LONDON: Digital Cinema Media has sparked a row after it refused to run an ad from the Church of England on the grounds it could offend some viewers, even as a respected industry figure has suggested the Christian church was the "first great global brand".

The Church of England had planned to run its "just pray" ad, which promotes a new website, before the showing of the latest Star Wars film, which opens in the UK the week before Christmas, Marketing reported.

But DCM, which handles the advertising for the Odeon, Cineworld and Vue chains and so controls around 80% of the UK's cinema advertising, has declined to accept it. "Digital Cinema Media has a policy of not accepting 'political or religious advertising' content for use in its cinemas," said a spokeswoman.

"Some advertisements – unintentionally or otherwise – could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith," she added. "In this regard, DCM treats all political or religious beliefs equally."

The Church of England's director of communications professed himself "bewildered" by the decision.

"In one way the decision of the cinemas is just plain silly but the fact that they have insisted upon it makes it rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech," he added.

Adland veteran Sir John Hegarty had a different take on Christianity, arguing at yesterday's Digital Cinema Media Upfront, reported by The Drum, that if marketers wanted a good example of a well-built brand they could as well look to the church as to Coca-Cola or Nike.

"It has the greatest logo," he noted. "If you think about it, what a great brand. They were through the line definitely, they branded the churches with the sign of the cross, [which was] absolute genius.

"They diversified into christenings, weddings, funerals, [which is] brand extension and fundamentally important, and, of course, they went global… the first great global brand."

The analogy didn't stop there, as he suggested the church had effectively advertised the brand by getting the greatest artists and musicians to work for it.

"When you want to think about brand thinking or an example go straight to the Church," he said. "Two thousand years later it's still going and not a lot of brands can say that."

Data sourced from Marketing, The Drum; additional content by Warc staff