Religion and video contests don’t mix

Thou shalt not film up in here

If you check the official rules of most video contests you’ll find a list of things that you’re prohibited from featuring in your entries. You can’t show smoking, you can’t show gambling, you can’t show drinking, you can’t use profanity, you can’t create entries that are obscene or racist or that advocate specific political views. But there’s one sensitive topic that never makes the “prohibited” list; Religion. Sometimes contest rules prohibit entries that defame other religions but general religious themes and scenarios are always allowed.

But just because you can feature a topic doesn’t mean you should.  Religion is like the poison puffer fish of advertising. The skilled hands of a team of professionals might be able to carve some humor out of religious scenarios. But when non-pros take a wack at religion they usually wind up with a big blob of poisonous mush. There is a fine line between clever and offensive and most non-pros don’t have the skills or the experience to recognize that line. Still, it seems like I’m always seeing tons of contest entries that touch on religion. I suspect that the reason is that many new filmmakers get their ideas from what locations they have access too. And for many Americans, a church is the most interesting place they can get permission to use.

Let me give you a few examples from the Crash the Super Bowl contest. Here are two entries that features Jesus turning water into Pepsi Max. (Link 1) (Link 2)  And here’s a very well done entry about an alter boy that uses Pepsi Max as holy water. (link)

But no matter how well done an entry is, if religion is part of the punchline it will never win a major commercial contest. My personal rule is that if I think my idea might offend anyone I don’t shoot it. And no matter how tame your idea might be, any depiction of religion will inevitably piss off somebody. Remember last year’s Crash the Super Bowl finalist, “Casket?” It featured a funeral in a nondescript Christian church. Now the video wasn’t about religion at all; it was about a funeral. But I remember a lot of Christian bloggers being disgusted by the ad. They felt that the pastor who produced the entry was exploiting his church for profit and that the filmmakers had “desecrated” a house of God with their shenanigans. Some people even complained because they thought the joke at the end of “casket” was supposed to be a reference to the resurrection of Jesus. (link)

So people FREAK OUT when you try and mix religion with advertising.  The last thing you want is for easily-offended strangers to see your entry and be so infuriated by its content that they e-mail or call the contest sponsor and complain. Or worse, they might even take to the web and start encouraging others to demand that your video NOT win the contest.

Think that could never happen?  Well, what I just described IS happening right now to a filmmaker from Pennsylvania named Dave W. Dave is a reader of VCN and he sent me links to his two Crash the Super Bowl entries to check out a few weeks ago. They both have similar plots but one was for Pepsi Max and one was for Doritos.  Click the images to view them:

Doritos entry: Feed your Flock by "Feedyourflock"

Pepsi Max entry: Pastor Solves his Problem by "Feedyourflock"

So those are two very well made entries.  But wow….the filmmakers are treading on some very sensitive ground.  The first few times that I watched this ads I incorrectly assumed that the priest was giving communion using Doritos instead of bread and Pepsi Max instead of wine.  Now at most I’m what you’d call a “lapse Catholic” but the videos did manage to bother me a bit.  After all, the bread and wine in communion are supposed to be the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  But Dave the director told me that the videos do NOT portray a Doritos and Pepsi Max communion.  He said the “Free Doritos and Pepsi Max Sunday” sign at the end of the videos mean that the pastor was simply giving out samples of the snacks.

I’m an open-minded, not very religious filmmaker who watched those entries several times and I still thought the ads were about a fritolay communion.  So can you guess how actual religious folks reacted when they saw these entries?  If you guessed, “they went totally ape shit” you are correct.  The director said that at first, the entries just got a few negative comments on the Crash the Super Bowl site.  Then he heard that some people who went to the church featured in the entries were not happy about the videos’ content and one of those unhappy people happened to have a blog.  That led to this post:

http://americaneedsfatima.blogspot.com/2010/11/shocking-blasphemous-super-bowl.html

The post is short but here are some quotes:

Pepsi and Doritos are offering a 5 million dollar reward to the person who submits the winning commercial for the 2011 Super Bowl.  A terribly blasphemous commercial was submitted.  It blasphemes the Holy Eucharist in a similar way that the Hyundai ad did for the World Cup in soccer not too long ago.

The commercial is booked under the title on Facebook as “Feed your flock.”

Please offer prayers and sacrifices in reparation for this horrific blasphemy.

And you can probably guess what that post led to….

http://agangershome.blogspot.com/2010/12/pepsico-deserves-butt-whipping-for-this.html
http://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/12/doubling-it-up-in-tv-commericials/
http://www.examiner.com/christian-living-in-charlotte/pepsi-and-doritos-are-tasteless
http://newenglandcatholic.blogspot.com/2010/12/boycott-pepsi-and-frito-lay.html
http://biblicalpaths.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/communion-is-not-junk-food-another-really-stupid-advert/

Most of those posts are short and you should take a look at some of them.  But as you can probably guess just from the links, some Christians bloggers were encouraging their readers to contact Pepsi and complain or even boycott Pepsi products.  Right about now you’re probably thinking Beardy is going to go off on these people for complaining about a harmless video contest entry that hasn’t even won anything yet.  But I’m not.  Just last week I posted an entry on this blog that I thought plagiarized a popular Skittles commercial.  It offended me as a filmmaker and it bothered me so much I was compelled to make my feelings public.  I feel that if you see something that you believe is morally or ethically wrong, you have the right to do something about it.

