Pope Francis Has Arrived and Is Cleared for Marketing

Pope Francis arrives in New York today, and Papal bobblehead dolls, dog costumes, pizzas, T-shirts, and life-sized standees are for sale all over town. His Holiness’s celebration of the American economy is underway, and everyone’s invited to the party. When the Catholic St. Jude Shop site markets an $89 Musical Pope Mobile and The Catholic Company sells a Pope Francis Bobblehead for $19.95, it’s clear a dispensation’s been granted on Papal profiteering. (Hey, this is the religion that invented Bingo.) E-commerce sites and third-party sellers on marketplaces are all over Francis, but we wonder if some other direct marketers are leaving collection plate money on the table. From our view, some missed opportunities:

The Pope in the Cloud: For $25 on the Shop PBS site you can own a Solar Pope (more closely resembling Georgie Jessel than Francis), who “Whenever a beam of light touches him [will] reassure you with a wave that everything is going to be okay.” Now, I’m assuming  Salesforce’s Marc Benioff has been to the Sistine Chapel and has seen the pantheon of saints floating on clouds. Stevie Wonder presenting Benioff with a rendition of “Superstition” at Dreamforce last week was pretty cool. But could you imagine Pope Francis descending from the rafters on a cumulus chariot belting out “Ave Maria?” Even Benioff has only so much juice, I guess.

The Pope and Dope. OK, it may sound sacrilegious to link the Pontiff to the growing legal marijuana economy in the U.S., but let’s be real, the bong has to be the second-biggest producer of religious experiences next to the cathedral. Amazon is selling a “The Pope Is Dope” T-shirt. Why couldn’t pot pioneers in Colorado have taken this idea a step further? Colorado Marijuana Marketing owns a mailing list with tens of thousands of marijuana consumers. The company could have worked a licensing deal with former Plastic Ono Band guitarist David Peel to do a shirt carrying the title of his only hit record: “The Pope Smokes Dope.”

The Line to the Vatican. Is there a more intense omnichannel battle for customers being waged than that between wireless carriers? Did not marketers at these companies take note of the Pope’s visit and ponder using divine intervention to snare a share point or two? And did not one telecom in particular notice the closeness of its name to that of the Pope’s homeland? “Verizon at the Vatican” is a campaign that could have used pre-roll video tours of Vatican City, offered a donation to Catholic Charities with every phone number “conversion,” and maybe even scored a deal with Francis himself to record a Papal greeting for the Verizon call center. You never know; sometimes prayers are answered.

Speaking of which, why did it not occur to data analytics providers the likes of Epsilon, Acxiom, SAS, Adobe, and Experian to try and sign Pope Francis to a tour sponsorship deal? Their similar core business propositions of unique customer data enabling relevant customer interactions seems new, but it is in fact an old, old idea in the Catholic Church. My devout Polish Catholic mom would nightly guide my prayers as a young child and once, when she told me I could ask God for something I really wanted, I was skeptical (a journalist from the get-go, I guess). “How can God answer everybody’s prayers,” I asked. “Because God can do anything,” she replied. I remained skeptical about that my whole life—until Amazon came along and started consummating 30 million discreet transactions a day. Answering everybody’s prayers—not a bad motto for data-driven marketers, is it?

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