The National Catholic Review

While in New York City last weekend, it was hard not to notice the strategic marketing campaign by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, across the city. The ads coincide with the intense publicity the church is receiving because of The Book of Mormon, currently the number one show on Broadway and winner of 9 Tony Awards (no, sadly, I did not have tickets to the show). In addition to the show, Governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is leading the pack for the GOP nomination, adding to the national buzz.

The Huffington Post reported on the campaign, which directs people to an engaging website that offers videos telling the stories of people pictured in the ads:

The "I'm a Mormon" campaign, which showcases video and print portraits of young, diverse and energetic Mormons -- and steers clear of images of missionaries in white shirts and black pants or talk of theology -- includes hundreds of ads on top of taxis, in subway stations and at bus shelters around the city. The campaign tested in nine markets last summer and it is going to expand to two dozen this fall.

"There's a national conversation going on about Mormonism and we want to be a part of it," said Michael Purdy, a spokesman for the 14-million member church, which is growing at a rate of about 333,000 members per year, according its own statistics. 

The ads are captivating, energetic, and refreshing; the church is deftly taking advantage of some national press, even when it is less than flattering. And without discounting the creativeness of the church, the ads are also pretty simple, lending to their effectiveness. They show a different side of an oft-misunderstood religion. They seek to tell stories of ordinary people. They evangelize without being in-your-face about dogma and doctrine. 

What could the Catholic Church learn from this campaign? Imagine the possibilities for a campaign of this type. Catholics Come Home is one example of a professional campaign, but it's only scratching the surface of the powerful stories the church could tell. Some Catholics will turn up their noses and claim that a faith as ancient as ours need not stoop to the technological trends of the day, but they are wrong. Using savvy media and marketing campaigns to offer inspiration, hope, and perhaps even gentle evangelization is a smart move. The LDS are preaching in a new way, and doing it extremely well. How will the Catholic Church take part? What are some ideas? What are the stories we should tell? Who are the audiences? Who should pay and manage such a campaign? 

Image: A photo of the ad in Times Square I took with my iPhone. The shot is taken from Duffy Square, named for Catholic chaplain Fr. Francis P. Duffy.  

Michael J. O'Loughlin

 

Comments

Raymond Swenson | 7/27/2011 - 8:05pm
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons"), I appreciate the positive feedback on my church's public relations efforts in New York, which seek to counterbalance the rather scatological and frankly grossly inaccurate and condescending portrayal that Mormons are being given in the musical on Broadway. 

The message of the ads IS simple: Mormons are your neighbors, with families like yours and many similar experiences in the same places where you live.  While this message is simple, it specifically counterbalances a false message, the accusation that Mormons are not really good, ordinary people, but are dangerous and trying to take away your religious freedom.  Those accusations are pure lies, put out by people who earn their livings as professional gossip mongers, and lying to the people who think those liars are giving them some kind of secret knowledge about the Mormons.  It is a social paranoia that should be familiar to anyone who knows the history of anti-Catholic rhetoric and government action in America over the past two hundred years. 

Let me add one observation: When Catholic clergy and laity chime in with the accusation that "Mormons aren't Christians," they are empowering the same people who will turn around the next day and announce "Catholics aren't Christian, either." 

Every Sunday, Mormons gather to sing a hymn commemorating the Savior's sacrifice on Gethsemane.  Then a priest prays to God, asking him to sanctify the broken bread so that the congregation that eats it will remember the body of Christ, and obey Christ's commandments, and have the Holy Ghost with them.  Every member of the congregation then eats a small portion of the bread.  All of the sermons given (by members of the congregation) are given "in the name of Jesus Christ", as are all the prayers that are offered. 

In the Mormon Sunday School, adults and children are taught out of the New Testament.  The Book of Mormon is also used, because it constantly testifies of the reality of Christ, that he is not only our Savior but also the Creator of the earth in his pre-mortal role as Jehovah, which he continues to hold.  In the face of the denials by many modern "Christians" of the reality of the Resurrection, the Book of Mormon boldly affirms that Christ is the God who gave the Law to Moses on Sinai, and fulfilled the Law and superseded it with his own teachings and sacrifice.  Mormons worship Christ, and are "latter-day saints" because they live in the full expectation that the next major event in the earth's history will be, at a time of God's choosing, Christ's return to the earth to reign over it as its king.   

Christ is a real person possessing objective reality.  He is not a figment of anyone's imagination.  Humans cannot alter Christ through any misunderstandings about his nature.  Those who worship Christ do so based on their understandings of who he is, but he is only one Christ, no matter how faulty our understanding of him may be.  You may dispute my beliefs about Christ, but if you claim that I am not worshipping the Son of God, you are lying or accusing me of lying. 