So while I don’t think the Feed Your Flock ads are in any way sacrilegious, I can understand why these bloggers are mad.  BUT…what does bother me is that a lot of these people shot first and asked questions later.  A lot of them thought Feed Your Flock was PEPSI’S OFFICIAL 2011 SUPER BOWL COMMERCIAL.  (That says a lot about the production values in the ads)  So these folks and their readers started calling Pepsi saying their Super Bowl ad was offensive.  Check out what blogger from the Charlotte Examiner.com had to say:

When does the mockery stop?  Where do Christians draw the line?  I can see making a joke, using religious reference, and at times, it can be funny.  Pepsi’s new commercial, to air during the SuperBowl, is as tasteless as the product Pepsi and Doritos are selling….Let me look into my crystal ball…PepsiCo, I see a boycott coming on due to your offensive marketing plan!

To replace the body and blood of Jesus Christ with pepsi and Doritos… there nothing sacred any more? For Catholic Christians, this commercial is totally, unacceptable.  We have a stricter doctrine when it comes to the Eucharist.  This offensive ad is not going to be acceptable by Pope Benedict.

Pope Benedict?  WTF!?  Anyway, commentors eventually set most of these bloggers straight and pointed out that this was just an entry for a commercial contest.  And so the tactic changed.  The offended started calling Pepsi and demanding that Feed your Flock not win the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  That led to this shocking announcement from CatholicMom.com blogger Victoria Gisondi:

Great News! Thanks to all the phone calls, prayers and comments, Pepsi has informed a friend that the commercial didnt make the cut. I still need to verify this but it’s great news. Thanks for your help.

If you know how secretive Doritos/Pepsi are about the judging process of the Crash the Super Bowl contest you’ll understand why that comment is so hard to believe.  But…I believe it.  I think Pepsi wanted to nip this thing in the bud before it got any bigger and so they revealed the status of the Feed Your Flock entries.

I can’t help but feel bad for Dave and all the people who obviously put so much hard work into these videos.  But I also think they knew they were taking a gamble with their subject matter.  Here’s a blog post written by a friend of the director that takes his side.  In it, the blogger does say that the filmmakers knew what they were doing might be controversial:

http://bladeronner.com/2010/12/03/when-art-and-the-catholic-church-collide/

Video contests are only getting bigger an bigger and the bigger they get, the more people will start to pay attention to the content that is being submitted to these contests.  So if you ever find yourself in the middle of writing a hilarious script that you can film in your church stop and ask yourself, is this idea really going to be worth the trouble it might cause?  I’m definitely not advocating that you censor yourself because people might be offended by your ideas.  But part of winning video contests is using good strategy.  And shooting an ad that might infuriate people and make them want to boycott the featured product just ain’t good strategy.

12/15 UPDATE: Dave, the director of the “Feed your flock” videos e-mailed the Crash the Super Bowl moderator and asked if his entries had been disqualified because of complaints from Christians.  Here’s the response he got:

We have had complaints about your video, however it follows all of the rules and will not be disqualified – no worries!

– Crash Moderator

So what exactly went down in this story is kind of a mystery.  I think that Doritos message to Dave is that his entry wasn’t “disqualified” because of complaints.  However I also believe they wanted to stop the complaints (and a potential boycott) so they revealed to the unhappy bloggers that the videos weren’t in the running to win.

9 thoughts on “Religion and video contests don’t mix

  1. You make some good points – and in hilarious fashion as well. But it got me thinking – and maybe someone can educate me – why exactly would Pepsi and Doritos be so much worse than tasteless wafers and an alcoholic beverage? It’s symbolic, right?

    Keep up the good work!

  2. As I said, I’m sort of a “lapse” catholic but I do remember a few things from my CCD days. The most important (and freakiest to a little kid) thing to know about communion is that the wafers and wine are LITERALLY supposed to turn into flesh and blood when you consume them. They are not supposed to be symbolic. They are supposed to turn into the real deal inside of you. So if you’re a hardcore catholic and you see the above ads, you can take the message to be Doritos = the body of Christ.

    And I THINK I remember that any food or drink could fill in for the hosts if you don;’t have bread and wine. So if a priest was on a deserted island and all he had was Doritos and pepsi it would be acceptable to use them for communion. Like I said, I THINK that’s the case.

  3. Out of curiosity, I did a little googling and wikipedia-ing…fascinating…apparently “experts disagree” on where the tradition arose. Many link it to the last supper. Others (Christians but not Catholics) avoid alcohol and use grape juice instead (apparently in the language of the time grape juice and wine were the same word). And then there’s the whole thing about Jews not consuming blood, throwing the whole last supper thing into question. Thanks for the clarification – no need to publish this one – after all, wouldn’t want to get people riled up 🙂

  4. “they revealed to the unhappy bloggers that the videos weren’t in the running to win”.

