Monday, October 31, 2016

"Like" Luther on Facebook

Yesterday was Reformation Sunday (it almost always falls the day before Halloween - by the way, "Happy Halloween"), and next year will be the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's writing of the "95 Theses" (they were written in 1517 in the German city of Wittenberg).  In case you can't summon up what those were, from your intro to Theology 101 class, they were 95 reasons that Luther had for why the sale of indulgences (the sale of tokens that got you into heaven) were a corrupt practice by the Roman Catholic church in the early 1500's.  But the 95 Theses are not why I am writing this blog-post on this Halloween morning.

Why I am writing this blog is to let you know that recent historical studies on Martin Luther show that what he was actually an expert in was not by being contrarian or revolutionary, but by being an expert marketer.  If Luther were alive today, in the words of a recently published New York Times article, "he would have used Twitter."  If Luther were alive today, he would have written a blog post like this one.  If Luther were alive today, he would want you to...

"Like" Luther on Facebook

As it turns out, The 95 Theses that Luther printed and posted on Wittenberg's door were actually not that revolutionary of an idea.  Every college professor or budding thinker would post ideas for public consumption and critique.  Posting such ideas on a church door were like writing a blogpost like this one, or going into a chat room online to get feedback.  Luther printed the 95 Theses in Latin, which insured that only a few very intelligent people could read them.  In other words, the 95 Theses in and of themselves were not signs in and of themselves of innovation.

Luther's real gift was in public marketing his message.  His gift was in branding his personal image and his main theological themes.  A recent series of exhibits that will feature Martin Luther in the coming year, have illustrated the nascent monk's ability to get the word out about any given topic or theme.  In the words of John T. McQuillen, assistant curator of printed books and bindings at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, "Luther led one of the most successful media campaigns in history."

Luther's particular marketing trick involved three specific things.  He was the master at putting pamphlets together that were short and easy to read - around 8 to 16 pages - and to have these pamphlets published en masse (around 10,000 at a time), and circulated to all the surrounding cities of Wittenberg.  For those who could not read, Luther would arrange to have his pamphlets read aloud,  like a group story time for children.  Again, according to historians, "Luther made extremely good use of the media at his disposal."

Another technique that Luther used was to have printed images of pictures along with his pamphlets. The pictures or images would accentuate what Luther was trying to say, much like a powerpoint presentation behind a speaker today has the ability to illuminate certain aspects of a speaker's presentation.

Finally, Luther used music to his full advantage.  Luther wrote hymns (he was the Worship Leader of his day), and composed entire books full of hymns.  This was all cutting edge stuff in the early 1500's.  Today, we tend to think of church hymnals as antiquated books that fit underneath the slots in the church pews.  Not so in Luther's day.  Hymnals were as cutting edge as Pandora Music or Spotify or Apple Media Music libraries.

Pamphlets, Images and Music.  Those were Luther's Holy Trinity of marketing techniques.  Without Luther's ability to put out thousands of pamphlets (the cutting edge technology of the day), or to reproduce images and pictures by the thousands at low cost printing, or to publish music in hymnals, it is debatable as to whether we would have had any Reformation at all.

So, if you like this blogpost, would you please...

"Like" Luther on Facebook!

All For Now,


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