Anna Curtis

Yes And: Improv + Advertising

5 days. 40-plus hours. Hundreds of speakers and sessions to choose from. Social Media Week Chicago was a whirlwind of learning, exploring, networking, and more learning. There were many moments that had me dreaming of next year’s event, but one session that stuck with me as an advertiser was Yes, And: What social media, brands and advertising can learn from Chicago’s improv and comedy roots.

At its core, improvisational theater is based on group acceptance – saying yes and accepting everything that happens on stage. This concept has evolved into “Yes, And” – everyone accepting what is happening (saying “yes”) while the skit expands and develops (saying “and…” then adding a new idea to the conversation).

The “Yes, And” ethos sets everyone up for success and guarantees that a sketch builds the momentum it needs to succeed. But it also sets me up for success in the office. Brainstorming? Collaborating with a client? Spit-balling solutions? Choosing a place for lunch? Don’t shut people’s ideas down. Add to and improve them with the “Yes, And” technique.

Don’t stop the idea – take it further and let it evolve from something that may be mediocre into something that is fantastic. Become comfortable with making mistakes and feeling a bit defeated. In the end, the idea you come up with may look nothing like its original seed, but that’s the point. Great things never came from comfort zones.

Marko Knezic

Did You Just Purchase a Product or Buy Into an Idea?

A few days ago I was chatting with a few industry friends about whether the role of marketers was to “tell stories” or to “sell stuff.” I’ll spare you the drawn-out details of this philosophical chess match, mainly because a point-for-point retelling would have the same effect as chugging a large glass of warm milk. But I will discuss the main points, because given the seeming ubiquity of social media and the continued success of content marketing, there is a right answer to this question.

Marketers who believe that the term “storyteller”  fundamentally describes their job have an advantage over those who more closely self-identify with terms like “salesperson.”

Storytellers understand people’s motivations and are able to make emotional connections that are both influential and long-lasting. Salespeople fill an immediate need, provide product information and then are likely forgotten – and we live in a world where success and longevity rule together, hand-in-hand.

(*Note: The point that the best salespeople actually sell relationships – not products – was brought to my attention. Exactly, and I would argue that those relationships were forged by emotional bonding via storytelling, not regurgitating product information.)

Evidence of people’s love for for a good narrative and its effect on their spending decisions can be seen every day. Consider Coca-Cola. Coke is a fixture at or near the top of Forbes list of the world’s most valuable brands, year in, year-out. They didn’t achieve this by simply creating advertisements featuring the product. They arrived and continue to reign over the top spots by emotionally resonating with multiple facets of people’s lives – and using the multiple channels that power our 24/7 connectivity –  via content marketing like AHH.com.

The point is that if you can use intriguing stories (content marketing) to sell people on an idea – why they should invest in your brand – you will have created a more personal, loyalty-generating bond than if you’re simply pushing a product because it’s your job to “sell stuff.”

So, now you’re saying, Philosophy is great but is there any factual evidence to put a definitive end this chess match? I’m glad you asked. A recent Ad Age survey revealed that 71 percent of marketers will increase their content marketing budgets in 2014.

Checkmate.

 

Marko Knezic

Evolution of Theory

I’ve noticed this photo making the rounds on my LinkedIn newsfeed.

I understand the message. I understand the channel and why it’s appropriate. But I also feel the need to hold up a yield sign when this photo is referred to as “the most brilliant photo I’ve ever seen” in the comment section.

I’d be willing to guess that most business-minded people would agree that agility and the ability to adapt are critical elements of any company’s success.

Case in point: Blockbuster Video.

But consider this: Just as important as the willingness to change is the willingness to be grounded in reality and not let philosophy and catchy – but at the end of the day empty – rhetoric dictate the direction of your company.

Change isn’t inherently good. Good is good.

Continuous improvement should always be an objective but it’s been my experience that change for the sake of change will seldom trump actionable strategies and quality process.

At the end of the day, while change and philosophy can inspire, they don’t necessarily yield tangible products or measurable results.

Sure, there’s often a need to use pathos in order to grab attention and make emotional connections with an audience – as is done in the picture above. But be careful not to let every clever phrase and trending philosophy replace the tried and true methods you’ve always used – unless the change is poised to result in a measurable improvement to process and/or final products.

