PROVO — Whether it’s a bearded motorcyclist who sculpts or a stay-at-home mother raising six kids, the members are the face of the LDS Church, and that will not change going forward.
That was the main message to emerge from a panel discussion at BYU’s Mormon Media Studies Symposium on Thursday regarding the origins and evolution of the “I’m a Mormon” campaign of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“One of the things we have learned is that the face of the church are members of the church, and we’ve made sure that is a really big piece of what we are doing,” said Ron Wilson, senior manager of the Internet and advertising for the church's missionary department. “But we haven’t done the best job of talking to the members of the church, explaining what this is, and that’s one of the reasons we are here today, to try and help get that word out, so members of the church understand what we’re doing, how they can be involved and how they can be part of the conversation.”
The four-member panel included two men from the missionary department and two men from campaign partner Bonneville Communications: Wilson; Steven D. King, of the missionary department; Brandon Burton, vice president and general manager of Bonneville Communications; and Parry Merkley, executive creative director at Bonneville Communications.
The discussion started with a brief history of the LDS Church website, Mormon.org. It was launched in 2001 in preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. For many years, the website’s purpose was to present the basic doctrines of the church.
In 2008, the missionary department and Bonneville Communications led a massive research study that resulted in the global “I’m a Mormon” campaign, which they hoped would reverse the course of stereotypical perceptions.
Burton said the study indicated that there were large percentages of people who walked and talked like Mormons, with simple Christian faith and family values, but they didn’t know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“We were encouraged by that,” Burton said. “But the challenge was those people had no awareness level, and those who had some awareness level had negative perceptions. We landed on the idea of putting the church members on display and started with that foundation.”
The campaign was launched in July 2010. Wilson, designated spokesman for the missionary department, said when the improved website commenced that summer, it still provided the basic doctrines of the church, but also introduced visitors to church members by sharing personal profiles with accompanying video vignettes in which the subjects described their lives and values.
“What we did before was help people know what we believe, but we didn’t talk about who we were or how we lived our lives because of what we believed," Wilson said. "We really wanted to give a better look, almost a 360-degree look, at Mormonism and say this is what our members are like, this is what they believe, and therefore this is how they live their lives. They serve, they do all these different things. It helped people understand better who Mormons are, how they live their lives and how they present themselves.”
Curiosity by nonmembers and media scrutiny regarding the church and its members have increased over the past two years, thanks to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, the "Book of Mormon Musical" and other high-profile events involving Latter-day Saints. There’s no question these events enhanced curiosity, Wilson said.
“Basically, our philosophy is if someone is going to be talking about us, we want to be part of the conversation, wherever that is,” Wilson said. “We contributed to the ‘Mormon Moment.’ ”
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