Branding – "the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers' mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers"
Mars Hill is back in the news once again in order to issue an apology. We’ll get to that in just a bit… First a little background information.
In late August The Seattle Times published an article entitled “Mars Hill Empire Expands”. (link) Here are several pertinent excerpts from that article:
"Toward the end of last year, Seattle-based Mars Hill Church announced that in addition to opening a campus in Everett, it would be opening one in Portland and another in Orange County, Calif."
"Mars Hill's expansion has been marked by grand ambitions, technological and business savvy, entrepreneurial energy — and, some would say, occasionally heavy-handed business dealings."
"For a church to go into a faraway city requires either prior connections, strong media exposure or "a national reputation with a distinctive brand," Bird said. 'Mars Hill is the latter.' "
Yes, Mars Hill has become a distinctive brand as it duplicates itself around the country. One of the ways it has accomplished this is by filing an application last August to trademark its name and logo (we assume prior to its expansion). Yes, we're talking about a church here and not a business, right?
Here is what happened next, as explained in a Mars Hill blog post:
"We’re not the only church called Mars Hill, and occasionally there arises confusion between us and other churches that share the “Mars Hill” name, particularly as we now have our churches in four states. This was the case recently when one of our members called us to find out if we had planted Mars Hill churches in the Sacramento, California area. We had not, but when we went to these churches’ websites, it was obvious to us how people could be confused. Each of these three connected churches in the Sacramento region—planted in 2006, 2007, and 2010—bore the “Mars Hill” name and their logo was substantially similar to the logo we’ve used since 1996."
Given that the Mars Hill Church of Seattle was branching out in California, what could it do to establish its brand in a new market? The church elders and attorneys decided to protect the Mars Hill name and logo by sending a Cease and Desist letter to Mars Hill Community Church in Sacramento. Christianity Today discussed this fiasco in an article entitled "The Story Behind the Mars Hill Trademark Dispute". (link)
The CT article begins as follows:
"Seattle's prominent Mars Hill Church says the way it handled a Sacramento, California, church's similar name and logo was a mistake. The California church, meanwhile, has promised to redesign its logo and website.
Officials from the Ballard, Washington, multisite church say a member called attention to the Sacramento church's website, asking if the churches were connected. When elders saw a logo similar to their own, which has been in use since 1996, they sent a cease-and-desist letter to Sacramento's Mars Hill Community Church, which has three locations if its own. Mars Hill Seattle filed an application to trademark its name and logo in August.
'The purpose of including both the name and logo in our filing, as opposed to just our name or just our M logo, is to allow us to prevent other churches from combining a 'Mars Hill' name with a substantially similar logo, like what we saw with the Mars Hill churches in Sacramento,' said Mike Anderson, director of communications at the Seattle-area church, which is pastored by Mark Driscoll. 'We are not concerned with other Mars Hill churches unless their logo and branding is [similar to] ours. Based on our research, there were no other such churches.' "
After the Mars Hill (Seattle) elders admitted to their grievous error and the Sacramento church agreed to change its logo and website, Mars Hill Community senior pastor Scott Hagan shared his thoughts with Charisma News. (link)
Here is some of what Hagan expressed in a heartfelt statement:
"I want to express my thanks for the several calls, voice mails and texts I received over the weekend from the pastoral leadership team at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Their words and explanations were both gracious and believable. I hope you will find my words the same as I try to be both detailed and brief.
The issue of the Cease and Desist Letter seemed to strike a raw nerve in the broader body of Christ…
I want to confirm that three staff members from Mars Hill Seattle called and asked forgiveness for any stress and confusion that was caused by the letter we received from the Stokes & Lawrence law firm…
Both Chris Pledger and Dave Bruskas were clear and sincere that the proper step should have been to call us first. We accepted their apology and would like the Mars Hill Seattle congregation to know that your leaders took this step (We are assuming on behalf of pastor Mark Driscoll). They assured us they would not seek any type of legal action, even though they did apply for and were awarded a federal trademark in August of this year for both the name and the logo design. Mars Hill Seattle also posted on their blog late Saturday night a message of clarity and grace. It was greatly appreciated.
Our concern stemmed from a letter we received from Stokes & Lawrence asking that we cease all use of our name, domain names and all artwork. The letter stated we had a two-week window for compliance. It was very unsettling knowing that, if enforced by a court (which it appears it could), it would cost our ministry and our two satellite plants thousands of dollars to rebrand, redesign, reprint and re-educate our regions of the changes."
Please click on the Charisma News link and read all of Hagan's statement because it is very eye-opening. We are extremely impressed with the graciousness of Pastor Hagan and believe he models Christ's humility far better than Driscoll and his crowd.
To read about this debacle from the Mars Hill (Seattle) perspective, here is the explanation provided on its blog.
We were going to include a photo of the Mars Hill (Seattle) logo, but since they are so protective of their special "M", we decided not to take a chance on getting in trouble with their attorneys, after all, it's trademarked…
For those of you wondering where Mars Hill is mentioned in the Bible, here is the verse.
"Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious." Acts 17:22 (KJV)
When I think of the Mars Hill mentioned in this verse, I think of worldliness. Perhaps Driscoll’s Mars Hill is more like the Mars Hill in the book of Acts than I ever imagined. Sadly, the logo / trademark debacle may be just the tip of the iceberg…
Lydia's Corner: 2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28 Romans 12:1-21 Psalm 22:19-31 Proverbs 20:8-10