Sorry, Mormons, but this is nuts.

The Boston Globe: The Mormon image campaign

Times Square

And here’s my dozen reasons why:

Quorum of the Twelve

(Memo to the Mormon leadership: Diverse teams cause people not to revert to stereotyping.)

Plus one for a baker’s dozen.

Local Mormons weigh in: Im a Mormon and I am here in New York and I really wish the church would pick some other place to advertise.

But it’s not just Mormons. God’s Favorite Musical is driving evangelicals like John Mark Reynolds nuts, too.

All signs point to Mormonism becoming the first American religious movement to go supernova.

Chino Blanco

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

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56 Responses

  1. kackyful says:

    Wait, that can’t be for real? The billboard at the top? ARE you kidding me? In Times Square? What an embarrassment for them!

  2. Chino Blanco says:

    It’s for real. And an argument I was having with a member of the LDS church on Facebook is what prompted this quick post.

    Even though 84% of Americans have seen LDS ads, talked with missionaries or received literature, a whopping 49% still have an unfavorable impression.

    My sense is that the folks making the executive decisions with LDS ad dollars are from similar backgrounds as Meg Whitman’s donors. Sometimes, very smart people can give a lot of very plausible-sounding reasons to step on the gas instead of heeding the dead end road sign.

  3. chanson says:

    There’s a certain logic to attempting to capitalize on free publicity like they’re getting from “God’s favorite musical.” Maybe the ad is questionable, but do they have any better ideas?

  4. Chino Blanco says:

    I agree that there’s a logic to it. But as Hellmut was pointing out on that Facebook thread, unless retention improves, all they’re doing is swelling the exmo ranks with these ads when they could be investing in improving the experience for current members.

  5. Hellmut says:

    The problem with the “I am a Mormon” ads is that it creates expectations in the minds of the target audience that will be disappointed if they ever show up in a Mormon chapel.

  6. aerin says:

    You gotta admire their spunk, it is right in line with the missionaries from god’s favorite musical. Satan’s got ahold of times square…gotta knock him off his perch.

  7. Josh says:

    I wonder how much it costs to advertise in Times Square? I know it’s the most expensive advertising real-estate in the world. Anybody know? I would also assume it comes (either directly or indirectly) from tithing funds.

  8. chanson says:

    Hellmut — I agree with you that the “I’m a Mormon” campaign is problematic, as we’ve discussed (perhaps here). However, I’m not convinced that this billboard is more problematic (or ridiculous or whatever) than the campaign already was.

    Actually, the fact that the CoJCoL-dS is intentionally piggybacking advertising on top of the warm-fuzzy free publicity from the musical makes this guy Chino linked to look all the more unhinged.

  9. Peter says:

    I do not think that the Mormon church cares that the ads look silly as much as how effective they are. My guess is that the ads will have a positive impact on the number of pople who check out the church. The enemy of the church is not bad publicity. The enemy is no publicity.

  10. Kari says:

    I wonder how many of the people whose photos are in the ad knew in advance that their photos were being used? Or if the LDS Church’s marketing department just pulled photos from various profiles on As I discussed elsewhere when the site was still in beta, the TOS allows the church to use all material however and wherever they want.

    You understand and agree that if you submit any writing, photo, artwork, text, video recording, audio recording or any other material (Submission) to the site, at any time, you grant to Intellectual Reserve, Inc. and its licensees, successors, assigns and affiliated entities (collectively, IRI) the right to publish and use the Submission. Additionally, you hereby grant to IRI a royalty-free, irrevocable, worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable license to use your Submission throughout the universe in perpetuity, and to reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, display, and to incorporate the Submission (in whole or in part) in other works, in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed. You further agree that while IRI is under no obligation to provide you with credit for the Submission

  11. Alan says:

    It’s not just the photos. They shape your life story to conform to certain formulas (like the following currently displayed): “She was told she couldn’t be an artist and a mother. Her life now begs to differ.” Or, “This poor black kid had no hope. The missionaries found him and now he’s doing just fine.”

    Just the like Church, I imagine will hit a plateau of no growth. Basically people are being herded like cattle through a PR machine. And it’s not like the site can do it differently, because otherwise it would suffer the possibility of unraveling into an uncorrelated space.

  12. Saganist says:

    What’s with not capitalizing the word “mormon” in the ads? Since the LDS church was not able to trademark the word in the U.S. are they now treating it as a generic common noun? I guess this is probably more of a stylistic choice to try to be trendy. Still, it doesn’t make much sense for the LDS church to misuse the word if they’re going to be so touchy about who gets to use it in the first place.

  13. aerin says:

    I think it’s in response to, a.k.a rfm. They didn’t capitalize Mormon, and some years back they were higher in google traffic. That may have changed, however.

  14. Donna Banta says:

    What’s next? Teaching the missionaries to tap dance? 🙂 Looks like they’re throwing everything out there to see what will stick.

  15. Seth R. says:

    A politician once said:

    “Any press where they spell your name right is good press.”

    So…. I guess we’ll just see who has the last laugh here guys.

