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Why I believe in “The Purple Cow”: Part 1

August 25, AD 2011 5 Comments

What is “The Purple Cow”?

I’ve been on a Seth Godin kick as of late. For those of you not familiar with Seth Godin, he is one of today’s leading minds in marketing and thought in general. He also developed a whole new way of looking at cows.

In his book, Purple Cow, Seth shares a story of driving through the French countryside with his family. They are charmed when they spot a brown cow in a nearby field. As they continue down the road they sight more and more cows until what once attracted their attention and brought nostalgia soon becomes easy to ignore, even boring. In truth they stop noticing the cows all together. What this scene needs, Seth claims, is a purple cow.

Although an account from life experience, Seth relates this phenomenon to a pressing dilemma for our modern world. In today’s marketplace where there is multiple variations of everything you could ever possibly want, the only way to really capture attention is to be remarkable. With the barrages of choice being presented to us everyday, the mass marketing that was standard in the past is no longer relevant. Nowadays the only way to stand out is to be a purple cow.

What the heck does this have to do with Catholicism?

Everything. Catholicism is not a purple cow; it is “The Purple Cow.” There is nothing as remarkable as the Catholic Church and the Deposit of Faith. Nothing. Once this realization is made everything changes. Our evangelization changes. Our worship changes. Our approach to life changes.

We are tempted as Catholics to make accommodations to the modern world in order to reach a larger audience. Yet to the degree that Catholicism becomes just like everything else in the world it proportionally is no longer remarkable. There is a direct correlation that can be seen here: the moment we tone down the extraordinary teachings/claims of the Church is the moment people stop listening.

Understanding Our Audience

Take a look at this crude illustration of a product life cycle:

Product Life Cycle

In traditional mass marketing companies/organizations would target the two middle groups depicted on the graph above, the early and late majorities. The intention was to broadcast one’s message as loud as possible to as many people as possible. Whoever was able to shout the loudest to the biggest crowd the most times often won. This method is no longer effective because when everyone is shouting people stop listening. Reflecting on our own lives we can see how the constant barrage of content in this information age forces us to tune a vast majority of the information out. No group is this characteristic most prevalent than the early and late majority who are very content with going about their lives, and in many ways are deaf and blind when a message they aren’t interested in is broadcasted.

These business marketing realities are less different from spiritual realities than one would first think. Spiritually, the majority (middle two groups) is vastly indifferent to the Faith and Truth. This population, for the most part, are content with their lives and don’t have any real urgency to change their worldview or seek some higher truth.

What is a Catholic who cares about the Faith to do?

Lean on the remarkableness of the Church and appeal to those who do care, the early adopters and innovators. This group consists in those who yearn for Truth and fufillment, the individuals who in turn go and evangelize the majority. Not only is this the path that Seth explains all successful marketing must now take, it is also the consistent path of the Catholic Church as it has renewed itself time and time again for 2,000 years.


This article is part 1 of a 3 part series.

Next week: 

Why I believe in “The Purple Cow”: Part 2

Leaning on the Cow

About the Author:

  • Great piece! We definitely need better marketing in the Church-at-large.

  • Thanks, Steven, for this post! I look forward to see where you are going with this. God bless!

  • Tomas

    real good, no one is all about that in your face mentality anymore

  • Paul Rimmer

    Thank you for this.

    I joined an RCIA class with very watered-down teachings, some of them fuzzy, some of them different from what the Catholic Church teaches. For example, that women can be priests and that contraception is alright, and that Adam and Eve weren’t literal people, etc.

    I wish that my RCIA class had really been about what the Catholic Church believes. Because then I would never have joined it.

    As it turned out, I became a member of this Catholic Church, found out what the real teachings were, wrestled with them much longer and with greater frustration than I would have if I had remained on the outside (I’m still wrestling and bitter). I feel like I was swindled.

    Please proclaim what the Catholic Church actually teaches! It will keep people like me from becoming part of it.

  • Steven Lawson

    @Sr. Lisa, Julie, and Tomas – Thank you for the kind words!

    @Paul –
    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m sorry to hear that you have been having a negative experience but I know God will continue to lead you to deeper relationship if you seek him in honesty and humility. I need to remind myself of this often. You will be in my prayers, please pray for me as well.

    I don’t know your particular circumstance or what particular teachings you personally struggle with, but you bring up a good point. Many times in modern evangelization attempts priests and laity water down teaching or try to get individuals involved in the Church through things that don’t really reflect the heart of the Faith and what it means to be Catholic. The effect is realized as sort of bait and switch. For some the switch never happens and they live a personal version of Catholicism and are robbed of it’s fullness while for others they realize, as you did, that they may have jumped in head first into more than they bargained for. This second group is the more fortunate of the two because they at least are offered what the Church actually teaches.

    In the end there is no such thing as Church teaching, it’s God’s teaching revealed through Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Properly understood Catholics believe the Church is basically God’s PR person.