Does Advertising Campaign Enhance or Dilute Mormon Brand?

Guest post by Rex Whisman.
Republished with permission.
[Note from Chino Blanco: Cross-posted here because I’ve just finished listening to Kyle Monson’s “Publicity, Advertising, & the New Mormon.org” at BCC, and reading Kaimi Wenger’s “The Angel and the Internet” at Times & Seasons, and I think Rex’s questions might provide useful jumping off points for engaging those two Bloggernacle posts here at MSP.]

A couple of days ago I read about a new advertising campaign for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer read, Mormon ads trying for a new brand. When I see the word brand equated to the word ads I always get a little nervous. Why? Because way too many people, including semi-professional marketers, associate the words brand and branding with the words marketing or advertising.

When that happens the brand goal is usually not met. Is it the organization, the organization’s marketers or the writer of the story that does not realize that a brand is your name, what your name stands for and the associations that people make with your name when they see or hear your name? A brand is not a logo, tagline or advertising campaign. A brand is not even your strategy, should you choose to take the time to develop one.

Unlike many others, religious organizations have an advantage because they have a built in mission and set of core values that is usually understood by their stakeholders. When creating awareness or developing a strategy to place the organization in a 21st century context, the best way to do so is to establish a brand platform that captures the essence of the organization by engaging your stakeholders in the development and execution of the strategy. Then deciding what is the best way to communicate that essence to your target audience. Creating traditional advertising campaigns that try to make the organization look hip with little regard to their mission and core values are not sustainable.

I think for those who are not Mormons, the organization is probably misunderstood and does need to educate people. If an advertising campaign reflects your mission and core values and is a way to inform and help ensure sustainability then I say go for it. If the advertising campaign is an attempt to try and make Mormons look cool without a brand strategy, then I say don’t waste your money. Trying to be cool is what everyone else does so why try to look and sound like everyone else? Brand Champions are recruited and retained when they connect to what you stand for, not what you look like in a 30 second spot on a surf board.

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Chino Blanco

--- We are men of action, lies do not become us. ---

20 thoughts on “Does Advertising Campaign Enhance or Dilute Mormon Brand?

  1. The LDS, or should I say LD$, knows what it’s doing. The ads were placed in selected mid-market cities where people are less likely to have ever met an actual modern-day Mormon dentist or accountant. IMHO, the ads were intended to diffuse the prarie-dress polygamy weirdness that many people still associate with mainstream LDS. If that was the goal, they succeeded in part, but they also opened the box to reveal that they do run the Church like a corporate brand, with unpaid staff and 4 million suckers paying tithe.

  2. The ad campaign is interesting, but problematic. Most people like the Mormons they know, they don’t object to the people but to the doctrine, policies and political activism of the Church. A few friendly face ads won’t change that.

    Interesting too that so many of the women featured are professional mothers who are likely given guilt trips in their own congregations for not being stay at home housewives. Kind of a bait and switch there.

  3. Arthur,

    In two paragraphs, you’ve neatly summed up the two prior must-read posts on this topic:

    Holly Welker: Mormon PR Campaign: Do Good Individuals Equal A Good Church?

    John Dehlin: A New Church? The New Mormon.org PR/Marketing Campaign

    That noted, I’ve got an inchoate quibble with Armand Mausss well-known assimilation/retrenchment cycle that I’d like to flesh out here (specifically, I’m thinking that mormon.org is an example of how Mauss’s model has outlived its usefulness). But I’m an amateur, so I could use any help/insight others might be able to provide.

  4. I said this on Facebook, too, but Andrew (from the profile Chino linked in the first comment) is a friend and definitely not a willing patsy for the church’s disingenuousness. I actually know a bunch of fringe-type Mormons who are really just kind of playing around with the mormon.org profile system to see if they can get their unorthodox ideas published. Some have been rejected. Here’s another one that surprisingly went through.

    So, I wonder what is happening here. I suspect there is someone at a cubicle who is “called” to review these answers and either bless or reprove betimes with sharpness. I doubt the answers cross the eyeballs of anyone with real ranking authority in the church. So… are these unorthodox answers getting through as a subtle subversion by the reviewers, or by accident, or because the reviewers actually think this is an acceptable approach to Mormonism, or because the church at the middle management level is actually more comfortable with unorthodoxy than we thought? Needless to say, the fact that such diversity is now being displayed as the broad spectrum of Mormons – to the public – as if you could really live as a fully active Mormon with these feelings and be accepted and happy… well, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  5. I agree with Rex’s assessment overall, especially this:

    When creating awareness or developing a strategy to place the organization in a 21st century context, the best way to do so is to establish a brand platform that captures the essence of the organization by engaging your stakeholders in the development and execution of the strategy.

    I think that the rigid leadership hierarchy + correlation has crippled the CoJCoL-dS’s ability to build energy and ideas from the bottom up. Basically, the members are expected to applaud every bit of nonsense that the COB broadcasts. All the COB knows how to do is astroturf, and that doesn’t work today (in the Internet age) the way it might have in the past.

    @4 I know what you mean about Mauss. I think the “assimilation/retrenchment cycle” explains part of what’s up with the CoJCoL-dS, but it misses the heart of it. So if everybody always reaches for that model first, it makes it more difficult to analyze the COB’s strategy (or lack thereof).

