Vatican’s social strategy? Say 3 RTs, follow me

by PR Coach

Pope Benetton ad

Provocative Benetton ad upsets all faiths

The Pope’s getting a lot of attention these days. And in the marketing world, attention is where it’s at baby.

First, there’s the controversy over the newest Benetton ad generating a firestorm of reaction in traditional media and comments all over social media. Then, there’s a new Vatican social marketing strategy that is raising Holy eyebrows.

Am I the only one that sees the irony in the Vatican’s protests last week against the provocative Benetton ad featuring a photoshopped visual of Pope Benedict XVI kissing a leading Imam?

The Vatican threatened legal action and Benetton responded by removing the ad. It’s the latest in a series of other in-your-face ads for the company’s “Unhate Foundation.”

Of course, the shock marketers at Benetton are loving the high profile outrage playing out in traditional and social media as well as the millions of dollars of free publicity. Bad PR? PR fail? No such thing in their marketing world.

I’d say they’re crazy like a fox at Benetton.

Pope Francis’ social media strategy

In the next breath, the brilliant social media strategists in Rome are offering “indulgences” in return for RTs and follows on Twitter.

Offering indulgences is a time-honored Catholic church tradition, promising repentant sinners reduced time in purgatory for sincere confessions and efforts at contrition.

As reported in the Guardian:

“That includes following Twitter,” said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis’ Twitter account, which have gathered seven million followers . “But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet.”

Cool. Say 3 RTs, fave me, click and voilà. Several fewer days in purgatory. You’re saved!

Can we expect some cute Catholic cats on YouTube anytime soon? Maybe a contest to name and match your favorite animals with the names of the Apostles on Flickr and Instagram. There is a Dog!

The Pope App is mobile

The Pope App is mobile-ready

What’s next? Text me, like me or follow me and you’ll get three days grace from eternal damnation? Or, don’t like me and guess what happens?

How about a BOGO sale? Buy one sin, get another free. Expect Boxing Day long lineups for that sale.

Absolution? Absolutely!

Just in time, time off purgatory.

All kidding aside, the Vatican actually has fairly sophisticated media and social media programs including The Pope App with images from webcams throughout St. Peter’s Square and The Holy See website (Alexa ranking #11,286). Translated into all major languages.

The Pope’s English Twitter account has 2.7 million followers and is also translated into eight other languages — Latin (125K), German (118K), Spanish (2.8 million), Portuguese (457K), Polish (100K), Italian (894K), French (158K) and Arabic (71K).

Other social media channels include Facebook (44K likes), YouTube (66.5K subscribers) and Flickr (2,800 photos).

Traditional media vehicles include an online newsroom at, press office, Vatican radio, and TV channel.

What’s ahead for Pope Francis faves, likes & RTs?

Pope Francis Flickr

Pope Francis

So far, Pope Francis has posted only 84 official tweets but they’re meaningful if you’re part of the target audience – the Holy See.

This new viral Vatican social media campaign is bound to catch fire. Watch for @Pontifex followers to grow substantially. Look for more frequent tweets and expect RTs to explode as followers click, RT and follow in order to lessen time served in damnation.

It’s not a deal with the devil, but I know one thing. I wouldn’t want to be standing at the Pearly Gates trying to explain my approach to advertising. Nor rationalizing the Vatican’s latest social media and content marketing strategy.

Somebody important will have something sharp to say about that. And, things could get a little warm!

What do you think? Is Benetton a PR fail or a PR ploy? Do you like the new Catholic content marketing strategy? I’d enjoy hearing your comments and perspective.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy several others in our PR humor category. But don’t worry, we’ve got lots of serious PR tips, tactics and strategic insight for you as well in the ever-growing PR Library.

Author: Jeff Domansky

Visuals: NY Daily News, Vatican News, Vatican on Flickr

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