The intent of this piece isn’t to dismiss change or high-level rhetoric.

Think of it more as a friendly suggestion to use those tools as a support piece to a foundation built on strategy and processes.

 

Mark Carlson

Help Me Highlight You

While scanning through a pile of resumes recently, I was surprised to see how few really stood out from the crowd.  How few were formatted in an approachable way.  How few made me want to take the next step to meet the person behind the sheet of paper.

I am not a HR professional; I don’t claim to understand all the nuance of searching and finding great people. And I know that resumes are passé; in today’s world, your website, or your blog, or your book all tell a story about you that is more personal and insightful than words on a piece of paper.  But here’s the catch – for me, your resume is the gatekeeper to all of that rich content.  If you don’t catch me at the resume stage, I may not take the next step to find out more about you in any of those more creative constructs.

So, at the risk of stating the obvious, here are a couple of pointers for helping us (those who are doing the screening) find you (those who want to make it to the “yes” pile.)

  1. Format matters.  Your resume is my first measure of your communication skill.  I assume that how you present yourself to me is the same way that you might craft a presentation to one of our clients.  Take a look at your resume in “whole page” view.  It should be pleasing to the eye – it should invite me in, rather than make me feel I have some work ahead of me.  Is there any breathing room or white space?  Are the sections clearly broken out and easily identifiable?  Think of it as an artful presentation rather than a data sheet, and you’re likely to have more of the content consumed and appreciated.
  2. Edit, then edit some more.  Understand the description of the job that you’re seeking and use that as a guide to make your resume sing.  What are the two or three things that you really want me to take away from your experiences?  Help me find them – don’t make me hunt for the nuggets among the mundane.  Show me that you have the experience to merit consideration, but don’t belabor projects and experiences that blend in at the expense of those that should stand out. I’m going to read your resume with a highlighter in hand.  (That’s right, I’m actually going to print it out.)  Help me quickly find those things that you think I should mark in bright yellow.
  3. Find a way to inject some personality.  There are many ways to do this, and some are better than others – but I need to get a sense of you the person, beyond titles, dates and degrees.  Don’t get too cute here, but once again, give my highlighter something to grab onto.  Give me something to attach to your name – “Oh yeah, she’s the one who ran away with the circus.” (Don’t use that one, unless you know, you actually were a circus runaway…)
  4. Details matter.  It’s really hard to imagine, but I saw typos, grammatical errors, and formatting problems.  Proof your work – there is no excuse for not being meticulous here.  One bad typo, and you could end up in the “maybe” pile.  And do not rely on spell check alone, have a friend read it over with a critical eye.  Save it as a .pdf – you do realize that not all computers have the same font libraries don’t you?  When I open your resume with Word or Pages my computer might just do some auto-formatting, and all of your hard work perfecting the look could be out the window.

Some final points:

  • One page is an ideal length, but two pages are acceptable if your work history merits the second page.  Once again, this should be an exercise in sacrifice and editing, but if you’ve been in the workforce for 15 years, then a second page is understandable.  Do not include a second page to tell me about your paper route, or your role as social chairman of the fraternity.
  • And finally, please realize that cover letters are most often used when a resume is physically mailed to a HR department.  In most cases these days, a resume is attached to an email.  Therefore, your email IS your cover letter – treat it accordingly.

I wish you all the best in your search and career.  I know that there is a fascinating person behind this piece of paper.  So please make it easy for me to place your resume in the “yes” pile.

Michael Jeary

Where have all the silos gone?

Not long ago the advertising business was characterized by a landscape of fiefdoms populated by silos. It was a place where marketing disciplines such as: public relations and promotion, direct marketing and strategic planning, creative ideation and media, were each housed in separate companies and, if not, were certainly grouped in discrete divisions within an agency. Each discipline was isolated from the other; focused on perfecting its own response to a client’s business challenge and motivated by garnering a larger share of a client’s budget.

Today, compelled by shrinking revenues/margins, pushed by consumer-empowering technologies and demanded by impatient CMO’s, those fiefdoms have morphed into sandboxes and the silos have given way to open floor plans where interdisciplinary teamwork is the culture and a fully integrated strategic plan is the common goal.