  6. Clay – You know, at this point, I’d suggest reaching for a little Amaretto to balance out the bitterness, and let mormon.org evolve. And I’m a total hypocrite for saying that because I was one of the first to start digging for any outliers over there that might provide fodder for an indignant blog post. That Andrew is your friend (i.e., one of the good guys) suggests that we all really ought to lay off and let Mormons of all stripes have their say at mormon.org and revisit that site in a few months.

    Chanson – That’s the nub, the rub, isn’t it? Guys like Kaimi and John Dehlin and the whole bloggernacle peanut gallery are stakeholders in their own right, yet here they are trying to figure out what this particular strategy is supposed to mean. It’s not that their analysis is suspect, but that their relationship to the brand is upside-down.

    In any case, thanks for the comments. I’d encourage anyone reading here to take a moment and also weigh in over at Kaimi’s post.

  7. A journalist assigned to the Jerusalem bureau takes an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall. Every day when she looks out, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. So the journalist goes down to the wall, and introduces herself to the old man.

    She asks, “You come every day to the wall. How long have you done that and what are you praying for?”

    The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning I pray for world peace and then for the brotherhood of man. I go home have a cup of tea, and I come back and pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.”

    The journalist is amazed. “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” she asks.

    The old man replies, calmly, . . . “Like I’m talking to a wall.”

  8. An MBA candidate, not getting his way, complains to an administrator, Im the customer! Why are you treating me so badly?

    To which the administrator responds, Youre not the customer. Youre the product.

  9. Good grief, I just spent several hours raking a guy over the coals who I now actually admire for his final comment. This is me bowing out at T&S. That said, I’m gonna drop this here on the off-chance that Armand wants to come over to MSP and reply to my last concern: aggiornamento works if you’re Catholic, but Mormons don’t have the option of seriously seeking ressourcement.

  10. So are these unorthodox answers getting through as a subtle subversion by the reviewers, or by accident, or because the reviewers actually think this is an acceptable approach to Mormonism, or because the church at the middle management level is actually more comfortable with unorthodoxy than we thought?

    Or because some departments in the COB are following the reaction to the campaign on the Internet? And the realized that strictly-correlating the profiles was leading to more bad press than they’d get if they allowed a few unorthodox answers…?

    Chino @10 — I went and followed up that discussion with a comment of my own. 😉

  11. That noted, Ive got an inchoate quibble with Armand Mausss well-known assimilation/retrenchment cycle that Id like to flesh out here (specifically, Im thinking that mormon.org is an example of how Mausss model has outlived its usefulness). But Im an amateur, so I could use any help/insight others might be able to provide.

    The FAQ and a number of other sections on the mormon.org site do strictly correlate, so it doesn’t seem like the site actively displays the diversity. It’s there if you look for it, as any website that allows user input is going to deviate from strict correlation. Real life will never correlate 100%. I think Mauss’s response to chanson is important, because he points out that allowing deviation is actually part of correlation. We should probably keep this in mind every time we talk about the Church as “top down,” because there is always an element of bottom-up in play, too. But the catch is, as chanson has noted, that the “creative tension” doesn’t just exist; it is fashioned. Mauss knows this, but he’s a believing Mormon, an insider, so he has no quibble with this process.

    What comes to mind here was when Antonio Gramsci wondered why Karl Marx’s revolution never came to pass, he realized it’s because a ruling class can continue to rule provided they maintain a creative tension. Control is achieved through consensus, not force. The layout of mormon.org still does what Mauss and Gramsci are talking about. Thing is, the Internet makes the “creative tension” more transparent; it puts the consensus into a quantitative, visual style, rather than a qualitative life-of-the-everyday. Hence, it allows the everyday person to see the Church the way that the higher ups see it; it puts power on display. At some point, another layer may have to be theorized, I think, but this is where I would say I’m an amateur, too.

  12. Some more thoughts: Take the profile of Mormon Woman X, who is pro-female ordination and is accepted onto the site alongside a handful of other such Mormon women. Okay, fine. But then, from the perspective of the oligarchy, they can now get a sense of what is the norm and what is the fringe more readily in order to ascertain what the next step is, what precise language should be used to keep the fringe on the fringe. The Internet is the best tool to gather this information because the Church is no longer regional. But you know, trying to make sense of how this works on a “translocal” level is somewhat confusing, because from what I know of Mauss, he correlates all the locales with the central Salt Lake hub, but I’m not sure that this is the whole picture.

  13. @14 — I’m not claiming that the bottom-up contribution is zero or that correlation allows for zero variation. I’m saying that — if you’re going to analyze cultural trends — then the ways that they’re originated and spread should be a critical component of the theory. That is especially true in the CoJCoL-dS since the top-down component is significantly greater than in many other subcultures.

  14. Apologies for bumping up an old article, but on the subject of fringe members posting profiles, I’m wondering if some fringe members are posing as uber-TBMs in order to make the church look nutty to outsiders. To wit:

    http://mormon.org/me/1X75/

    This guy brings up a lot of stuff that might be controversial to outsiders, but the screeners let him get away with it because he appears to be rock-solid faithful. I admit it’s difficult to tell if he’s fringe or dead-serious. Perhaps the screeners gave him the benefit of the doubt.

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