mormon.org
New advertising campaign for the LDS Church is being tried out in nine U.S. markets, featuring everyday Mormons talking about their lives.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon church recently launched an advertising campaign in nine U.S. markets, including St. Louis and Pittsburgh, that has generated buzz in news reports and blogs in those areas.

The campaign includes ads on television, radio, billboards, bus platforms and in the interior of transit vehicles that feature everyday Mormons talking about their regular lives and their faith. The profiles reach an international audience through mormon.org and via digital and social media, Internet ads, Facebook and YouTube. As part of the campaign, church members are invited to share their profiles on the mormon.org website.

The ads evolved solely from public reaction to past church campaigns, said Scott Swofford, director of media for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Swofford provided answers to recent questions from the Deseret News.

Deseret News:These ads have a very basic message: "This is my life, this is who I am, and I am a Mormon." What message are you trying to help people understand with that kind of message?

Swofford: Well, you can go on and on all day long trying to define yourself in the minds of the public, or you can, in fact, connect them to members of the church. When you do that you see the incredible diversity, the various walks of life that Latter-day Saints are involved in, and they see that Mormon thinking can be as diverse as it needs to be to live their life. Yet surprisingly, if you read the 3,000 mormon.org profiles, you will find those people are very unified in the understanding of what they believe. It is shocking. I expected responses to be all over the place, and they are not. People in their own words are articulating their beliefs better than perhaps we could.

DN: How did the themes emerge or the idea that the Missionary Department needed to introduce Mormons as "regular folks"?

Swofford: The evolution has been interesting. For 25 years (the church) has been doing advertising, including the "Home Front series," which talked about strengthening the family. Then we moved into the phase of direct response, when we would give some product that would enhance their family life or a free Bible or free Book of Mormon. Then "Truth Restored" came, and we said, "Why don't we share tenets of our belief that would be useful to them in their lives and would make their lives strong?" So "Truth Restored" was that effort. Some people were ready for that kind of a communication. Some people were not. Out of that research evaluating whether the advertising was effective came this really strong signal that the best way to dispel myths about us or get our message out to the world was to let Mormons speak for themselves. … People want to hear from Mormons, not from an institutional voice in most cases.

DN: Some of the media have asked, "Why is the church doing this?"

Swofford: People seem to be very curious about the timing. To be embarrassingly honest about the timing, we (just) finally got it ready. It started two years ago when we started messing with this and started realizing what we had learned from "Truth Restored." We said, "How do we get Mormons into the forefront to tell their own story?" We knew from some testing we have done it is a very effective means. You can't refute when someone says, "I believe this." The response is, "I don't believe it, but I have to respect that the person speaking does."

DN: Of course, the cynical among the public would suggest that you are trying to get ready for a Mitt Romney presidential campaign. Is that the case?

Swofford: I can categorically say that Mitt Romney's name never came up in a single meeting in two years.

DN: This campaign's focus is getting people to the website, mormon.org, is it not? Why that connection? Why that use of the Web?

Swofford: It is so interesting. If you follow the history of the church, our methodology has always been to go to the town square such as Hyde Park corner in London or find the middle of the small town and stand up and preach the gospel. The town square is no longer existent; it is on the Internet. So if you are going to communicate about your beliefs, you are going to communicate on the Internet. The great thing about the Internet is it is self-selecting. People can decide to go on there. People, at their own pace and interest level, explore everything from just getting to know Mormons, which there is a lot of on this site, all the way to down and deep into doctrine and official statements, history, belief in Christ, the ways our behavior manifests a belief in Christ. … It is an attempt to go to the level of those who are interested.

DN: Any metrics about what the response has been to the campaign?

Swofford: Overall, traffic to mormon.org is up 300 percent since it launched. If you go to the test markets where we are running ads, it ranges from 400 to 800 percent, so we are driving traffic to the site. We'll see in the long term if that turns into more conversations about our beliefs. Is it more friendships between Mormons and those not of our faith? Is it people asking to chat with the missionaries, which they also do online? All of those could be results, but is too early to project.

DN: What is important for members of the church, as well as people of other faiths, to understand about this ad campaign?

Swofford: If you define someone by their behavior and go back to their beliefs, then we feel really confident that for a church that follows Jesus Christ, our behavior aligns with that standard. The great news about getting to know individual Mormons is that as you observe their behavior, in the aggregate (there are always exceptions), but it is the behavior of people who follow Jesus Christ, and we are very excited about that. The more members who come onto mormon.org to share their beliefs, the more people will understand we believe in Christ, we follow Christ and we expect our behavior to model that. Having said that, we don't expect everyone to be perfect, so we have not made an effort to only show famous or perfect people. You are going to see warts in this campaign, and people aren't used to that in Latter-day Saint communication, and we hope they will be patient and understand we are all fellow strugglers trying to align ourselves with the truth.

Advertising campaign markets

Minneapolis-St. Paul

St. Louis

Baton Rouge, La.

Colorado Springs, Colo.

Rochester, N.Y.

Pittsburgh

Oklahoma City

Tucson, Ariz.

Jacksonville, FlaAdvertising campaign markets

Minneapolis-St. Paul

St. Louis

Baton Rouge, La.

Colorado Springs, Colo.

Rochester, N.Y.

Pittsburgh

Oklahoma City

Tucson, Ariz.

Jacksonville, Fla

Joel Campbell writes a column as the Mormon Media Observer for the Mormon Times. His work appears on MormonTimes.com on Wednesdays and some Saturdays. E-mail: foiguy@gmail.com