At Laughlin Constable, we consider ourselves lucky to have forecasted early the impact of these prevailing winds. Today, LC is an independent, fully integrated, mid-size agency. We work with clients of all sizes; across many sectors and disciplines. Our defined and repeatable processes are employed on every client engagement. They are designed to identify the ideal “organizing concept” which is then translated into every element of the integrated marketing plan. Our objective is consistent messaging that connects with the consumer at every step along his or her decision journey.

 

What this means for our clients is a unique agency partnership, where we team seamlessly and efficiently between and among brand strategy, creative, PR, social, digital, media and tracking analytics to develop and consistently execute integrated marketing program in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible.

 

Steve Laughlin

The Year Of Opposing Forces

Steve Laughlin was a speaker at the Northern Trust Economic Trends Breakfast on Friday, January 17 in downtown Milwaukee. For those who couldn’t attend, here are his remarks on the year ahead. 

What no one predicted for last year was that people who study language would discover a universal word that has the same meaning everywhere.  As reported in the New York Times on Saturday, November 9th, 2013, the researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics discovered that across all 5 continents languages all had a strikingly similar word.  What is universally understood worldwide is the word, “huh?”  Whatever confuses us as humans we all react the same.  We say, “huh?” The Max Planck Institute is named after the physicist who came up with the theory of quantum physics.  So you might wonder why they would study psycholinguistics?  Well I have a theory about that.  Physicists are always tackling stupifying questions that leave the rest of us saying “huh?”

Interesting coincidence, though, technology will drive marketers to be more universal in their language in the future.

We do know that regardless of where things seem to be going, they are getting there faster.  Technology is accelerating the pace of change.  According to Moore’s law computing power doubles every 18 months.  The implications for marketing and technology are that expectations will also accelerate for faster downloads and richer content.

I’d like to look at 2014 as a year of opposing forces.  There’s a kind of spy vs. spy backdrop when we think of the collection of big data by big governments or big companies and how vulnerable we might be to those who hack or abuse it. Target is one company very visibly caught between these two forces right now.

Another opposing force is the trend for the big to continue to get bigger, creating a vacuum that will be filled by smaller start-ups creating an opposing force of risk takers and innovators.  This phenomenon has created a brand landscape that can be easily illustrated over a few beers – familiar reference for any Milwaukeean.  If you’re going to buy a couple of cases of beer for a weekend with friends, you might pick up Coors Light or Miller Lite.  Ironically, big market forces mean they now come from the same company.  But, you’d also be likely to throw in a six-pack or two of Spotted Cow, a perfect example of a small, craft beer taking advantage of the opposing force that drives people to also want something special and different.

This same thing is played out in chain restaurants versus a growing movement to locally grown and sourced foods – the farm to table movement.  Or the consolidation of huge package-goods companies while competition springs up from small brands begun by artisans and entrepreneurs.

Another opposing force to watch is the ongoing battle between price and quality.  It’s going to get even tougher through technology.  The ability of people to access the cheapest pricing through the Internet plays into the hands of the low-cost producers, accelerating the decline of companies offering parity products with higher cost structures.  Conversely, the survival instinct will drive competitors to add real value through better service, product improvements or whole new products.

There’s been a lot of media coverage of the growing gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the country.  Beyond the political implications, these opposing forces will impact marketing with even greater price, promotion and packaging competition for existing mass brands and even more innovation leading to added value start-ups and more line-extensions from premium brands.

Technology will be the centerpiece for product innovation.  At this month’s Consumer Electronics Show, appliances talked to one another and to the consumers who use them.  Now you can text your new LG refrigerator and tell it, “I’m going vacation.” Your refrigerator might text back, “Great shall I go into low power mode?” We’ll really have something when it can tell you that you have three eggs, fresh spinach and a bit of feta cheese in case you’d like an omelet when you get home.  You can bet someone is working on app for that.

Last fall, our company needed dozens of inexpensive model lungs to scatter around Seattle, Washington as part of a viral marketing campaign for the Lung Cancer Alliance.  We couldn’t find a vendor to do the job fast enough or cheap enough, so we bought a 3-D printer and made them over a weekend.  If you’re in manufacturing or marketing, you’ll have your eye on 3-D printing’s potential for product development in 2014.

