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Rick Warren's Secret Weapon: Killer Marketing Instincts

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Dear Rick Warren,

From one marketer to another, my hat's off to you. You've built one of the world's most successful franchises: The Purpose Driven Life. I suspect you didn't set out to be a marketer. I assume that you wanted to be a preacher, but somehow the mega-church concept became so darned doable for a person with your savvy that, well, why not? And then it just made sense to write the book. Who knew it would become the recipe for work-a-day ministers who wanted to emulate your success, but whose flocks were just not that into them. They preached your message to their congregations, held Purpose Driven Life book groups in church basements, and book sales skyrocketed.

Then came the appearances on Oprah and at the influential TED conference. Grasping the potential that campaign media coverage might deliver for your brand, you strategically hosted the candidates at your Saddleback Church. Brilliant! Now you'll be gracing the stage at the inauguration--talk about a mega-watt boost for you.

But it seems there's a heavy price to the Obama brand for the symbolic gesture of tapping you to give the prayer. Barack Obama traded in quite a lot of brand equity as a fair-minded progressive in exchange for a piece of your market share, with its vast army of followers. When brands take actions inconsistent with their positioning, in other words, when they don't walk their talk, it smells inauthentic. Keep in mind that today's consumers are deeply cynical--so all this idealism is a bit of a paradox. Hell hath no fury like an idealist scorned, is a good rule of thumb.

Furious is my relative out in California who doesn't share my point of view and feels you deserve nothing but his contempt. He and his partner were big Obama supporters out in L.A. They got married this past summer, like so many other gay couples and I flew out to share in their joy. When Proposition 8 heated up, their car was badly vandalized for sporting a Prop 8 bumper sticker. I think it spooked them to personally experience that level of hatred for being different. Rick Warren is just a symbol, a token, I told him. It's not as if he's being given a cabinet position. Symbols are important in these fights, he lashed back. His point is taken.

Recently Advertising Age magazine proclaimed Barack Obama Marketer of the Year. I agree wholeheartedly. It's time we all accept the possibility that you were not selected because of your piety, but your reach. So I wouldn't anticipate adding a West Wing prayer circle to your calendar any time soon, if I were you. Dude, let's face it, you've got millions of peeps. And I notice your book is killing on Amazon, no doubt a boost from all the brouhaha. Astonishing leverage! So with all due respect to my California relative, and despite what my progressive colleagues say about your known prejudices against gays, I just wanted to write and tell you that your talent as a marketer is not lost on some of us.

In a down economy, and in a culture where money still talks, it's clear you have something worth saying.

Yours truly,

Patricia Martin