Time Magazine cover, March 25th, 2013

This blue and green mass we call earth is home to over 1 billion catholics; roughly speaking, that's one in six of us. Catholicism has roughly the same number of members as Facebook so in social media terms, the naming of Pope Francis is sort of like changing every user's news feed overnight — It's a big freaking deal(generating millions of status updates, comments, memes, tweets, petitions and, apparently, streaming video of a chimney).

The general reaction to Humble Francis, as he is being called in some circles, has been positive. Here is a man who chose to take the bus when private car service was entitled to him and who, according to cbc.ca, has offered daily morning mass to Vatican gardeners, street-sweepers, hotel workers and staff of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano since becoming Pope.

The Pope Brand is tied directly to the values and beliefs of the man occupying the chair. Just as the values of a company often emanate from the owner's desk, so too does the public perception of the Papacy.

Where there is danger, from a brand communications perspective, is in the Pope's ability to translate what appear to be personal values of service, empathy and sacrifice into meaningful reform for a church that is known more for scandal than anything else in recent decades.

The Vatican, in how it is choosing to portray the new Bishop of Rome, is making what we refer to as a "brand promise" about the Pope and his church. Much like any promise, the trouble is not in the making but in the keeping. Leaking short stories that showcase the empathetic nature of the new Pope is easy, changing the way major decisions are made and making right the countless coverups and mistakes of the past is much more difficult.

Taking a look at the Vatican website, it's tough to believe this is an organization that understands how connected our planet is today. The packaging of Pope Francis is reminiscent of a Pepsi commercial, all flash and not very much substance.

Communicating a brand is all about authentically articulating a company's values in every aspect of the organization, from marketing to operations, across product, place, price and people. As is stands today, the Vatican is articulating the Pope's values through the lens of promotion. Their capacity to ensure the catholic product, place, price and people reflects those values remains to be seen, and they will be seen. Ultimately, that will decide whether or not it's an authentic promise.

If we look closer to home, do we see the Pope’s brand promise reflected in the actions, decisions and practices of the Yukon diocese? Are we likely to see changes in the near future? What do you think?

@yukonneil is a roman-catholic and served in many areas of the church from a young age through university.


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