Why are Mormons Advertising?

WCCO reporter Jason DeRusha’s Good Question last night was “Why Are The Mormons Advertising?”  I thought DeRusha’s answer to yesterdays’ question about the Mormons was a little vague, and could use some fleshing out.  DeRusha gave some info about the campaign, and mentions that the Church has been running ads since the 70’s.  But that doesn’t really explain why the church is running ads.  The closest he came to answering the question is that “These ads are more like a branding or image campaign for the church…”

Well, sure.  But why is the Mormon church involved in branding or image campaigning?  Why does the Mormon Church care what people think about them?

Another question posed in the article gets a little closer: “I do think it’s weird,” said Marilyn, from Burnsville. “Are they trying to convert us to Mormonism?”

The answer to that question is “Yes, they’re trying to convert you to Mormonism.”  DeRusha & Marilyn are on the right track, but let’s just clearly state the purpose of the ads:

The purpose of the ads is to debunk the idea that Mormons are strange, weird, alienating, reclusive, polygamous, etc. – so that next time you run into a couple Mormon Missionaries, or meet a neighbor who is Mormon, you will be more receptive to their message & eventually join the church.  The ads (as well as the sponsoring mormon.org where the ads originate) are primarily a missionary tool. The ads are a response to surveys that have indicated that the only thing people know about Mormons is polygamy – that people think Mormons are weird, or that people don’t associate Mormonism with Christianity. These ads are supposed to let people know that Mormons are normal people living normal lives, and also that Mormons are unique people living unique lives (just not unique in terms of number of wives).

There’s more to the campaign than just the radio and tv spots.  A recently redesigned mormon.org is filled with profiles of everyday rank-and-file Mormons who have answered all sorts of open-ended questions about themselves and the church.

Why, I even have my own profile at mormon.org where I have answered many of the suggested questions about Mormons and Mormonism.  Unfortunately, my profile is still “Pending Review,” so I can’t link to it.  In fact, it has been “Pending Review” for several months now, which I suspect actually means “Reviewed and Rejected.”  [Edit 5:34 PM: Turns out, I had failed to complete all 10 required sections of my profile, not realizing that all sections were required.  I have now completed all required sections, and I also significantly revised some of my previous answers.  Learn more about the status of my profile here and here.]

So what do you guys think about the new mormon.org and the corresponding TV & radio spots?  If you’re Mormon, have you created your profile yet?  If you’re not Mormon, what do you think of the ad campaign?  Do they make you want to join the Mormon Church?

26 comments to Why are Mormons Advertising?

  • So what do you guys think about the new mormon.org and the corresponding TV & radio spots?

    It's a free country and I have no serious problem with them trying to do what they believe is God's work via advertisements but I honestly and seriously believe that they have to have better things to spend their members' monies on than ads about a 30 year old skateboarding down a city street.

    Do they make you want to join my church?

    No, in fact they make me less likely to want to join your church. My own beliefs as to what God would want apparently differ greatly with what the majority in the upper echelons of the Mormon church believe. Spread the word as you wish but remember that others are not as receptive to your methods as you may want them to be and by trying to "hip" up a message you're possibly even degrading what many are drawn to in the first place.

  • Liz

    I am a Mormon and actually like the campaign. Many people think that Mormons are weird or polygamists. I think the campaign does a good job of showing interesting, normal people, who you may be surprised to learn are Mormon.

    The only thing that I don't really like about it, is that it seems to mimic the whole "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" campaign with the tagline at the end "I'm a Mormon." I think it could have been a little more clever and not copied a campaign that the public is a little sick of to begin with.

    It will be interesting to see what happens long-term with the campaign, but overall I think it was a good idea from the LDS church and a MILLION times better than the "Family … isn't it about time?" campaign. Just my few random thoughts :).

    Nice blog post, Reuben. I've been wanting to blog about it too, but now I don't need to 🙂 I can just read yours. Peace out.

  • @Bill – you're right that these ads have got to be pretty costly to run, especially if you include production costs, and the costs of creating & maintaining the parent mormon.org. I think it's entirely appropriate to question whether this is the best use for those funds. The church leadership clearly thinks it is.

    You've also touched on an interesting idea about trying to make the message more "hip." The skateboarder is clearly a unique kind of guy. Unique enough, in fact, that I suspect he wouldn't be taken very seriously in many LDS wards. So I'm curious about the church's decision to hold him up as a model Mormon. In addition, some of his photography is a little controversial for Mormon circles. So using him as a spokesperson is either a wonderful message of inclusion (i.e. "even THIS GUY can be a Mormon!!) or else it's a little bit of a bait and switch (i.e. "this guy will make an interesting video and will get people's attention, but if anyone joins the church because of it, we'll have to tell them not to try to be like him").

