Strong and proud

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From the ’76 convertible Cadillac El Dorado I drove when we lived in California to the Ford Mustang I rattled around in during my first year of college—until it blew up. From the BMW 325 I sadly waved goodbye to when we left the US, to my current Audi A4, there is an overriding theme—I have a weakness for cars. Yes, all my cars were bought second, third or fourth-hand, at bargain basement prices, but I’ve cherished each one of them for their unique character. 

But it is the car I purchased after wrapping up law school that retains the most special place in my heart; my two-seat BMW Z3 Roadster. Sure, the car had its detractors. Some automotive writers bagged it for lacking true brute power. Others had trouble with its styling—”What possible purpose did the shark grills on the side have?” some sniped. My own brother called it a “poser car”. 

If there is any brand on earth that should be proud of what it is, who it is and how it is, it is ours.

But when I was zipping through city traffic with the top down and stereo blasting, none of it mattered. Not one bit! 

One of the critic’s knocks against the car was its excessive BMWishness. In retrospect, BMW did slightly overdo the branding. There was the familiar BMW roundel on the front. And on the back. On the steering wheel. And at the centre of each of the four wheels. And just in case the message wasn’t clear enough, there were another two BMW roundels plastered on the side for good measure. All up, nine BMW logos on one rather small roadster.  

Why? Because, let’s face it, BMW has cachet, and knows it does. And it’s not just BMW. Nearly every successful brand gleefully plasters its name and logo anywhere it can find space. Coca-Cola aims to have its logo visible in every inhabited place on earth, and they must be getting pretty close to their goal. Apple hands out Apple logo stickers with their laptops—apparently it’s not enough to have Applephiles slavishly spending all their tech and entertainment dollars within the Applesphere, they also want them to become little Apple advertising emissaries—gratis, of course. 

All of this makes me wonder about our “brand”—the Adventist brand. We must be the only global brand on earth that deliberately obscures our identity. Think about the schools that have taken the “Adventist” out of the name, the churches that have stripped away the Adventist identity, the frequent fear of being open about who we are when we do evangelism, and the muffled answers we sometimes give when asked about our faith. 

If there is any brand on earth that should be proud of what it is, who it is and how it is, it is ours. For goodness gracious sakes, Apple’s manufacturer exploits workers in China to the point where some are literally killing themselves. BMW was an integral and joyous part of Hitler’s armament machine. Coke may have done more to promote dental visits than any other single company on earth. Yet, they are all very proud of who they are and what they do. Meanwhile, we have 150 years of bringing health, education, the Gospel and holistic living to the world. No other successful faith—Mormons, Muslims, Catholics, Charismatics—are shy about who they are. Why us? 

Some may argue we have to obscure our identity because we don’t have a great brand image. I think it’s exactly the opposite. Talking to the non-Adventist parents at my kids’ school, I’ve found we have a far better brand image than most of us realise. And it would be a lot better if we weren’t so busy hiding from our own shadow.

Looking back, maybe nine logos on a small car was a bit excessive. But it certainly didn’t hurt BMW’s Z3 sales. Similarly, I’ve visited schools around the world that proudly brand themselves Adventist and are overflowing with students, churches that are packed and Adventist entities of all shapes and sizes that proudly use our name and logo. 

My conclusion? Being up-front, open and proud about who we are and what we stand for is not only the right thing, it’s the smart thing too. BMW, Coke, Apple and a thousand other entities have already figured that out. It’s time we did. 

James Standish is communication director for the South Pacific Division.