Aside from the game itself, one of the big draws of the Super Bowl for casual fans is the commercials. This year, some of those advertisements will feature Jesus.
“He Gets Us,” a multi-million dollar campaign with a mission to show people the loving and peaceful nature of Jesus, will air two ads during Super Bowl LVII. Last year’s big game garnered more than 200 million viewers, according to the NFL.
The message is simple: Jesus loves you. The folks behind the movement want to use media to help reverse what they feel are negative narratives surrounding Jesus and Christianity, said Jason Vanderground, president of Haven Creative Hub, which manages the He Gets Us campaign.
“How did the world’s greatest love story become known as a hate group?” Vanderground told Sports Spectrum this week on Super Bowl Media Row. “How did we go from Jesus saying, ‘You’re going to know that you’re following My example by the way that you love and treat each other, by the confounding forgiveness and mercy that you demonstrate to other people’ … how did we get to the point where people felt comfortable saying, ‘No, I think God hates you because of the difference that we have.’”
There are two main goals behind their messaging.
“We want to increase the respect and the relevance of Jesus in our culture, and to do it in a massive way,” Vanderground said. “As we do that, we want to call up Christians to reflect the example that we see in the Gospels of how Jesus actually treated people, and what He taught us it meant to treat other people.”
Matters of faith, especially in secular spaces, can sometimes be contentious, so it’s rare to see Jesus being promoted during an event like the Super Bowl, with its copious amount of advertising for various other products. But professional sports, and particularly NFL football, have proven to be fertile ground for He Gets Us to plant seeds, Vanderground said.
The idea was hatched in March 2021 and fundraising shortly followed. By the time the NFL season started, the nonprofit had raised enough money through private donors to run ads in 10 test markets. One of those was Dallas, where they advertised during a Cowboys-Commanders game. Website traffic at HeGetsUs.com spiked, and it was clear there was interest in the campaign and the potential for bigger things.
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Advertising continued through 2021’s NFL season and even crossed over into other sports, with signage popping up on Major League Baseball broadcasts as well. But the NFL is king, and the playoffs get massive viewership. That was a well still untapped until this season.
“Last season, we had great success with all these regular-season games, and then the playoffs come and we didn’t have a huge play there,” Vanderground said. “We were like, ‘As the momentum builds in the NFL season, what if we just ran the table? What if we kept putting the biggest influencer in history on bigger and bigger stages as the NFL season went along?’ For this season, we were like, ‘Let’s do the Super Bowl. Let’s go big.’”
Despite the NFL typically being wary of faith-focused advertising, Vanderground said the league hasn’t received significant blowback for the previous advertising, and he added, “It’s been a great partnership between He Gets Us and the NFL.” So for $20 million, He Gets Us will have two opportunities to reach viewers for Jesus through Super Bowl commercials. The hope is that this isn’t just a one-year thing.
“Once you’re with the NFL as an approved advertiser and then you invest $20 million to have two spots in the Super Bowl, people go, ‘OK, that’s big. That’s going to be something big,'” he said. “So everybody’s paying attention.”
Still, it’s no secret, Vanderground said, that some people see Christianity as hypocritical, discriminatory and judgmental, and might feel a sense of “It’s not for me.” The goal of the ads — and the entire movement, for that matter — is to break down barriers and make Jesus approachable in the same way that someone might be with a friend.
“We’re just starting with that respect and building a relationship like we build any of our other relationships, and going, ‘Let’s take it slow.’ Let’s give the person who’s spiritually open but skeptical a lot of agency and control, because it’s their faith journey. So let’s make all these things available,” Vanderground said.
This comes shortly after a time in which prayer was thrust into the spotlight in the wake of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffering cardiac arrest and collapsing to the field on “Monday Night Football.” Players and coaches kneeled on the field and prayed, and athletes across the NFL and other sports publicly called for prayers through interviews and social media posts. ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky even prayed for Hamlin live on air.
People saw the power of prayer, Vanderground said, and he hopes these messages can serve as a well-timed follow-up for those whose interest about Jesus was piqued following Hamlin’s incident.
“You can be confident in your prayers because the Person you’re praying to went through every single thing you do,” he said. “We’re trying to just outline all of those examples for people with the campaign.”
He Gets Us is an initiative of The Signatry, a Christian foundation based in Overland Park, Kansas. It is a 501(c)(3) organization with a 100/100 Charity Navigator rating.
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