  • @Liz – I kind of like the campaign, too (although, like Bill, I question at whether PR campaigns like this are really the best use of tithing funds). The ads really try and walk a careful line to present Mormons as normal, but not too normal. They don't want us to come off as stodgy & boring either.

    I hadn't noticed that it was a ripoff of the "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" thing. Good catch. I'm just glad we're using the term "Mormon" again. Remember 10 years ago or so when they tried to get everyone to quit using the word "Mormon" to describe us? That idea backfired a little. Turns out, we like calling ourselves Mormons.

    So where's your profile? Have you made one yet? Are you going to? I enjoyed making mine, but like I said, I doubt it will ever be approved!

  • The Gammons Family

    So what do you guys think about the new mormon.org and the corresponding TV & radio spots?

    It is interesting to me that this is getting so much airing. One of the goals of Mormonism and many other religions, i.e. Christianity and Islam, is to convert people to your faith. This seems obvious. If you believe that something is true and that it is a life or death issue, then you naturally want to convince others of your viewpoint. I don't think this is really the best way to go about converting people to Mormonism though. None of the ads talk about the tenants of the Mormon faith. None of them present the truth claims. The ads are more like, "If you want to be like this person, become a Mormon."

  • @Gammons (the whole family) – Yes, I agree that it's entirely reasonable that the Mormons place a huge emphasis on converting people to Mormonism. It's also true that none of the spots really tell you much about the tenets of Mormonism. I think this really speaks volumes about how much Mormons generally feel misunderstood – they feel like their biggest obstacle is overcoming polygamy stereotypes or people confusing them with the Amish rather than people disagreeing with the doctrines of the church.

  • Dez

    I tend to stray away from the conversation about religion, but from a campaign perspective I don't think they could have done better.

    As opposed to other Christian religions the Mormon faith has stigmas that they don't deserve.

    For that reason, they needed a campaign.

    This campaign is setup right. The website looks professional and extremely on topic. It makes them approachable and makes people ask questions that they want to help answer.

  • @Dez – I agree entirely with your assessment of the campaign.

  • Ren

    I noticed when it aired last night at one point WCCO mistakenly had "morman.org" on the screen when talking to the SLC spokesperson but it is corrected on the video on the website today.

    I thought it was funny, though understandable, that someone was paranoid about Romney. He made some choices when he was governor in MA that weren't lock step in line w/ traditional LDS beliefs. Too bad he's went further to the right since then.

    The ads they have chosen are definitely not mainstream Mormons and that is appealing but for those of us who know as much, it does seem a little "bait and switchy".

    It wouldn't exactly be as appealing to have an ad featuring a woman driving a minivan saying, "I'm a stay-at-home mom of 5 – with one more in the oven *wink*, I gather signatures against gay marriage, I belong to the only true church on the face of the earth, and I'm a Mormon."

  • @Ren – HA minivan mom. You Nailed It.

  • @Everybody – see edited portion of post above.

  • I haven't seen the campaign because I don't watch commercial television, but I'll comment anyhow.

    I have stereotypes about Mormons. But these ads won't change them. Basically every single Mormon I've met is a super nice and genuine person. Like super nice. Like always smiling and friendly and just so nice. They are also smart. And well spoken.

    The problem, for me, isn't what Mormons act like or how they are perceived, it is straight up religious beliefs. I don't believe the things the Mormon Church believe and I'm not going to. Not that I don't believe in God or Jesus, because I do, I'm just not a believer in the things Joseph Smith said or did. I don't care that others believe in those things, it just isn't what I believe.

  • I wonder if they'll ever use me in an ad.

  • @Kassie – My guess is that you (and others like you) that are well informed about what the church believes are not the target audience for these ads. I think that Church leadership is convinced that there are plenty of people out there who don't have any idea what the modern LDS church is all about and aren't interested in learning because of ill-informed notions about polygamy and other topics.

    @J G-W – HA. we can hope. John, I would be honored to endorse your profile video. I've long thought you would be a perfect candidate for a Mormon Stories episode.

  • Ren

    There was an awesome ad last night for a Harley rider sculptor guy. I wish he was in my ward!