Remember some years ago when people predicted the interactive television?  Your remote would let you stop a program and buy something?  Well smart TVs arrived in 2013, but the real news is that they got smart about delivering content in new ways, bypassing DVRs and Blue-Ray players to let you directly access on-line content sellers.

What’s really interesting is the interaction that was predicted came from other devices. Without interrupting our viewing, we used our phone, laptop or tablet to interact elsewhere.  And not just some of us, Forbes reported that in 2013, over 60% of adults watching television were texting at the same time.

For the first time TV, which is viewed about the same amount of time as ever – about 271 minutes per day – has been surpassed by the use of digital devices.  People spend an average 310 minutes of their time a day on their PDAs.  This might explain why the Internet is now getting 25% of all advertising dollars being spent by marketers.

Marketing is essentially the sharing of information that can lead to a sale, or increase customer loyalty.  In this regard technology and marketing will intertwine in many more ways.  Big data will make it easier to target customers and understand their behavior, those who opt in to marketers will be more willing to compromise their privacy for a richer experience and higher level of service.

Also, in 2013 for the first time, most web searches originated from a mobile device.  This trend could have the greatest impact on marketing and technology initiatives for business in 2014 and beyond.

Businesses will need to create mobile friendly content, instantly available content and richer content. In both b2c marketing and b2b marketing, mobile will drive how customers and consumers interact with your content.  Sales people or consumers accessing product or service information will be expecting everything they seek to be available on a mobile device.

All other things being equal, content management will play a big role in winning and losing in this year’s marketplace.  Basically if you have old data in old places that can’t be combined and shared with new data from new places, you’ll have some new problems.

CRM, or customer relationship marketing, will explode given new technologies of big data and more accessibility through smart media devices to the kind of content that drives loyalty.

Here are a couple corporate opposing forces to keep an eye on to have a sense to where the rest of the marketplace will go…

Google vs. Apple.  This isn’t just Android versus IOS operating systems at war.  This is Google maps versus Apple’s new commitment to an open-source mapping platform out of Europe called OpenStreetMap.

Google has an armada of people and vehicles with cameras roaming the earth to provide real photo accuracy to all their maps.  Open source will let Apple’s platform be updated directly by people in the neighborhood.  For example, local merchants can upload updates depicting changes in business facades as they happen.  Either way, the information we get from search will be incredibly more detailed.

With most searches now originating on a mobile device, it’s increasingly important for the search algorithm to consider the location of the searcher in providing results.  In the future, for device makers and content managers, having the most accurate maps and related content will be a new battleground.

Marketers, the future is now.  Your content has to be mobile friendly and your messaging has to be locally relevant.  Advances in mapping technology are creating a huge opportunity for you.

Netflix versus Cable.  Netflix took on Blockbuster by putting the CD movie library on-line and shipping content overnight for less.  Then they bet the brand and invested in streaming.  Then they raised the stakes and a year ago entered the production business creating their own proprietary content with the show House of Cards.  Last Sunday evening one of their stars, Robin Wright, took home a Golden Globe award for that show.  Marketers, the message here is you need to look ever farther into technology and ask yourself how you can use it to get ahead of the competition.  Those who stick to their business models because it’s what they’re known for – think sending movies by mail – might be reminded it’s really having the best movies and being the only placed to get them.  Another lesson we can learn from Netflix is it’s not enough to aim at your target customer, with the pace of change in technology today, you can’t be afraid to lead that target a bit.  Or you just might miss.

I started with a reference to researchers looking for commonalities in language.  I think they may have overlooked a few universal words that marketers and consumers have known about for years.  They’re called brand names.  Coke.  McDonalds, Hilton, BMW, Nike, IBM even OshKosh B’Gosh have the same meaning on all five continents. English will continue to be the default language of marketing, but because of cultural differences you’ll have to choose your words more carefully than ever.

But there’s another reason choose your words more carefully on the horizon . . . and this is the biggie.

