ROME – It’s common knowledge that whenever Super Bowl Sunday rolls around, millions of Americans at home and abroad tune in not only to see the most-watched sporting event of the year, but also, and perhaps most importantly, for the commercials advertisers.
The big game has become known for its inventive, bizarre and entertaining commercials, many of which are talked about for days or even weeks afterward. Online advertising meters quickly publish their lists of the most popular commercials.
One ad campaign that scored particularly high in this year’s buzz meter was the so-called “Jesus commercial.”
Two separate videos totaling approximately 90 seconds were played during the game, the first of which, entitled “Be Childlike”, was a 30-second clip showing mostly black and white images of children helping each other and they hugged before text appeared that said, “Jesus didn’t want us to act like adults.
Another 60-second ad titled “Love Your Enemies” was played during the second half of the game, showcasing scenes of violence, conflict and social unrest – including controversies over anti-COVID protocols, violent anti-racism riots and angry political rallies – first the words “Jesus loved people we hate” appeared on the screen.
According to EDO, a company that measures TV commercials people watch by product online engagement after viewing it, the “Love Your Enemies” video was the second most engaged Super Bowl ad, second only to a Warner Brothers commercial on his next film, ‘The Flash.’
The videos are part of a digital campaign called He Gets Us, which, according to spokesperson Brad Hill, is “a movement to reintroduce people to the Jesus of the Bible” across television, radio, digital ads, billboards and experiential platforms. .
Since they aired last Sunday, the ads have become a major topic of national conversation and, probably unsurprisingly, a source of controversy as well, with some criticizing the decision to spend millions on Super Bowl slots and others they claimed the ads were biased.
However, speaking to Crux, Hill said the campaign’s goal was to capitalize on “a cultural moment that will captivate millions of Americans.”
The Super Bowl, he said, is “a unique program in that many people watch the commercials as much as they watch the game,” and the goal of the commercials was “not only to inspire those who might be skeptical of Christianity to ask questions and learn more about Jesus, but also to encourage Christians to live their faith even better and to show the same confused love and forgiveness that Jesus modeled”.
In terms of public discussion of the ads, Hill said, “We want to spark a conversation” about Christianity and how the Christian faith is lived on a daily basis, exhibiting the love and forgiveness that Jesus preached.
“While we never could have known that we would be one of the top-mentioned brands overnight, we believe this was the start of an important national conversation,” she said.
The “He Gets Us” campaign was launched in March 2022 and is an initiative of The Servant Foundation, also called “The Signatory”, which is a Christian foundation based in Overland Park, Kansas, and which is listed as a 501( c) (3) organization rated 100/100 by Charity Navigator.
The Servant Foundation has also reportedly donated significant funds to the “Alliance Defending Freedom,” a pale organization that provides legal aid to people whose religious freedom they believe has been violated, such as midwives who refuse to perform an abortion or bakers who refuse to make cakes for same-sex weddings.
“He Gets Us” is budgeted at $100 million, with the goal of starting conversations of faith among a diverse range of people. The ads they produce direct viewers to their website, which provides information about Jesus, Bible reading plans, and allows visitors to connect with people who can answer their questions.
While many of “He Gets Us”‘s benefactors remain anonymous, it receives significant funding from Hobby Lobby CEO David Green, a Christian who made headlines in a landmark Supreme Court case in 2014, in which Hobby Lobby won the right on grounds religious to refuse to provide contraception and the morning-after pill as part of its employee health benefits.
West Michigan publisher Heaven reportedly spent $20 million buying Super Bowl commercial slots for He Gets Us ads.
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was among the ads’ most prominent critics, tweeting on Sunday: “Something tells me Jesus *wouldn’t* spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl commercials to make it look benign fascism. “
A Catholic, Ocasio-Cortez has received backlash from several users for his criticisms, with attorney Eric Owens responding: “Here’s your take from a big Super Bowl commercial that reminds us of the truth, universal for all religions and all wisdom, that hate is bad? Are you serious?”
“You jumped the shark. Supposedly, an intern is typing your tweets while wearing a costume to a Super Bowl ball,” she said.
“Are you a theologian now? What can’t you do? another Twitter user asked the Congresswoman from New York.
U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) also responded to Ocasio-Cortez on Monday morning, saying, “Jesus died horribly on a Roman cross so that our sins could be forgiven and anyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. This is proof that there is nothing Jesus wouldn’t do to show us his love for him. AOC needs to know Jesus”.
Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative college group ‘Turning Point USA’ also criticized the ads, which he called “pandering liberals” and called the campaign “one of the worst services to Christianity in the modern era,” saying the people behind they are “cheaters woke up”.
Despite allegations that it is either a far-right conservative campaign, given its funding, or a leftist agenda, Hill has insisted that “He Gets Us” is nonpartisan and nondenominational.
“We’re getting pushback from all sides of the spectrum,” he said. “We actually see it as a sign that we’re doing something right and we welcome the discussion that’s taking place.”
“Ironically, it’s also similar to how people have reacted to Jesus – he’s gotten support and criticism from all sides of the culture,” she said.
The reason “He takes us” exists in the first place, he said, is that their internal research has shown that there is “a broad openness to Jesus” in society, more so than to Christianity in general or any particular church.
“When we show how Jesus’ life and example can relate to the same experiences of people today, they show a strong will to learn more. The more people are exposed to the radical and confusing love of Jesus, the more likely they are to become curious and have a desire to dig deeper,” Hill said.
“It’s more important now than ever that the real, authentic Jesus is represented in the public marketplace just as it is in the Bible,” he said.
Though he hasn’t directly commented on the “He Gets Us” ads, Giampaolo Mattei, president of Vatican sports group Atletica Vaticana, told Crux he believes sport provides an “impressive” message of humanity and has “a tremendous ability to communicate” between people of different backgrounds.
Sport, he said, has the ability to foster peace and dialogue and build community, and offers “a strong Christian witness” through its emphasis on inclusion and, often, support for teammates who are struggling.
Mattei stated that sport is “an activity that has a meaning, that has a purpose… it’s not imposing on others, but doing something with a goal, with a meaning” and is an ideal platform for “evangelising oneself and the others”.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen