The Pope’s Election as a successful Marketing Campaign

The way everyone is talking about it, it could have been an announcement from NASA about life on another planet, or a miracle performed on earth in front of thousands of witnesses.  It’s all over newspaper outlets, television, social media sites, mobile phones and popular blogs (including this blog from your favorite Orlando ad agency!).  More than the Superbowl, the Grammys and the Oscars combined, Twitter feeds are lighting up with revelry about the big news.

Yesterday, the Vatican announced a new pope.  Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina will succeed Pope Benedict XVI as the leader of the Catholic Church.  Adding another layer of excitement to the announcement, Bergoglio is the first non-European leader in more than 1,000 years.

While it’s always big news when the Vatican announces a new Pope, the reveal has special significance in the digital era.  Because of the lightning-fast speed at which information travels, anyone can witness the digital behaviors that drive the spread of the big news throughout the Internet.  To be able to latch on to these digital behaviors is a marketer’s dream.  If any product or service launch gained the same traction as the announcement of the new Pope, then the marketers behind the announcement would certainly secure their places as leaders within the industry.

The ways that people share things have shifted dramatically in the past eight years, which was when the Vatican announced Pope Benedict XVI.  With the advent of social sharing, so too have come ways to reach millions of people instantaneously.

It starts with buzz.  People are excited about something new, and they want to share their excitement with others.  They may not even know what, exactly, it is that they’re excited about – that’s certainly often the case with the launch of items such as the iPhone and the upcoming Google Glass.  The buzz is that whatever it is, it will be revolutionary.  A new pope has the potential to shift the direction of the Catholic Churh, an organization that has members in countries around the world.

The buzz leads to anticipation.  More people are talking, and more media are covering the big announcement.  People around the world are sharing messages, reeling in anticipation, and covering every breaking bit of information from every angle (white smoke versus black smoke).  Just before the Vatican introduced the new pope, masses of people were in St. Peter’s square, eagerly awaiting the announcement.  From afar, people around the world tuned in via their televisions, mobile devices and laptops.  Who will it be?  When will they announce it?  Why does it matter?

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Then, once the team is ready to share the big news, it’s time for the big reveal.  The audience’s attention is focused, as they are eager and ready to share their thoughts.  The big reveal is an almost majestic experience – highly ritualized, and offering a spectacle for everyone waiting to witness history and hear the news.  For the announcement of the new pope, the ceremony is as old as the Catholic Church.  For Apple, it’s a press conference attended by only the most highly-regarded technophiles.

And finally, once the big reveal is completed, it’s the time for media reporting and social sharing.  The people who’ve bore witness to the main event are tweeting, Facebooking, posting on LinkedIn, blogging and engaging in all types of digital sharing.  The momentum lasts as long as people keep talking about it.  It’s big news, and in the age of digital sharing, anyone can contribute to the conversation about the new Pope.

The cycle operates in a bell curve, with the highest point being the big reveal.  Eventually, the excitement tapers off, and it’s up to the marketers to keep their product fresh and innovative.  For marketers, the entire scene is familiar.

The team at our Florida advertising agency wishes the new pope the best of luck in his endeavors in helping to guide the Catholic Church to greatness.

What do you think about the coverage of the new Pope?  Would love to hear your comments below.

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