  16. Chino Blanco says:

    The LDS church isn’t some politico who needs to boost his name ID. The analogy is the well-known politico whose unfavorables are too high to get elected. What’s going on right now isn’t publicity, it’s inoculation.

  17. Seth R. says:

    Sounds good to me.

  18. Chino Blanco says:

    The official explanation for the NYC campaign is posted at the LDS Newsroom.

  19. Maybe they really are trying to break out of stereotyping? If so, as the O.P. noted in the link, this would help.

  20. Chino, thanks for the link. “The effort seeks to break through the stereotypes of what people think they know about Mormons “

  21. Chino Blanco says:

    What happens when an ad campaign introduces an appealing new storyline about an unpopular minority group but actual contact with real live members of the group tends to reinforce the negative stereotypes that the advertising was designed to debunk? The contact hypothesis only works when interaction proves prejudice wrong. The reality is that a lot of what people think they know about Mormons is closer to the truth than most Mormon advertising. Mormons who live in urban centers know the LDS leadership lacks diversity and many are understandably not thrilled with this latest ad blitz.

  22. Seth R. says:

    I don’t really see the campaign as dishonest.

    The campaign wasn’t about the composition of LDS leadership. It was about the variety of people who are Mormons.

    Looks good to me.

  23. Holly says:

    Chino, why do you say that people are “understandably not thrilled with this latest ad blitz” in a link to a post where everyone is congratulating themselves for how great it is? Just curious.

    Had to laugh at this doozy from the BCC OP: “I know I havent been alone in feeling that our story is being told for us.”

    Really? The group with the largest proselytizing force in the world feels its story is being told for it? All those missionaries out there, and you can’t control the narrative?

    Maybe that’s because people see through the phoniness of YOUR version even if you can’t, and are trying to get at the truth.

  24. Seth R. says:

    Incidentally, just last week I was wrapping up a client meeting and shooting the breeze a bit, and the client asked about my religion. I told him and he said he was Southern Baptist and totally disagreed with my religion, but still respected me anyway… etc, etc.

    He mentioned that he thought the new Mormon ad campaign was really well-done.

    Not everyone apparently is as jaded as the crowd here.

  25. Holly says:

    I think they’re really well done. But “well done” and “effective in precisely the ways you want” are by no means always the same thing.

  26. Holly says:

    And more importantly, “well done” in no way automatically means “honest and accurate.”

  27. Alan says:

    Yeah, “well done” in the advertising world has to do with numbers and money; actual people are secondary.

  28. chanson says:

    Chino, why do you say that people are understandably not thrilled with this latest ad blitz in a link to a post where everyone is congratulating themselves for how great it is? Just curious.

    I was kind of wondering that myself. While gathering up my SiOB links, I went back and re-read that post to see if Chino had spotted something in it that I’d missed. 😉

  29. Alan says:

    spotted something in it

    Check out comments 9, 10, 14 and 17.

  30. Seth R. says:

    Yeah guys.

    Except I wasn’t talking to someone “in advertising.”

  31. Holly says:

    I’m not “in advertising,” and the people I’ve talked to haven’t been in advertising either. They can also acknowledge the ads as well done, but it hasn’t changed their opinion of the church or its members.

    I think it speaks volumes that the Southern Baptist you were talking to felt obligated/entitled to tell you that he disagreed with your religion but still respected YOU (but not your religion itself?), “etc, etc,” Seth. Can you imagine saying such a thing to anyone yourself? I most certainly hope not, because it’s not actually much of a compliment.

    The fact is, Mormons’ image is so bad that people feel entitled to pay them back-handed compliments right to their faces, saying,”Even though I want you to know that I disagree with your religion, I don’t hold your devotion to it against you.”

    Yeah! That’s just the sort of missionary-friendly attitude that makes people golden investigators.

    I stand by my original opinion of the campaign.

  32. Seth R. says:

    Didn’t bug me one bit.

    I like a good fight.

    I prefer it to all this other apathetic – “yeah, I’m cool with you because I frankly don’t give a damn about you one way or the other” attitude that the rest of America seems to operate on.

    I’d much rather be polarizing, thanks. And I don’t think I’d prefer to trade places with anyone else in America in this respect.

    At least what I am matters. Not a lot of other Americans can say that.

  33. Alan says:

    At least what I am matters. Not a lot of other Americans can say that.

    Could you perchance elaborate on this statement?

  34. Seth R. says:

    I probably shouldn’t.

  35. Holly says:

    At least what I am matters. Not a lot of other Americans can say that.

    Actually, every single other American can say that. And it says worlds about you that you think that belonging to this particular group entitles you to think otherwise.

    that attitude right there is why the ad campaign isn’t going to help.

  36. Seth R. says:

    Help with what Holly?

  37. Holly says:

    I probably shouldnt.

    Damn straight. Because you’ll just undermine even more all those millions spent on that very expensive campaign.

  38. Holly says:

    Help with what Holly?

    with people not despising Mormonism.

