A view from Dave Trott: Jesus H Christ
A view from Dave Trott

Jesus H Christ

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Borja is a little town in Spain, with just 5,000 inhabitants.

In 2012, Spain was in a recession – unemployment up, inflation up, shops and businesses closing.

Spain is a religious country, and the people of Borja looked to their local Catholic church, the Sanctuary of Mercy, for comfort.

One particular lady would come regularly to pray, 82-year-old Cecilia Giménez.

She took comfort from a painting of Jesus on the wall.

It was nothing special: done in 1930 by Elias Garcia Martinez, Jesus in a crown of thorns.

But over the years the damp made the paint peel, and the church couldn’t afford repairs.

So Giménez began retouching the painting herself, where the paint had peeled off.

But she got carried away and gradually retouched the entire painting.

There was just one problem: it didn’t look anything like the original, it looked like a child had painted it, it looked ridiculous.

In fact, it became a laughing stock.

It featured in newspapers, on TV broadcasts, it was ridiculed everywhere as "Potato Jesus".

The name was reported not as the original "Ecce Homo" (behold the man) but as "Ecce Mono" (behold the monkey).

The descendants of the original artist threatened to sue Giménez for vandalism.

But then a strange thing happened.

Tourists began coming to the little town of Borja to see the funny, retouched painting.

And those tourists would spend a lot of money in the bars and cafes.

In fact, it became impossible to book a restaurant or hotel without a reservation.

While the rest of Spain was suffering a recession, Borja was prospering.

So, instead of considering ways to repair the damage to the painting, the church began charging visitors €1 to see it and have a selfie taken.

Plus the church began selling souvenirs with the image on them: €2 for pens, €7 for mugs, €11 for wine.

That income now goes to the nursing home that the church runs for 73 local residents.

And soon the retouched painting became famous worldwide.

At first the BBC reported it as: "A crayon sketch of a hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic."

But others found charm in it – Forbes magazine said it was: "One woman’s vision of her saviour, uncompromised by schooling."

Giménez is now able to use some of the money to care for her 56-year-old son who has cerebral palsy.

She is also able to sell some paintings on eBay and donate the money to the Catholic Church’s Caritas charity.

All of this is from a restoration that went wrong, an embarrassing mistake.

Previously the church had a boring painting, by an unknown artist, that no-one even knew existed.

It was accidentally defaced and 160,000 visitors have paid to see that mistake.

Tens of thousands of people have bought copies of the funny image.

No-one has bought a copy of the original image.

If Giménez had not "defaced" the original, Borja would still be a small town with boarded-up shops and cafes.

It’s a good lesson for all the graduates and academics in advertising and marketing.

The lesson is you can be right, and dull, and invisible.

Or you can be wrong, and funny, and interesting.

People will pay a lot for the latter and nothing for the former.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.