Quizzical looks and bemused expressions stared back at me from my juniors and seniors on the first day of class as I gave the overview. It’s a business and professional writing course, housed in the English Department. And I’ve just told them that they’ll be working in teams all semester on a project of their choice to rebrand a base or supposedly trivial topic.
Most of my audience are students in various tracks of the business school, a large quantity of occupational therapy majors and a smattering of other disciplines.
It’s a hodgepodge – you never know what student will enroll in the class. Many of them enroll because they need an upper-level English elective; for some majors, the class is required.
As many past students have told me, though, they’re taking it because they believe it to be an easy A. “What’s so hard about business writing?” they think.
As I explain, we’ll be writing in business genres – proposals, letters, memos, e-mails and instant messages. We’ll be cooperating in teams to meet deadlines, and students will have the responsibility to set their own tasks, coordinate schedules and manage a group. It is, in effect, the simulation of a professional space. With an added twist: the rebranding.
Adoxography is the fancy rhetorical term that describes the basis of the course design: the rhetorical art of praising so-called useless or nonsensical things. A famed example might be Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky.”
It doesn’t have to be useless, though – it could, as I explained, be a concept or idea that you think has value but that the majority of people see differently.
As part of NPR’s podcast “Invisibilia,” there’s an episode called “How to Be Batman” that sees blindness not as a disability, but as a super ability. That’s adoxography in practice today. It’s fun, and creative – once you’re on board.
As I listened to the students brainstorm their topics and discuss an article they had read on rebranding motherhood, I thought about the many instances of rebranding that we see in our world today. Which got me thinking about the Catholic Church.
Earlier this year, the Vatican launched a rebrand of its communications outlets: consolidating their platforms and creating a new logo. Across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the Vatican releases daily papal news to its followers.
But branding is much more than a newly designed logo and consolidation. An effective brand tells a story that serves to create an emotional connection to its followers.
The trick to branding is to tell an authentic story that people buy into because they love the mission, values and genuineness.
Now, more than ever, the church could use some serious rebranding. Its message has remained the same for ages, and its message will never change, but what’s lacking is the emotional connection within segments of the population.
In this time of healing, perhaps we’re given the chance to reframe our conversations surrounding the faith.
The Catholic Church, as my brother has consistently preached, is not solely constituted of its ministers. Priests and the religious do not create the church. It is composed of so much more: we are “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”
Let’s take this opportunity to encourage conversations about Catholicism, about what the church teaches and how we can use this moment to reinvigorate our own conceptions of our faith in order to encourage healing.
As I tell my students, answers aren’t forthcoming overnight – we’re in the midst of a long process. It’s the process that matters. And open, honest dialogue is the key.
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.