With(out) a hope and a prayer?

#PopeisHope Vatican social media marketing

Walking the dog this weekend I couldn’t help but notice that the church goers I observed all seemed to be of a more ‘mature’ age – I even stopped to help open the front doors of one church to allow a parishioner to drive in on his electric scooter!


Our attitude towards religion perhaps epitomises how society has changed, where one body used to dictate a population’s behaviour now people are more focused on their own singular objectives. The stats show the proportion of the population claiming no religion in the UK – the “unaffiliated” – is on the rise (28% in 2010 and predicted to be 39% in 20501) so there is a clear challenge for religions to rous a disinterested younger generation seemingly distanced from their traditional family beliefs.

In this day and age religion has to compete for the attention of consumers and could do worse than to treat themselves as brands – have a value proposition, create awareness, encourage engagement, drive sales/contributions and repeat visits. A more considered approach to marketing may be required rather than relying on display posters on community boards and hope the word of mouth feedback on sermons is positive enough to retain and attract new attendees.

It was with both amusement and interest that I read how the Pope’s tour of the US was to incorporate a message of hope and inclusiveness especially to the younger generation, with particular reference to social media to do that.

#PopeisHope Vatican social media marketing

Popemoji: Pope and the Liberty Bell

The campaign included hashtags (#PopeisHope and #GoodisWinning) and “Popemojis” or cartoons that depict the Pope visiting famous tourist attractions, crowdsurfing, and taking selfies with fans.

The campaign enlisted 60 digital strategists, content creators and “real time community managers”, some of which worked out of the “Pope is Hope social listening center” in Philadelphia. Beyond simply making a noise on social media, the team were challenged to deliver insights from the social media to the Catholic Church, so it could better understand what matters to young people and how to engage with them.

In just four days, more than 30,000 people downloaded the Popemoji keyboard and sent 235,000 Popemojis. However, there is no available information to learn whether those users were influenced in action or behaviour by the campaign.

#PopeisHope Vatican social media marketing

Popemoji: Selfie with fans

Ironically, the Pope himself isn’t big on technology – he frequently communicates with his cardinals by fax machine. In a complete contradiction he even condemned social media, saying it creates “mental pollution” so what does he think of his own team’s efforts and is he now a believer?

He, or one of his spokespeople, has now allegedly recognised the importance of digital media, reorganising the church’s communications department to elevate social and digital media. This may well be seen as fun and inclusive but is it delivering the brand’s key messages? This ‘Pope is Hope’ US Tour would have spent a fair few pieces of silver in their social media campaign yet there is little evidence to suggest they are investing in the quality of research to provide in-depth insight on the subsequent conversations across social media.

For a serious brand out to raise awareness, increase their customer base and impart a sense of loyalty there needs to be a clear strategy based on consumer knowledge. Perhaps even the Vatican needs to rely on more than just blind faith.


[Source: 1 Pew Research Center]

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