  • marla

    i love that you did a blog post on this!!
    my coworkers have made comments about this and asked me why the church is putting up so many ads… and i was a little surprised about how mainstream the ads were — they used to be only on cable or remote channels… and i have to admit, i liked them. they were sweet. however my coworker is like i don't see any other religions advertising themselves, why do you advertise? because you want people to know you are normal? i said i guess… 🙂 anyway i tried to set up a profile and i must've missed a step because it's still pending so thanks for that tip — i will go in and check it. i like that the church is doing something different — and that it's so mainstream. it does remind me of the mac/pc commercial. and my coworker said she was going to submit a ad that says hi i'm joyce and i like cats and i'm jewish. 🙂 so it's a bit of a comical thing now…
    overall i'm not sure that people thought we were weird… i think they just didn't care… so i'm not sure these ads are going to help. i used to be nervous telling people i was mormon but usually the response is a shrug and oh that's nice. people a) don't really get the gravity of what the means of b) don't care.
    i love being a mormon. i'm proud of it. and i want people to at least get the chance of hearing what we believe, even in a little nutshell so i hope that the commercials will encourage people to talk to the missionaries… because i sure as heck wish they would’ve talked me more when i was on MY mission 🙂 it would've made street contacting a lot less painful.

  • Ren

    @marla The United Methodist Church did tv ads (at least in the Midwest) for at least a couple years in the last decade. If you search on YouTube for "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors" you can find some of them.

    The more of these ads I see, I like them. They put a face on the church that's more relatable to me.

  • Ren

    To clarify, the more of the LDS ads I see, I find them relatable.

  • I'm surprised Jason didn't make a corollary to the United Methodist Church ads that ran a few years ago (remember random people handing out wrapped presents to strangers?).

    Frankly, I think marketing any religion on TV is vaguely creepy, but that's just because I'm agnostic. However, more power to the Mormon church for using media to get their message out, it's not the first time by any means.

  • @Marla – yes, my experience has also been that most people I meet couldn't care less that I'm Mormon.

    @Aliecat – it does seem like there's something strange about advertising religion on TV. i think it's probably that were just used to seeing ads for commercialized stuff that an ad for something serious like religion just seems out of place.

  • Anonymous

    I don't care about the ads, but I think it makes the church look desperate for members.

    I have educated myself on most religions and know more than most people(gentiles) about the origins of Mormonism and the scam artist (Joseph Smith) that started it. Believing in Ghosts telling you where ancient hidden golden plates are and deciphering them into a bible is ludicrous.

    But, kids believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause too, so it's not much different.

  • @Anonymous – don't hold back on us. Tell us how you really feel.

  • marla

    i don't get. why people get so mad/worked up about the advertising or people becoming mormon…
    i just wonder if they need a hobby or something else to focus on or…
    i don't think it will never make sense to me.

  • Shawnie

    Conspiracy theorists crack me up. Let's be fair. Why is there so much anti-Mormon propaganda, what about the money spent on that? Is that so you WON"T join the Mormon church? Ulterior motives aside, there is so much mis-information on the internet about Mormons, it seems logical to balance it with factual information from the Mormon people themselves.

  • I'm going to call a spade a spade here.

    I think the ads are clever, after all, they were created by a very successful advertising agency, and they didn't come cheap.

    I suppose I would rather see a religious organization spending money on good causes instead of (probably millions) on an ad campaign.

    While I love my LDS friends, I do not trust the church. I think these ads are timely. Frankly I think the church is trying to cover its ass on the mess that they created over 8 and also to beef up the possible run of Mitt Romney.

    I know people (church members) will deny this, but that's what I think it is.

    I actually would have more respect for the church if they embraced the "peculiar people" concept. It's okay to be different, and who cares if people call you 'weird.' Also, by portraying members as fun people who like to skateboard there's a lot left out: temple ceremonies that are very different than mainstream faith rituals, the church's stance on polygamy after death, and of course their political stances on gay marriage and interracial marriage.

    It's sort of sad, reminds me of the weird kid who spends high school trying to get into the popular crowd by changing themselves.

    Be who you are. And people are really going to see through the political agenda, weather or not the church wants to admit it or not, that's what most people (or Minnesotans that I've read on news story comments) have said.

    And hopefully Romney will never be president 🙂

  • Crispy Critter

    Everytime I see one of these Mormon ads I think:

    1. Mormons want to change their image.
    2. Mormons need more members.
    3. Advertising religion in general belies the whole concept of a "personal" God. (An omnipotent, omniscient being needs help??? Really??)

    True, Though these ads, I may feel less socially biased towards Mormons as individuals, but no ad is ever going to change my mind that Mormonism is just yet another re-mix of earlier religions.

    IE, Christianity is Judaism mixed with Mithraism, and Judaism is based on bronze age monotheism like Zoroastrianism, Islam is based on Judaism, Christianity,etc, Voodoo is based on Catholicism and native carribean religions,etc.

    A little knowledge of the history of world religions is enough to see through the smoke and mirrors of their claims of divine source.