With the 178th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints set to begin Saturday, church leaders will focus on specific doctrinal issues for church members. But the new ad campaign is designed to reach those who know little or nothing about the faith.
Developed by the church in conjunction with Brigham Young University's advertising department, the ads inside publications such as Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report and Sports Illustrated, and targeted at specific geographic markets are a departure from the faith's long-running "Homefront" series.
The new print ad campaign features people who identify themselves and their quest to find God, describing a life challenge that sent them looking for meaning in the divine. "I felt so destroyed by my addiction to alcohol and drugs," writes Jovanny Vasquez, of Bronx, N.Y., in a two-page ad that appeared in U.S. News in the Las Vegas area in August.
Appearing alongside the image of a man dancing with a woman and two children, he continues, "I prayed with all my heart to find a solution to my life. I was at the point of losing my wife and family. The God I was looking for was a merciful God. I wanted to know how to be forgiven."
At the bottom of the page, the church's logo appears in large lettering, with the phrase TRUTH RESTORED underneath in smaller type, followed by mormon.org beneath them both.
The campaign, which has adopted a slightly different format for TV, radio, billboard and Internet advertising, has been running for about eight months in four different areas of the country that correspond to designated LDS mission areas: Las Vegas; Las Vegas West; Independence, Mo., including Kansas City and Wichita; and New York Utica, which includes Albany, Syracuse and Utica.
Kevin Kelly, a former New York advertising executive and associate professor of advertising at BYU, told an overflowing auditorium at the school last week about developing the campaign with the church, with oversight from LDS general authorities on the Missionary Executive Council.
In surveys or pretesting done before the campaign began in those markets, results showed 63 percent of respondents didn't know the main claims of the LDS Church. So in an all-out media blitz, the team sought to "have people keep bumping into our message," Kelly said.
"The idea was that (our) media would do the heavy lifting, and that church members would then just answer people's questions, and if they couldn't answer then they would pull out their wallets."
The campaign includes pass-along cards for church members to carry, with answers to questions about topics including life after death, God's involvement in the world and how to keep one's family and marriage safe and secure based on LDS gospel principles.
After three months of intensive media in those markets, surveys were done again and showed that many more people than before "felt it's possible to answer life's deeper questions," Kelly said. "This was thrilling as an advertiser. People were actually looking for answers and also described the main claim of the church, that Christ's church and its teachings have been restored."
After several months, one mission president reported 76 convert baptisms that he believed were in some way attributable to or had been influenced by the campaign, Kelly said. The ads provided "identified messages that are relevant" to everyday people and increased traffic to mormon.org, he said.
Scott Swofford, director of media for the LDS Missionary Department, said the campaign was designed to target areas of the United States "that best mirror the country as a whole." It includes TV and radio spots featuring "man on the street" interviews, but simply walking up to people and asking them to sign a release and talk on camera or for radio "is almost impossible," he said.
The team called casting agencies that supply extras for film and television, told them they needed a diverse population, and had them send the extras to a street corner at a specified time, he said. "Then we asked them questions about life satisfaction that they had never heard before. They were actually questioned on camera, and it wasn't rehearsed, but these are people used to signing releases and appearing in front of cameras.
"I was shocked at how cooperative they were and how honest in their opinions," he said. "We had a wide variety of people to compare and contrast. Many of them expressed opinions that contrasted their own religious belief."
Their comments, including statements like "I would like to think God knows me," and "I don't think God cares about me," were condensed into radio and TV ads, followed by a voice-over that says, "After centuries of confusion, truth about life's great questions is now restored. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Visit mormon.org"
Swofford said the focus of the campaign is "what are things that resonate commonly among us, and does the restored gospel shed light on your question about life?"
He said eight months "is a pretty short time to decide whether the campaign is working," but the team will continue to analyze data on how it affected people who actually joined the church. "What we do know is that traffic to mormon.org increased from 200 to 300 percent from pretest levels. Of the referrals coming in, many of them are from that site, but we don't have specific numbers yet that say things have improved or changed.
"Whether the net result will be an increase in baptisms we're still trying to figure out where that is."
Early feedback from missionaries, church leaders and members in the test areas is "really enthused. ... Many reported retention (of converts) was better, and we've probably shipped over 500,000 pass-along cards."
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