After retiring as chief executive officer of Euro RSCG Scandinavia, where he masterminded campaigns for Björn Borg’s clothing line and the Stockholm Fashion Fair, Dag Söderberg took on perhaps the ultimate marketing challenge: making religion chic. He repurposed the New and Old Testaments, under the “Bible Illuminated: The Book – New Testament” title, as photo-heavy glossies. The text is mixed with stock imagery, like a Nigerian animal slaughter and an Andy Warhol self-portrait. “The bible is a very powerful object,” said Söderberg, who first produced his version of the Old Testament last year in Sweden (it was a bestseller in hotels and upscale coffee shops). “But it’s a little bit scary, too. It can be very uncomfortable if you see a bible someplace where you don’t expect.”
Söderberg has made sure that the U.S. version is as accessible as possible. “The New Testament” ($30) will retail in Barnes & Noble and Borders in addition to as-yet-unconfirmed boutiques and design stores on Tuesday. The cover features a heavily kohled eye and a series of cover lines suitable to Glamour or Cosmo. There’s “Questions About Marriage” (page 187) and “If Love Gets Cold” (page 260), references to the book of Corinthians and book of Revelation, respectively. Turn to the book of Mark, and such contemporary heroes as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. stare from the pages, as does the do-gooding Angelina Jolie. “This is just a bunch of icons — it’s a message people can relate to,” says Söderberg, adding: “A lot of teenage girls look at [Jolie] as a Mother Theresa.” Furthering its trendiness is Söderberg’s use of the Good News translation, a best-selling version published in 1966 as a Bible that would be readable for non-native English speakers.
Söderberg is the first to admit that fashioning The Book into a coffee-table attraction may have gone over more easily in his secularized homeland than it will in the U.S. He’s betting, however, that consumers weaned on tabloids and MySpace will snap it up. “Just look at how people read or take in information today — it’s the Internet or magazines, and that’s what you…get inspired by,” says Söderberg. The imagery, he explains, is meant to spark debate, as with the photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger taken during his pro-bodybuilding days, accompanied by a quote from the book of Corinthians on foolishness. Even the cover is open to interpretation. “Is it God’s eye? Is it your own conscience you’re looking at?” asks Söderberg. “We don’t know! I just want it to be eye-catching to the reader.”
And while the tome may not possess the gravitas of, say, those black hotel-room Bibles — Söderberg selected an image of a Chihuahua, perched on a pillow in the back of a limo, to illustrate the book of Romans — it has found unlikely fans. “The archbishop of Sweden gave it to the prime minister as a goodbye gift when he lost the election in Sweden last September,” says Söderberg. “Now that’s cool.”