Many fans of “The Chosen” were alarmed and upset earlier this week when billboards promoting the popular faith-based television series during Holy Week appeared to be defaced with graffiti that mocked the show.

Producers of “The Chosen” have since come forward to confess it was all part of a strategic marketing ploy to gain new viewers.

What happened?

A few weeks ago, “The Chosen” began an Easter advertising campaign using 70 billboards in cities nationwide.

Then earlier this week, people began noticing that many of the same billboards, which depicted actors from the series, had been defaced with the words such as “The Chosen is boring” and “,” which directed users to a website called “The Chosen is Not Good.”

The URL led people to a commercial, made by “The Chosen,” depicting a Satan character in hell with his demons as they schemed to get people to stop watching the show because of its positive impact.

The idea is to make a devil character to “The Chosen” what Mayhem is to Allstate and cows are to Chick-Fil-A, in the satirical spirit of C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters,” a news release said.

The whole plan was “part of our passion to reach a billion people with the authentic Jesus,” Dallas Jenkins, the show’s creator, writer, director and executive producer, told fans in an YouTube video.

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“We have to reach new audiences, people who have been skeptical of the show, people who haven’t heard about the show, people that are going to now be intrigued and interested,” he said. “We’re already seeing a tremendous response from people who previously were not wanting to watch the show.”

Why did Dallas Jenkins apologize to fans?

Jenkins apologized to fans of “The Chosen” in the YouTube video for not including them on the plan to reach a new audience. He expressed his regret for not informing the show’s core fans about the defacing gag because it caused some unintended confusion and disappointment.

One of the intentionally “defaced” billboards, which was part of a marketing campaign by “The Chosen.”
One of the intentionally “defaced” billboards, which was part of a marketing campaign by “The Chosen.” | The Chosen

“I made a big mistake,” he said. “I want to apologize to you who are watching who saw those billboards, as a core, passionate, loyal fan of the show, and felt defensive of the show ...  and didn’t know that this was us, didn’t know that this is part of the marketing campaign. The reason you didn’t know is because we didn’t tell you and we told you too late. In retrospect, last night, I was up very late, stressed about the fact that I screwed up and there’s no excuse for it. I want to give you my heart on the matter with a sincere apology.”

‘The Chosen’ marketing campaign explained

More than 350 million viewers have watched ‘The Chosen,” but research suggests that many more might become fans if they would give it a chance, said Jeremiah Smith, a vice president with the show.

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“We know from the data that there’s a huge slice of the population that would watch the show, that are interested in Jesus, but they hear ‘Jesus TV show’ or ‘faith-based media’ and they are out automatically,” Smith said. “So we thought, ‘How can we capture their attention and get them interested?’ ‘How can we get them over the line of actually watching the show?’ We landed on satire as the best way to grab them.”

“The Chosen” also wanted to catch the attention of people who hadn’t heard of the show. So they started with billboards, which Smith said they normally wouldn’t do.

“The plan has been to replace those billboards with something poking fun at the show, to introduce the idea of a devil character who’s trying to stop ‘The Chosen’ and doesn’t want people to watch it,” he said. “We knew there would be people going, ‘Whoa, wait, what is this?’ Because we wanted them to check it out.”

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Of the 70 billboards nationally 48 were replaced with defaced versions. Some went up earlier than planned, triggering a reaction from fans.

“We should have responded immediately,” Smith said. “We could have avoided a lot of that because we have a super passionate fanbase. They saw those and went into defensive mode. They might not love the campaign itself,” Smith said. “But they understand it and are supportive of it.”

Since informing their fans, the majority have responded positively. One commenter on the YouTube video wrote: “Relax, Dallas, you didn’t ‘screw up.’ The new marketing campaign is brilliant, and it wouldn’t have worked so well if you’d told us in advance.”

Another wrote: “As a 16-year-old, I totally agree with what your doing. My generation is so different than Millennials and especially Gen X and Boomers. The stuff we find hilarious or intriguing, 30+ adults generally don’t. It’s nice to see that you guys at least somewhat understand my generation and don’t just look down on us.”

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