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 "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?
Michael J. O'Loughlin