, lifestyle, doctrine or product DOWNLINE through the cellular networking structure. Stielstra’s marketing matrix includes the latest medical research on how to stimulate the brain, state-of-the-art sociological tools, and time-honored political methods like “saving the coals” (i.e., keeping records of your supporters until the next campaign rolls around).

In Chapter 4, Stielstra describes what he means by “Touch It with the Match”:

“Touching it with the match involves giving people an experience with your product or service and its benefits. . . . Experience heats marketing to new levels.

“An experience with a product’s benefit quickly transforms prospects into customers. Without it, however, you cannot move people beyond their ignition point. Until you can build their interest to reach that critical temperature, you will be unable to build a fire, no matter how much fuel there is.” (pp. 109-110)

In the advertising and marketing world, stimulating dopamine production is the desired outcome. It is the brain chemical needed to create good feelings that will induce a person to buy a new product or idea (see previous post). Stielstra writes that “You must close the distance between your marketing and the customer’s experience.” (p. 111)

“Instead of merely exposing them [your prospects] to your advertising, you involve them in it. Promotion for your product or service becomes a holistic sense-stimulating event that conforms to the brain’s natural learning processes in ways traditional advertising can’t.” (p. 112)

Under a subheading “PURPOSE,” Stielstra relates that “Rick Warren understands the power of experience and designed it into his book and the campaign that spread his message.” (p. 113) This experience was the 40-Day campaign which involved readers in small groups, simultaneously experiencing the book. Stielstra refers to this as a “deep, meaningful forty-day experience with powerful content” and notes that the book sales “naturally followed.” (p. 115)

To explain the significance of experience, Stielstra devotes another subsection to a discussion of how “EXPERIENCE EXCITES EMOTIONS.” There is a path from sensory input to the thalamus to the brain, but marketers understand the importance of the amygdala in receiving this sensory data which “enables an emotional response before the neocortex has had time to consider a rational reaction.” (p. 120)

A goal of advertising is to elicit an emotive response before the brain has time to process it rationally. Emotional experience “engages so many more senses and in much stronger ways. Experience stokes emotion and emotions move people to action. Emotions overrule our logical inclinations. . . ” (p. 123), says Stielstra. Furthermore, the more frequent emotional and sensory-stimulating experiences one has with a product, the more ingrained this product will become in lives, even to the point of creating “customer evangelists.” “Customer evangelists” (p. 124) is the core group that begins to work the downline of the network. They become an “unstoppable marketing force” whose “personal influence” spreads the fire. (p. 145)

Writing about the bio-chemical activity of dopamine, Stielstra explains:

“The chemical messager dopamine is the pleasure drug. Its presence reinforces pleasurable behaviors. . .

“As we anticipate a good experience, our brains release a certain amount of dopamine.

. . . [S]ensations of pleasure, triggered by dopamine, reward our actions. . . . it is the action itself and not simply its outcome, that we find rewarding.” (p. 127)

Why does experience with a product work in advertising? “As experience holds our attention, excites our emotions, improves our memory, and heightens our pleasure, it eventually influences our preferences.” (p. 132) And happy customers will buy again. And really excited customers will become “evangelists” for a product.

It is beyond the scope of this brief post to examine the ethics of creating psychological experiences that stimulate people’s senses and create lusts in order to sell a product. Should Christians be in the business of purposefully titillating the senses to create dopamine reactions? Obviously the context of this question connects back to Rick Warren's emphasis on "felt needs" and his overall marketing strategy.

Church Growth leaders have never really acted like they are bothered by ethics. They have been using just this sort of psychological marketing tool for years, but not just for the purpose of selling books, church buildings or perfumes. They have been intent on selling a new way of Christian life – new ideas, lifestyles, doctrines and practices. Their entire empire has been built on dopamine! And a dopamine-addicted church culture breeds a constituency that flits from one high to the next in a never-ending cycle. Perhaps this is what Peter Drucker meant when he said that Rick Warren was the “inventor of perpetual revival.”

The Word of God, which the Bible says “is quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), has been replaced by manipulating dopamine! A "good feeling" is substituted for the Holy Spirit and all seems well until the next dash is made for a dopamine fix.

Part 3 will continue this topic, Lord willing.

The Truth:

Here is an example of the old-fashioned Bible preaching on today’s topic by Marvin L. Fieldhouse who was a missionary to Japan:

“This subtle glory of pleasure has so permeated the warp and woof of American life that even the so-called worship in its churches must be garbed in fun and ruckus or lose its numbers. (“Church hopping” is a well-known practice to certain pastors: people, hop, skipping and jumping from church to church in search of the program which affords them the greatest pleasure!).

“The central core in American culture is pleasure, around which the whole nation rotates, and all avenues of national life can be traced back to this glory. This is finally what the ‘true blue’ American citizen will spill his blood for – his personal right to himself. . . to enjoy himself when, where and how he pleases! Pleasure in some form composes the very fibre and foundation in his life. To this he will be loyal, and because of this particular glory he will serve the god of this world, for he loves this glory as his own life; and one of his main terrors at capitulating to Christ is that he suspects that the first thing God will ask him to do is give up his many pleasures! . . .

“Has it ever entered into your thinking yet that if Satan can somehow conscript us under one of his many bright banners, and then enlist us to fight for just 1/10,000th of that gorgeous worldliness which Jesus rejected, he has ruined our witness for Christ in this world?” (“Worldliness and Me”)

“And the world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
(I John 2:17)