  39. Seth R. says:

    Funny, I don’t encounter a lot of “despising” going on in general. And I tend to get around a lot.

    Of course, every firebrand on the Internet assumes that everyone else in the nation is just as pissed off as they are. Sort of a “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail” sort of thing.

  40. Holly says:

    A Mormon pollster writes a book for a Mormon audience about how much people dislike Mormons and Mormonism.

    But throw out the word “despising” if you wish, and say instead “people thinking as little of Mormons as Seth R. thinks of the vast multitude of Americans who can’t say with his blessing that what they are matters.”

    After all, there are others out there who like a good fight, and who even still won’t tell you to your face what they think of you and your beliefs.

    I prefer it to all this other apathetic yeah, Im cool with you because I frankly dont give a damn about you one way or the other attitude that the rest of America seems to operate on.

    Of course, every firebrand on the Internet assumes that no one else in the nation is just as pissed off as he is. Sort of a to a hammer, everything–even another hammer–looks like a nail sort of thing.

  41. Alan says:

    I dont encounter a lot of despising going on

    My sense is that Mormonism has a bunch of exclusionary structures going on and offers them up as “doctrinal.” A lot of people simply avoid that kind of thing rather than actively waste their time despising it.

  42. barmy stoat says:

    “At least what I am matters. Not a lot of other Americans can say that.”

    Matters to whom?

    I’m not American but I suspect that a lot of Americans wouldn’t be arrogant enough to say what you wrote… it implies that other Americans that are different do not matter.

    That comment comes across as though you’re really quite ‘up yourself,’ as we say.

  43. Seth R. says:

    barmy, you are correct.

    It was a petty and incorrect remark.

    I mostly made it to be inflammatory. Which was a ridiculous thing to be doing – by any measure. Certainly wasn’t worth it, and I shall try to be more measured.

  44. chanson says:

    @30 Thanks — I should have realized it was in the comments. Wow, interesting!

  45. Chino Blanco says:

    D’oh, I should’ve linked to the relevant comments. The BCC post itself is kinda nuts, especially the last graf:

    Ive seen dozens of the Im A Mormon taxi toppers since I arrived in New York a week ago, and my heart leaps every time. To describe my reaction, I find strangely that Dr. Seuss the parablist comes to mind. My leaping heart feels like the joyful clatter of Dr. Seuss Horton Hears A Who when Horton finally figures out how to get the other animals to hear them on their seemingly invisible, insignificant speck. Desperate not just to save their homes but simply to define that their existence is as every bit as real and vital as the animals who loom over them, the Whos unite in a chorus of We are here! We are here! They are not content to let others decide that their speck is too little to have a voice. My own voice might be small, but Im telling my hometown once again that Im a Mormon, and I am here.

    Buying prime Times Square ad space = all the little Mormons in tiny Mormonville uniting to make their voices heard? o_O

    Here’s another graf from that same author:

    … from my anecdotal research from a life lived in New York City, San Francisco and Boston, I have discovered that people in these urban centers see Mormon women as exercising very little agency. Because of doctrinal misunderstanding, media portrayals or our own cultural habits, Mormon women are considered stifled, funneled into a life of motherly servitude and wifely subservience with little opportunity to pursue their own dreams or contribute to the larger world community. Only Mormon women themselves can rectify this terribly erroneous caricature.

    If educated American urbanites hold a particular view of Mormon women as a result of Mormon cultural habits, where is the error or the caricature?

  46. Holly says:

    Because of doctrinal misunderstanding, media portrayals or our own cultural habits, Mormon women are considered stifled

    Doctrinal misunderstanding? Which doctrine are you talking about, Ms. McBaine, and who is misunderstanding it?

  47. chanson says:

    From the article (see the sidebar), this quote kind of highlights one of the problems with the campaign:

    Ill never forget this one woman, said Stephen B. Allen, managing director of the churchs missionary program. When participants were asked how they would feel about doing community service with Mormons, She said Allen adopted a stage whisper if you are serving alongside them, you can ask them the questions you always wanted to ask.

    I don’t see how it will help people who are curious and want to ask their own questions (and possibly even follow-up questions). And did you see the description of that book Holly linked @41?

    He explains that individual members in their daily interactions with others are the key, and that friendly and natural conversations the facts simple claims individual latitude non-threatening invitations gentle mentoring are the ways Mormons can combat distortions, improve their image, and spread the gospel.

    Friendly and “natural” conversations involve “gentle mentoring”…? I know there are occasions where mentoring is natural and desired, but this suggestion strikes me as a little off. If the members really want to be effective at “combating distortions” they would do well to admit that some of the “distortions” are actually coming from the COB — and that’s one of the reasons people look for additional sources (i.e. not just the CoJCoL-dS and faithful members) for information on Mormonism.

  48. chanson says:

    OK, the link in the sidebar is the same as the article linked by Seth.

  1. June 19, 2011

    […] proud or indignant (so some go with both). Suddenly, they’re interested in tolerance. Anyway, the CoJCoL-dS isn’t going to let this kind of free publicity go to waste (though they wish they had more control over the […]

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