The two-woman team behind the sassy, hilarious and occasionally controversial Manhattan Mini Storage ad campaigns are ready to take on a new marketing challenge–and it’s a big one. Archie Gottesman and Stacy Stuart are planning to rebrand Judaism.
“A rabbi once told me, ‘Judaism is a great product, but the marketing sucks,’” Gottesman says. “I couldn’t agree more.”
Over the years, Gottesman has found that the rituals of the Jewish faith can be intimidating, particularly to people who are just beginning to explore Judaism. “From the outside, it looks like there are so many rules and things that you can get wrong,” she says. “It’s enough to make many people just give up trying, even if they were curious about the faith to begin with.”
Stuart, who has worked alongside Gottesman at Manhattan Mini Storage for years, can relate. She has spent most of her life avoiding Jewish rituals because they felt way too complicated. There were too many Hebrew terms that she didn’t know how to pronounce. When she was invited to Sabbath dinner at her friends’ houses, she was worried she might be asked to read a verse or say a prayer; it filled her with anxiety. And would she have to eat the gefilte fish?
Gottesman, for her part, grew up in a practicing Jewish household, but when she had a family of her own, she also sometimes felt overwhelmed thinking about how to incorporate Jewish traditions at home. She wanted to have Sabbath dinners every Friday night, for instance, but she didn’t want them to be formal affairs that involved lots of Hebrew. She wanted them to be fun, enjoyable evenings that her three daughters would want to attend voluntarily, rather than be dragged to. In the end, she just decided to start doing Judaism her own way, approaching rituals casually and authentically. As Stuart observed how fun and relaxed Gottesman’s approach to Judaism was, she slowly changed her mind about the faith and was willing to give various traditions a try.
Gottesman thinks that there are plenty of other people out there who would be willing to give Judaism a try if it didn’t seem so hard. In fact, she’s pretty annoyed that so many people are missing out on a fulfilling faith because Judaism has a reputation for being boring, archaic, and complicated. She points to a 2013 study conducted by Pew that shows that one-third of millennial Jews describe themselves as “Jews of no religion”, indicating that they have given up on the religious aspects of Jewishness. These younger Jews are less connected to Jewish organizations and are much less likely to raise their children Jewish.
As a professional marketer and branding expert, for Gottesman the solution to this problem seemed simple. Judaism needed to be rebranded. Much like she did with storage, Gottesman wants to make Jewishness more fun. She’s planning to do this with funny slogans and eye-catching art. Behind the marketing, the message would be that Judaism can be enjoyable, satisfying, and modern. “I want to change people’s perceptions about being Jewish,” she says. “I want them to know that it can add to their life in positive ways, rather than just being an obligation.”
Together, Stuart and Gottesman have started an organization called Marketing Jewru that they hope will take some of the stress and complexity out of Jewish life. Launched earlier this month in time for the High Holidays, the pair have put together several simple guides to Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Passover, as well as to Shabbat dinner, which takes place every Friday. They are sharing their website with influencers in the Jewish community and using SEO to make sure people find them when they are searching for ways to connect with their faith on the Internet. They hope that people who have been trying to learn more about Jewish life will see how easy and straightforward it can be to take part in these traditions. “We make it very clear that people should feel free to modify these guides as they see fit,” Gottesman says. “We’ve made the guides fairly short, but if a family wants to skip a couple of sections because their kid is getting hungry, they should feel totally comfortable doing that.”
The pair have also come up with what they call the New 10 Commandments of Judaism. And here, they get into slightly more controversial territory. For instance, they urge Jews to be welcoming to people who convert to the faith, and they insist that belief in God is not required to participate in the traditions of Jewish life. But if you consider Gottesman and Stuart’s larger body of work with Manhattan Mini Storage, some controversy shouldn’t come as a huge surprise: the pair have plastered their ads with gay-friendly statements and jokes about conservative political candidates.
“What I would say to people who don’t agree with us is that Marketing Jewru isn’t really meant for them,” Gottesman says. “Belief in God is a complicated thing: catch me on the wrong day, and I might say I don’t believe in God, either. But that shouldn’t stop people who are curious from exploring Judaism and have a satisfying Jewish life. And who knows, faith may come later.”
Gottesman and Stuart managed to make storage cool, and now they’re trying to do the same for the Jewish faith. This time, they have even more tricks up their sleeve. After many years of working exclusively on Manhattan Mini Storage, the pair is launching their own agency called STARCH Branding. Their tagline: “Anything but stiff.”
Marketing Jewru has been instrumental in helping STARCH build its client base. Gottesman and Stuart have had a lot of interest from the Jewish community, and their first client is PJ Library, a Jewish nonprofit. They have more meetings lined up with potential clients, Jewish and otherwise, who believe that if you can rebrand Judaism and storage, you can rebrand anything.