The Oxford word of the year in 2013 was “selfie.” Technology allows us to take more and share more pictures than ever.  Think of the rapid rise of Instagram and Pinterest and then think about the impact they will have on marketing.  It’s the rise of pictures over words. If your product or service gets pinned, there’s a real good chance it will also get purchased.  You’ll be telling your story visually.

These changes are coming fast.  If you want to know how fast just ask the 400,000 people who worked at Kodak a few years ago.  Or the 13 people who worked for Instagram when Facebook gave them a billion dollars for their start-up business just little over a year ago.

So what do I really know about the coming changes in marketing and technology?  It’s that none of us want to be the one standing around afterward who’ll be saying, “Huh?”

Lydia Eichner

240 Films from 44 Countries in 15 Days: Milwaukee Film Festival 2013

Here at Laughlin Constable, our passion for innovative ideas and outstanding creative extends far beyond our doors. As sponsors and champions of the Milwaukee Film Festival, we are proud to support one of the most important cultural events in Milwaukee – no other occasion celebrates creativity, imagination, and art with such enthusiasm. Alongside other Milwaukee advertising agencies like Bader Rutter and BVK, specifically Sara Meaney, Development Co-Chair for the Milwaukee Film Festival, we’ll be jumping in with both feet and exploring the diverse range of experiences this year’s festivities have to offer.

Opening Night Party + Red Carpet Experience: The festival kicks off on Thursday, September 26th with Break Up Man (Schlussmacher), a comedy blockbuster named best German film of the year. Catch the film at the Oriental Theatre, and then head to Discovery World to get down with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and local DJs. Also enjoy drinks, food, and lots of prizes. Not swanky enough for your taste? LC is also sponsoring the exclusive Red Carpet Experience, featuring star treatment, VIP access to a private area of the museum, an open bar, and silent auction benefitting Milwaukee Film.

Cream City Cinema: This showcase of local filmmakers’ work culminates in a yearlong Filmmaker-In-Residence prize awarded to the jury winner. Say you saw them before they blew up – our city’s concentration of filmmaking talent is going places.

Milwaukee Music + Music Documentaries: To contribute to an even lusher multi-sensory experience, musical documentaries are now their own film category – Sound Vision. Plus, the festival’s official live music series, Soundtrack at The Hotel Foster, features live local music every night of the festival – free with a festival pass or ticket stub from the night’s screenings.

For a full list of program categories, click here >> http://bit.ly/180JjbW

For a complete festival lineup, click here >> http://bit.ly/18rJWNP

We’ll be tweeting throughout the festival and live-tweeting the Opening Night events. Join the conversation by tweeting #MFF2013 and share your thoughts on what you see (but wait until the show is over to break out your cell phone).

Why film? Like advertising, cinema is an art form that has the unique ability to impact audiences in almost unlimited ways. Both mediums employ boundless creativity in order to provide entertainment, spark conversations, inspire ideas, and communicate emotions.

The experience of film is at once collective and personal, communal and introspective, social and private. Before the invention of Netflix and before Blu-ray players were even a twinkle in the home entertainment industry’s eye, going to the movies was a necessarily shared experience. Today, we’re seeing cinema come full-circle – it’s never been easier to enjoy, share, experience and discuss films with communities near and far than it is right now. You can see this happening with your own eyes at the Milwaukee Film Festival – a community of film-lovers coming together to experience something great.

Join us for over two weeks of film – we’ll be sure to save you a good seat.

Ilana R. Borzak

It’s (Not) all about the Money

This story begins when Max Ahlborn, a judge for One Show (an international advertising award show), noticed a pattern. Nearly every submission he reviewed included “crescendos of press and blog posts along side a proud announcement that not a single dollar had been spent on a media buy. A pattern that in just a few hours had become, well, slightly cliche.”[1] His critical view of the ad industry’s tendency to overhype page views and no media spend is something I share.

To highlight his point, Ahiborn created and launched a website, nomediaspend.com. He used no money to promote the site, only his and fellow judges’  Twitter accounts. Within a day, the site’s counter hit the 10,000 mark and multiple media outlets covered the story. He even created a case study video, that mocks the typical format advertisers use when presenting and highlighting an ad campaign’s effectiveness. The video uses advertising lingo and sophisticated-looking (read: confusing) charts to create the aura of a marketing success.

