The Adventist Branding Problem

What do people see when they hear Adventist? What words or images come to mind?

For many years I have asked this very question to Adventists and non-Adventists alike in a word association exercise I use in evangelism.

The responses have been fairly consistent: Ellen White, Loma Linda, Sabbath, vegetarian, health, and the lists goes on. I have asked this questions from Indonesia to Indiana, from Brooklyn to Bermuda. It is interesting to me that of all the responses I’ve heard over the years, I have never once heard the words, Jesus or love. Not once. It seems that we have a brand problem.

An entire cottage industry has sprung up around the importance of branding. Conferences. Seminars. Webinars. Everyone seems to be pushing the importance of a good brand. And what exactly is a brand? Well, a brand is defined a number of ways:

  • A brand is a concept, service, or product that is publicly distinguished from other concepts, services, or products so that it can be easily communicated and marketed.
  • A brand is a feature that distinguishes one product from another.
  • A brand is an identifying mark that distinguishes a product.

Similar definitions, but the one I like the most, I found in Forbes magazine. “Simply put, your brand is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name!”(1) Exactly. So let me repeat.  The responses to this Adventist word association exercise indicate that we have a brand problem. And the problem with the Adventist brand is not that we are known by the wrong things, but that we are not known by the main thing.

And what is that main thing? What should distinguish us? What should be our brand? Well, Ellen White mentions it in a familiar quote. “Of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world” (Gospel Workers p.154).

Now I know that my survey is unscientific and anecdotal. I know that there are a number of ways to express the love of Christ. And I know that other churches and denominations might evoke the same kind of answers. But those churches are not my concern. It seems to me that over the 20 or so years that I’ve been asking this question, that somebody should have mentioned Jesus!

So, what do you think? What do you see when they say Adventist? Do we even have a problem, and if so, how do we change it?


1. McLaughlin, Jerry. “ What is a Brand Anyway?” Forbes Online, December 21, 2011