    That’s what you got from that message? Sounds like you have the inside scoop, Beardy. I wish I had your connections. 😉 I also hope you are wrong.

  5. Hi, I am the Catholicmom.com blogger that you quoted in this site. I was never able to verify that Pepsico. disqualified the ad. I actually do believe that the filmers and producers weren’t filming with any conscious mal-intent. I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt. Probably just a lapsed Catholic/Lutheran/Episcopal? himself working with what has always been familiar.

    However, I’m optimistic. Whoever made this ad has a knowledge of the Eucharist and, at one point in his life, believed. The maker of the commercial has God-given talent that could easily be re-directed. My prayer is that the Blessed Mother will touch his/their hearts this Christmas season and that he/they will do the right thing and pull the commercial out of the running. It would seemingly be a setback but God will bless their sacrifice one hundred fold with MUCH MORE success than the counterfeit “success” of any Superbowl money. YOU CANNOT OUTGIVE GOD. Don’t sell out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Wait on Him for real blessings! Trust Him on this one! God bless you

    .

  6. Beardy you try to make light of a subject that is the heart of the Christian/Catholic solemn mass. What you might have stated is that Pepsi HAS a history of putting down Christianity and now we see with their casual comment that the video is not disqualified for the sacriligious portrayal of the Holy Mass but is still under consideration. i wonder did anyone submit a video mocking a Jewish temple prayer of a Muslim mosque prayer session…? Did YOU ever pose the question as to how come it is not just religion that is being mocked time and time again but it is specifically CHRISTIANITY and not only Christianity but Pepsi has a problem with CATHOLICS. i would not blame anyone who will start a boycott of Pepsi and Doritos…as for me i have now a sour taste in my mouth for both and when i will approach the shelves with either product the only thing i will see is this mockery of my faith.

    You may not necessarily be a Catholic, probably no longer Christian at all, but this is treading on sacrilege and profanity of my personal belief and i know that this mockery and the casual statement from the Pepsi/Dorito companies will not stand right and i will not be able to buy again either of these products. i do hope that the majority of the 80% Christians will follow suit…unless of course Pepsi and all other companies learn that Christians are tired of turning their cheeck and will not be silently taking a beating by these hypocrites.

    Thank you…

  7. Hey RC…I’m sorry but you have no idea what you’re talking about. The rules of the contest don’t say anything about entries being disqualified because they poke fun at religion. If Pepsi disqualified an entry for a reason not listed in the official rules they could be SUED. That’s all there is to it.

    On top of that, did you actually watch the ad? You seem to miss the entire point of the commercial. The commercial IS INSULTING TO JEWS, MUSLIMS AND PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS! Didn’t you wonder why all those people waiting for pepsi and doritos were wearing funny costumes?? The joke is that people of other faiths have abandoned their own churches just because they wanted some free snacks! Jews, Hindus, quakers etc all turn their back on their religions and start going to a catholic church just because they love dortios and pepsi. But it’s pretty apparent that you could care less about whether or not people of other religions are insulted. I wonder if you’d be boycotting if the ad did take place in a Jewish temple. Probably not. Sound like you only get upset about someone disrespecting other people’s religion when it’s your specific religion that’s being disrespected.

  8. Beardy i watched the video and you are missing the point. While it may be true that a contest has rules, but, who makes the rules…? The government or the contest runner…? i am sure they can make recommendations and conditions prior to running the contest. Please do not insult those that take the time to read your blog and answer, i understand perfectly well the problem of those that continuously pick on the Christian faith and show it in a derogatory manner, and if i try to make a point by bringing out the hypocrisy of society which find liberty in disrespecting Christianity, especially Catholics, but finds no fault nor depicts any other faith disrespectfully whether Jewish or Muslim…and you accuse me of being angry only when my faith is stepped on…do you read my heart ? You use the same argument that if anyone criticizes other races then they are racist..

    The obvious is that it is a Catholic church, there is a mass going on, the body of Christ is Dorito and the blood of Christ is Pepsi…and the company is not dismissing this entry. Maybe to you it may mean nothing but to a faithful it is life. Answer me if this was a depiction of a Muslim prayer group in a derogatory manner do you think Pepsi would have answered the same…?

  9. RC,

    You don’t understand how complicated this issue is. The rules are made by the contest sponsor long before any entries are submitted. Once the contest is running they can’t change the rules because the official rules of a contest are LEGALLY BINDING. When a contestant enters a contest they have to agree to accept the rules. The contest sponsor must also stick to the agreed upon terms. If a contestant spends time and money making an entry that follows the rules and is disqualified for reasons not listed in the rules they can file a lawsuit. The official rules are the contract between the contest organizer and contestants.

    I have zero interest in debating the “Feed Your Flock” issue. I just don’t care. it’s not my entry. If you want to be angry and complain go do it here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/FeedYourFlock

    I’m closing comments on this post. If anyone has a problem with Feed Your Flock, don’t contact me about it.

Comments are closed.