This campaign is truly clever. It’s both creative and tongue-in-cheek; a combination that, in this case, generated significant attention. It also ironically highlights his issue: getting people to talk about a brand doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve created a successful and effective campaign.  Other metrics are needed.

Advertising exists to generate sales and increase profit. The amount spent on media is merely a detail, not a goal. A campaign that generates one hundred views, spends nothing on media, and results in no sales is not necessarily better than one that spends $10 for 50 media impressions and generates $20 in sales. Never mind that both types of campaigns incur costs during ideation, production, and maintenance.  Each brand, product, message is best presented in a certain way and through a certain medium. If 100,000 views without spending a cent of media increase sales, great. If it requires buying media, cool. Particularly during our ‘social age,’ it’s easy to get in lost in the metrics of earned media (likes, tweets, shares, etc). But, at the end of the day, we’re here to increase a brand’s profits. And sometimes, but not always, it takes [media] money to make money.

 

 

[1] http://creativity-online.com/news/breels-max-ahlborn-on-being-cheap/149619

Ilana R. Borzak

Scientology as a Brand

You can learn a lot about a brand from its advertising. Here’s a good example:

(1)  Go to Google.com

(2)  Type “Scientology” into the search bar.

(3)  Look at the top paid result. What do you see?

I see an ad sponsored by the Church of Scientology. It reads, “Truth About Scientology  – You’ve heard the controversy.”

Regardless of whatever prior knowledge you might have about the religion, you can easily see that the Church of Scientology is using the ad to defend itself. The Church, like Mormonism, has never fared well in public perception polls, especially in the past couple of years. In response, the Church has turned to advertising, spending unprecedented amounts to combat the negativity and build a positive brand. Even though the Church’s campaigns are reactive, I believe that other religions can learn from Scientology’s attempt to strategically build its brand of religion.

The Church’s first large-scale campaign was in 2008 right after a video of high-profile actor Tom Cruise acting “manic” during a Church ceremony leaked.  Soon after, ad campaign “Get the Facts” launched. This campaign urged viewers to ignore any rumors and go to the Church’s website to learn ‘the truth.’ Subsequent campaigns also launched in the wake of PR crises but use an emotion-evoking strategy and attempt to position Scientology as the provider of meaning. Ads from these campaigns play inspirational music and speak about one’s existential quest for the truth.

In recent months, the media has increased its mostly negative coverage about the Church. In November of 2012, Vanity Fair published an article claiming that the Church controlled and destroyed Katie Holmes’ high-profile marriage to Tom Cruise. Three months later, Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright published his highly publicized investigative book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief. These, as well as other exposés, encouraged critical media coverage.

In November of 2012, just as this media hype was building, the Church of Scientology launched “Knowledge,” its newest ad campaign. While its underlying strategy isn’t novel, Knowledge’s media strategy represents many firsts for the Church and general religion. In November and December of 2012, the Church played a “Knowledge” commercial 16 times an hour in Times Square, including New Years Eve. In January, they sponsored an editorial-like article in The Atlantic and also aired the commercial during the high viewership AFC Championship and Super Bowl.  According to Karin Pouw, the Church’s spokeswoman, near future plans include airing the commercial on other prime time shows like Modern Family, Dancing with the Stars, Glee, and Vampire Diaries. The Church has never used such widespread and public media to spread its message.

Thanks to the Mormon Church’s “I’m a Mormon” campaign, Times Square billboards are no strangers to a religion’s ad campaign. But Knowledge’s other media platforms are and they represent Scientology’s departure from the spiritual realm where religions are supposed to live and its entrance into the commercial-marketing world. Although Scientology is often mocked, I believe other religions can learn from its use of advertising and modern branding. We live in a time when work is replacing religious institutions as the place for social connections (Einstein, 331) and religious membership is dwindling. In many regards, the current religion system is broken. Perhaps it’s time for religious leaders to take advantage of modernity’s offerings and learnings. Brands realized long ago that they need to attract and engage customers to survive. Religions are no different. They need members. Perhaps religions, not just ones like Mormonism and Scientology, should reconsider their marketing strategy.

