Pope Benedict plays a blinder for Brand Catholic
Now that the Pope has left the UK, Cream evaluates the Papal visit from a media perspective, and examines the implications and benefits for Brand Catholic.
With the departure of Pope Benedict XVI and his entourage yesterday, the UK returns to normal after four days of prayer, protest and PR. From the 16-19 September, and for a few days before, the entire country came to standstill as nearly every government agency seemed preoccupied with the Papal visit. Blanket news coverage across all platforms made it impossible to avoid the first state visit from the Holy See.
As a marketing brief, this was not an assignment for the faint-hearted, and I expect there are a few very tired and extremely relieved PR, press and marketing officers breathing huge sighs of relief this morning.
Bringing the Pope to the UK is always going to be a tricky proposition. The spirit of the Reformation looms large in the British consciousness. It is a permanent fixture in the school syllabus, and the exploits of the Tudor monarchs provide rich pickings in popular culture for Phillipa Gregory and HBO. Census figures suggest that Roman Catholics account for around one in 10 of the population, approximately 4.2 million people – which is a sizeable devoted audience. More importantly this leaves a crucial 9 out of ten non-Catholics, who are all potential converts to the faith. Regardless faith, a survey conducted by Theos at the start of September indicated that 79% of the 2000+ people interviewed had “no personal interest” in the visit”. It seemed the UK was at best apathetic to the visit.
Vocal opposition from a number of human rights groups (an estimated 20,000 individuals in London on Saturday) personal criticism of Pope Benedict‘s handling of child abuse scandals, not to mention the media stories discussing the cost of the visit to the taxpayer only served to highlight further how diplomatic this diplomatic visit needed to be. Compared by one Foreign Office official to a game of three dimensional chess, there were suggestions early on that the visit was in organisational and financial disarray.
One thing the Roman Church excels in is theatrics, and Pope Benedict knows how to put on a show. An estimated 500,000 combined people saw him in Scotland, Birmingham or London. The official site for the Papal visit received 1.7m hits during the period (I wonder how many plastic candles they sold in the online shop?).
As teams of government officials and members of the clergy breathe a sigh of relief that the visit went, A: without hitch (the arrest of six street sweepers suspected of an assassination attempt notwithstanding) and B: at all.
Britain’s most senior Catholic coining the moniker “Benedict Bounce”, describing the positive influence of the visit upon the Church and potential churchgoers. In truth, it will be some time before the real benefits, if any, can be accurately assessed.
A branding success? Although it pains me to admit it, yes.