Sunday, August 15, 2010

Branding the faith

KDKA-TV and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review each have a take on the advertising campaign being tested by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- the Mormons -- in several markets including Pittsburgh. Each of these ads -- which I find to be compelling -- feature a person discussing their career, their family, and their outlook on life, and each one ends with the subject giving his or her name and saying, "and I'm a Mormon."

I love this quote in the Trib about the ads from a religion professor:

″Despite the attempt to show next-door, neighbor-friendly (people)... are any of them unemployed, living in retirement homes or extended care facilities?″ he said. ″I know of very few Mormons who have tattoos or body piercings.″ (link)

Unemployed? Yes, that's the sunny message a religion wants to convey to nonbelievers: "Hey, we're just as miserable as you." Besides, I suspect the point of the ads is not just to portray Mormons as regular folks, but to show that Mormons are a far more diverse bunch than what most people imagine. The ads feature believers who are ethnically diverse and from varying professions and lifestyles. In other words, we're not all the Osmonds and Mitt Romney.

Speaking of Mitt Romney, this KDKA story (via @JonDelano) questions whether the ads are meant to help pave the way for the Romney's presidential candidacy. That's a bit too conspiratorial for my taste, though it's certainly not impossible, the church's protestations notwithstanding. Although I trust KDKA's motives in raising the question, that theory has a whiff of prejudice, as though Romney is the candidate of a religion and not a political party. (The same suspicion that JFK had to overcome as the nation's first Catholic president, a comparison often made when discussing Romney.)

However, I would not be surprised if the church, anticipating that Romney's presumed presidential run will again put Mormonism in the spotlight, wants to start answering questions about the faith now and on its own terms. The church may be less concerned with dispelling doubts about Romney than about making it easier for millions of other believers to go about their lives while one of their most famous brethern tries to make history.


David said...

I saw two of these ads run back to back just a few days ago as I happened to be passing by a TV. The one with the tattoos was interesting enough to stop and watch, simply to see what the guy was selling. The last thing I expected was the Mormon church. Doesn't surprise me that they're trying a more mainstream approach after years of being "the weird church out of Utah." I wonder how they'll go about gauging success of the campaign?

Jonathan Potts said...

Well, if they're smart, they would have conducted a baseline perception study, and then they should repeat after the campaign has run its course, to see if there has been any change. I wonder if they will try to gauge how receptive people are to their door-to-door missionaries.