Thus the simple message of the ads:  Mormons are real people, not cultists, and we worship Jesus Christ, with as much sincerity as any Christian of any other denomination.  It is not much of a claim, but it is one that some people want to prevent us making. 
Steve Biggs | 7/23/2011 - 9:43pm
I too am LDS. I love my religion and I love the new campaign. And, I'd love to see some ads from the Catholic Church. Many years ago I enjoyed reading some articles in “Catholic Digest” which I've shared with other LDS people. Joan of Arc's faith and courage brings me to tears. Mother Teresa is one of our saints too. Inspiration knows no bounds. The Christ never engaged in the bickering between the Pharisees and the Sadducees despite the fact that he was more than qualified to take sides. Good news means good news, not “good news for me and bad news for you.” Please find a means to promote your faith and people. Our shared world is becoming increasingly wicked, it would inspire me for you to bring the noble, the good, the courageous and the honorable out of your ranks.
Rachel Martin | 7/23/2011 - 12:06am
I must confess, I am not Catholic (though I have many valued friends who are), but was sent the link to this article by a friend.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I found, and I appreciate it more than you probably could realize.  I am a member of the LDS church, and have been watching from my little corner of the world as Americans have begun focusing so much on ''the blame game'' that we have begun to lose our confidence in who we are and what our prospects are...much less a view of faith and hope for the future.  The ad campaign which you are referring to has been much on the perifery for me (since I don't currently have any tv, nor receive newspapers or magazines), but it has intrigued me as to the response it has had with those both of my faith and those who are not because it seems to encourage people to confidently evaluate themselves and their lives rather than encouraging people to find ''the one at fault'' or ''the one who doesn't measure up''.  Now having had the opportunity to read your article (and the responses), it has made me think that there is hope after all.  I haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing Barron's Catholicism documentary (here's hoping Netflix is able to pick it up soon), but I hope that it and any other media that your church does choose to use will encourage people to once again think with hope and confidence on the future, and what they can accomplish as they begin to greet others with an open smile and tolerant attitude (and forgiving heart for those who don't necessarily respond).  These are the things that I've valued almost as much as the strong faith in the Catholics I've been blessed to know up to now...it would be wonderful to see it once again with all.
NORMA NUNAG | 7/20/2011 - 6:22pm
The Church is the mystical body of Christ.... that's us the laity and those in leadership roles (bishops, priests, deacons, and of course the Pope).  All of us have the responsibility to live the Christian Life.  So, perhaps we should stop to point fingers and play the blame game in regard to the current status of Catholicism. Or we'd just be shooting ourselves in the foot. If I want a vibrant parish, then I should begin with me.  Come to Mass with a big smile and greet everyone present.... if they don't smile back, just say a simple prayer for them and think kindly of them...maybe they are overwhelmed with problems, etc. etc. etc....  and convince myself that it's the right thing to do anyway..... even if inside of me I feel stupid and nutty!   I tried it.... it's a real challenge!   Try it yourself and notice what happens......eventually. 
NORMA NUNAG | 7/20/2011 - 5:48pm
Update:  breakthrough agreement, PBS, public tv executives in Chicago have committed to prime-time broadcasts and nationwide distributions of Fr. Robert Barron's new CATHOLICISM documentary series this fall.....DVD series and study program can be pre-ordered now.... go to www.wordonfire.org
William Bagley | 7/20/2011 - 5:00pm
Part of me is intrigued by the prospect of such a campaign (I'd love to see the church full and vibrant), but part of me asks the question: come home to what?  Or, is it really home?  If American Catholics are too often, and unfairly, seen as ''cafeteria'' Catholics, are they really welcome?  Witness the sad process of vetting the supposedly fresh liturgy.  If my parents asked me home, they wouldn't speak to me in Old English ... at the very least, we'd have discussed it beforehand.  There's no taste in the Church for dialogue. 

No, sadly it's Cookie Cutter Catholics the Chruch prizes.  Cut from one mold, unvarying, very predictable.   

I continue to hold my faith as a great anchor in my life, and I hold to the hope that we might invite people ''home'' to a church that listens, engages and does not judge.  Dialogue, an end to the Communion Wars (the elections are coming, can this be far behind?), a will to understand, to welcome... and to listen... here's hoping. 

ed gleason | 7/20/2011 - 12:04pm
I'm sure a well run campaign to welcome back Catholics would be welcomed by the  Catholic laity. But no Bishop Fulton Sheen is available now. Our present and new crop {A/B Chaput] see themselves a culture warriors who think their main task is to knock all prominent lay Catholics and denigrate the American laity as ill formed with no consciences.  I bet the Mormon campaign has nothing to say  about coffee drinking, boozing "jack' Mormons. All USA bishops should take a course on marketing [for free too I'm sure, at Catholic colleges]
Robert Homan | 7/20/2011 - 2:44pm
''How about promoting the project on CATHOLICISM by Fr. Robert Barron.  It should be shown on PBS in Chicago I think,  and it must be on DVD already.  Check Fr. Barron's website: www.wordonfire.org''


Totally agree, I think this is a big part of the answer.
Nancy Dallavalle | 7/20/2011 - 2:01pm
Amen, Michael.  I looked at the site, watched a few of the vignettes ... they are beautifully done, inviting and deeply wholesome in the best sense. 

Why can't we do this?  More to the point, why can't we see ourselves in this way?
NORMA NUNAG | 7/19/2011 - 11:16pm
How about promoting the project on CATHOLICISM by Fr. Robert Barron.  It should be shown on PBS in Chicago I think,  and it must be on DVD already.  Check Fr. Barron's website:  www.wordonfire.org