Between Faith & Advertising: How the Jesus-Pilate Ad Soothes and Scratches at the Same Time
At the tail-end of the now-famous Kab-Fam Jesus-Pilate ad, Pontius Pilate called out: “Digital Zacchaeus, I order you to go fetch the big TV”.
The statement elicits humour—that the name of the ancient diminutive character in the bible is placed side by side to the word that has so much characterised the current age.
The statement also perfectly underlines the brilliant literary device used in the ad—Anachronism.
It is the chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially juxtaposing persons, events, objects and language terms from different periods intentionally for literary effects or out of sheer error.
In that ad, Jesus Christ made a call on a phone, an automobile arrived at the palace of Pontious Pilate, Zacchaeus carried a TV set. In fact, the appearance of Zacchaeus in the story of the death of Jesus is not entirely accurate, but that can also be justified in the context of anachronism. The beauty is that in the display of chronological inconsistency, a clear, concise, and consistently meaningful message is conveyed. But that’s just a part of what makes the ad soothing for me.
The ultimate aim of an ad is to arrest the attention of the audience and to carry them along a continuum of interest, desire, and action. It must aim to ‘cut through’ the clutter in the media and attempt to be creative, especially when there’s limited time for the conveyance of a brand’s message. An ad must seek to be the reason that at the commercial break from the favourite TV show, one would still be staring the screen. And the Jesus-Pilate ad achieves that for me. I have had to watch it, again and again, every time it shows up on the screen. And every time, it rubs me differently.
Typically, an ad will focus on the unique selling point of a product—what makes the product exclusively different from others. But when it is a homogenous and durable product, focusing on a selling point becomes herculean and always leaves the audience with the question “but can the other brand also do the same?” I mean what’s the unique difference between a Nasco 32-inch TV set and a Hisense 32-inch TV?
The Pilate-Jesus ad answers the conundrum easily. It swerves the rational or informational appeal that many an ad is tempted to employ. In fact, the ad tells you nothing about the capacity of the TV set.
It only leaves an audience with the message that ‘Kab-fam be sortee wo’ (Kab-fam will sort you out) with a promo. That is the main message—that Kab-fam is running an Easter promo. The ad employs an emotional appeal, one centred on humour set on a story that in itself elicits a great amount of passion among viewers.
It also chose to execute this humour and passion appeal in dramatisation. The drama delivered great visuals, outstanding dialogue, and perfect acting. It leaves a viewer hooked and hoping to know what happens next. The storyline is fresh, despite being one that is very well known to many. And perhaps that fact that the story is well known is the reason a lot of the audience can connect, understand, and be glued to know how the ad ends. Talk of targeting, and most Ghanaians, who are Christians, can immediately identify with it. At a time when many TV ads lack creativity, direction, focus, and outrightly fail at what ads promise to do, the Jesus-Pilate ad is very soothing.
The time Kab-Fam decided to show the ad stood out for me. It perhaps wasn’t a difficult decision for the team—an ad about Jesus’ death must be shown at a time when the death of Jesus is being commemorated. The thinking is rational. And for business sense, the timing was great. The timing is however what leads to how the ad scratches for me.
While I risk being overly conservative and pretentious, the encounter of Jesus Christ with Pontious Pilate is one, if not the most, crucial events that underscore the death of the Saviour. And the most important pillar of the Christian faith is that Jesus died, after which He rose. Without it, there’s no Christianity. However, the ad closes off with Pilate indicating that Jesus will not die this year! And this was being shown on national TV at the critical time of the commemoration of Jesus—I first saw the ad on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before the Good Friday). That caused quite a twitch in me, leaving me with some dissonance.
The period the ad started showing on TV and social media is known among Christians as the Passion Week. As its name suggests, it is a period of deep reflection, intense personal re-examination, and a time people look forward to some spiritual reconnection, being situated within a moment when the Saviour goes through excruciating pain in crucifixion to save mankind. The certainty and prominence of Christ’s death make the moment the most important period in the calendar year of the Christian faith. And it was at this time that the ad that builds humour from the all-important encounter for business profit started to trend on both social media and TV.
The Jesus-Pilate encounter is extremely profound and intense. The encounter emanates themes that span many fields including metaphysics in philosophy, politics, rhetoric, law, and justice for instruction and reflection. The dramatisation, though perfect for its purpose, makes light of some of the crucial issues and also loses the significance of certain important elements that the faith holds dear, maybe unbeknownst to the team that directed the ad.
For instance, in the last scenes of the Jesus-Pilate ad, where Jesus charged ‘digital Zacchaeus’ to hurry while fetching the TV, Christ, regarded as heavenly King, was spotted STANDING AT THE RIGHT HAND of Pontious Pilate, an earthly King, while he sat majestically. What a way it ended!