 

 

 

 

SOURCES

Borzak, Ilana Rae. “Digital Divinity: The Mormon PR Crusade.” Web log post. Http://blog.laughlin.com/. Laughlin Constable, 3 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

Borzak, Ilana Rae. “The Church of Marketing.” Web log post. Http://blog.laughlin.com/. Laughlin Constable, 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

Cook, John. “Cult Friction.” Radar Online. American Media, 23 Mar. 2008. Web. 4 Mar. 2013.

Einstein, Mara. “The Evolution of Religious Branding.” Social Compass 58.3 (2011): 331-38. Web. 4 Mar. 2013.

Orth, Maureen. “What Katie Didn’t Know.” Vanity Fair Oct. 2012: n. pag. Condé Nast. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

Poggi, Jeanine. “Are Scientology’s Ads Aimed at Recruitment or Retention?” Advertising Age. Crain Communications, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2013.

Ilana R. Borzak

Digital Divinity: The Mormon PR Crusade

“What’s your favorite advertisement?”

I hear this question a lot. From friends, family, and people like Mike, the guy who sat next to me on my last flight. At this point, my response is instinctual. [Pause]. Then respond, “the ‘I’m a Mormon’ ad campaign.”

“I’m a Mormon” isn’t known for its success. It never won any prominent awards nor is it particularly successful in transforming the public’s general perception of the Mormon religion. In fact, most of the buzz the campaign generated criticized both the campaign and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the “LDS Church” and “Mormon Church”). Despite these opinions, I admire the campaign because it not only provides clear insight into both a religion’s perception of itself and its desired positioning, but it also challenges our general understanding of how a religion functions.

The “I’m a Mormon” campaign launched in 2009 when the Church’s longstanding tensions with the American public were amplified. During this time, the Church and its members were taking an active role in the political sphere (ex: Proposition 8 and Jon Hunstman Jr.) while shows negatively depicting the religion, such as Big Love and Book of Mormon, were hurting the religion’s reputation. The media did not respond favorably and the Church turned to global agencies to help them with their image problem. The resulting campaign’s strategy is clear: depict the Mormons as an open and all-accepting religion. Members who defy the ‘Mormon stereotype’ (not just Republican, white, and well-educated) weave their personal stories and beliefs into compelling video clips. These were posted in taxis and on billboards (including two 40-foot billboards in Times Square), phone booths, and YouTube. Every ad directs the viewer to a then-newly revamped website — Mormon.org — where pictures of smiling Mormons from all ethnicities welcome the visitor. The site also provides a forum to chat with a Mormon hand-selected based on information one shares with the site. On every page, the visitor is urged to learn more about the religion. Regardless of whether the Church’s base intentions are retention or recruitment, the Church uses this digital-heavy advertising campaign to extend a friendly hand to the secular community of today.

The Mormon Church’s use of a multi-million dollar campaign shifted the religion from our American understanding of the Sacred to the Profane.  American culture and its understanding of social categories are influenced by its Puritan-Protestant beginnings which distinguishes between a physical and spiritual world. Grounded in these beliefs, American culture understands that spiritual institutions, or in this case religious ones, do not employ commercial tactics.[1] To some, the LDS Church’s use of an ad campaign transformed Mormonism from a consecrated American religion into a commercialized brand, like Gap or Dollywood (for which the LDS Church’s agency is also an Agency of Record).  For others, it eroded the distinction between the religious and commercial world. The advertising forced people to accommodate their schematic understanding of the relationship between advertising and religion, Mormonism, or both.[2]

I believe that the Mormon Church was fully aware that the “I’m a Mormon” campaign communicates more than its basic strategy. The Mormon Church’s public embrace of modern forms of communication that major brands of today’s world freely employ separate it from other more ‘traditional’ religions. Time will tell but I believe that while the “I’m a Mormon” campaign might not have accomplished its perception changing goals, it does mark the beginning steps in revolutionizing how we understand advertising and religion, or at least how a religion uses media.

And that is why “I’m a Mormon” is my favorite advertisement.

 


[1] In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber speaks about this phenomenon in his native North Europe where Protestantism is common. He argues this point when describing the rise of capitalism in this area.

[2] Peter Berger’s Sacred Canopy goes into great detail about how a nation’s worldview is shaped by a certain set of common assumptions.