As you may know, I’m a Presbyterian pastor. Every other year Presbyterians get together at a huge homecoming called the General Assembly where we vote on important issues, get together with one another socially and have a big ole Presbyterian Part-ay! (Except, well, maybe it’s not just a party, maybe it’s a serious, serious gathering with important issues to discuss.)
This week our denomination’s website, the PCUSA put up this advertisement to promote the General Assembly which is being held in Detroit, MI.
The text says “Attend the 221st General Assembly” and there’s the logo for the general assembly right on the image. Clearly it wasn’t a mistake that this image, a dog in a pink sweater, was attached to the idea of the General Assembly. Someone noticed and posted the question on Facebook, where I saw it, and posed the same question: Why? Since then there’s been a lot of discussion about the dog (tagged #GaDog on twitter and facebook) and I think this discussion really, really matters. While much could be said about it, I’m going to offer an initial thought for reflection and see where the conversation takes us.
The thought is this: design and branding matters, a lot. Inadvertently (it seems, though no official comment has been made) whoever put this dog in a pink sweater next to the invitation to the General Assembly “branded it.” The brand for the GA in Detroit is now “Dog in a Pink Sweater.” Some people say “wow, that’s really, funny/bizarre/strange” or “We could have a lot of fun with that!” others say “No, that’s ridiculous and tragic, and it overshadows the REAL brand of the conference, which was supposed to be “Abound in Hope.” My own view is somewhere in the middle. I think there’s a lot of fun to be had with this pink dog. I love the idea of “GaDog for Moderator” as a little lighthearted satire of this whole debacle. The truth is, though, this dog in a pink sweater shows something very obvious about the PCUSA — we don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to branding.
I’m currently in the design stage for my book on families and faith (yet to be named, that’s another blog post, I promise.) The process of branding the book and finding an image that will represent it is not a process that I engaged upon lightly. In fact, I was very persistent and very vocal that I wanted the best designer I could find to work on it and to really think about it. I know that whatever image is carefully chosen and put on the cover will brand the book forever. If it’s a dog in a pink sweater, I’ll have to live with it, and I know it.
I know that there is an individual (or group of individuals) behind the decision to put the dog in the pink sweater in this image, and my intent is not to make that person (or people) feel stupid. I would like to know a little bit more about the thought process behind it though, because my guess is that the answer is “We didn’t realize what a big deal it would become.” Which is, of course, exactly my point.