Blessed Are the Uncool: Evangelicals and A Mormon Ad Campaign

There’s something just not right about a religion launching a national advertising campaign. But this is exactly what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has done. The goal? To demonstrate to the world that the contemporary Mormon church is not “your father’s Mormon church.” Indeed, this ad campaign is designed to reinvent Mormonism for a younger, hipper generation of religious seekers.

One of the characters enlisted to help recast Mormonism for today is Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the band The Killers. Let me be clear: 2004’s “Hot Fuss” was a great album (c’mon, you loved Mr. Brightside, too). And I’ve logged many a mile with 2006’s “Sam’s Town” on my shuffle. Even if 2007’s “Don’t Shoot Me Santa” was more than a little creepy, I have to admit I’ve appreciated Flowers’ music. But that doesn’t make me want to become a Mormon. However, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is hoping the “hip” factor Flowers brings to the ad campaign will help in the church’s recruiting effort. Consider this compelling video that ends with Flowers stating, “I’m a father, I’m a husband, and I’m a Mormon.”

Noting that “the boundaries of Mormon style are expanding,” the New York Times picks up on this story and explains the reason for the Mormon church’s rebranding effort:

The highly visible “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign (the subject of a major push on television, billboards, the subway and the Internet) seeks to quash strait-laced stereotypes by showing off a cool, diverse set of Mormons, including, besides Mr. Flowers, a leather-clad Harley aficionado, knit-cap-wearing professional skateboarder and an R & B singer with a shaved head.

My guess is that this ad campaign is going to be very successful. It will help reinvent the image of Mormonism for a new generation. It will attract people to Mormonism that otherwise would not have been interested. It will win the church new members and help deepen the commitment of those already within the fold. All of this through an advertising campaign.

Of course, evangelical Christians are in many ways doing the same thing–just not on an organized, national level. Individual churches and professing Christians appear desperate to show a watching world (are they watching?) that we can be cool, too. But there are unintended consequences of this effort to make Christianity “hip.” When image becomes paramount it is at best a distraction from the gospel and at worst a distortion of it.

Nobody is “cool” before the cross. At the cross we are undone as we recognize our desperate need for a Savior. If we are to stand before the God who is described in Scripture as “holy, holy, holy” (Rev. 4:8), then the “image” we need is the renewed image of Christ in us (2 Cor. 3:18). The gospel crucifies our swagger and kills our pride. The gospel is not about us becoming more “hip” but more loving as we walk in humble service to our King.

An account executive on Madison Avenue would never draw up an ad campaign like this for Christianity. But that’s just fine because at the end of the day we want people to come to Christ, not to a brand.

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18 Responses to Blessed Are the Uncool: Evangelicals and A Mormon Ad Campaign

  1. joe says:

    Also, the only thing I like about Romney is that he is a Mormon. I know many. Not Christians, but more patriotic, more conservative, than academy-liberal Obama. I’d much prefer a Mormon to a member of the Episc Church USA who is for gay marriage.

  2. joe says:

    It’s just Mormons being seeker-sensitive. “You can’t cookie-cutter” define a believe: they come in all stripes. I don’t believe in Mormonism, but Evangelicals have being doing this forever. “How to be a Christian without being religious”? “I’m a Christian, but I am not extreme…”? Etc etc etc

  3. Mike: You have made some good observations here. In some discussions I have had I have found that the dialogue has even gone to a theological level. “We are not polytheistic at all…we are henotheistic”…The whole issue with Romney has forced me to re-evaluate about how I think about politics.~Will Pershing

  4. Marlene Osborn says:

    Just think what could happen in the evangelical churches in America if every young man in those churches committed himself to a year or two proclaiming the true gospel of Christ throughout the country.

  5. Jim A. Randall says:

    Good point. My concern is that we are about to nominate a man that people are not asking any questions about his Poligimist history or his distorted beliefs. He respects his founders that had fifty or so wives and was a gold digger and made up history that no one can substantiate possibly because his new found religion was so young that it was never tested by time and now our candidate is totally indoctrinated and we are too in a sense becoming indoctrinated because we are falling for it. Where’s the investigative reporting ? The media jump all over a mute issue like birthing, but they won’t touch this one, I guess because of finances, fear of the first amendment and the fact that our nation is not longer grounded in Judeo -Christian values, therefore we really don’t know the differance.Maybe it’s simply because Romney said that he didn’t want to talk about it. So let it slide until theres a watergate, huh?

    • Tiffany says:

      I have to say that I find it suspect that you put not wanting to monopolize a campaign by talk of religious views and Watergate in the category. Obama didn’t want to talk about his religious background except to say that he was a christian. When the media didn’t buy that they hounded him and his politics were completely overlooked. Let’s not make that mistake again.

      • Jim A. Randall says:

        I do not fear monopolizing a campaign with religious rehtoric because in this day and time of instant media, we will not stay there long, but I do fear that people do not know what Mormans believe and they equate it with a Christian denomination when the Mormans deny Christ deity altogether. They are experts in deceiving the public and all I am saying is that the Presidency of the United States is too serious a position to not thoroughly examine a candidate, at least to the point of knowing who he is. After that people are going to vote for who they want to, but it’s not fair when you present yourself as one thing when you are actually something else. The president is our leader spiritually as well as politically. What I meant by Watergate is that once he is elected, it’s too late to back track,he is already in the business of enfluencing all aspects of sociey and the damage is already done. Honesty is paramount.

  6. allan says:

    I appreciate what you’ve shared here, but I think it is rather simplistic to pit coming to a “brand” against coming to Christ. It’s not just one or the other. They aren’t inherently in contradiction with one another. I don’t really understand your statement, “There’s something just not right about a religion launching a national advertising campaign.” Why? Is there something wrong with the Jesus Film or Billy Graham’s ministry because they’ve been viewed on National T.V.? These “brands” have been used by God to allow billions to hear the gospel. Is there something wrong with I Am Second or The Gospel Coalition because they are trying to come up with engage videos that show the relevance and transforming power of the gospel to a new generation?

    As a Christian I would say that our ultimate allegiance must be to Christ, but this doesn’t mean we must abolish or ignore things like modern marketing. If branding and marketing takes people away from Jesus that is bad, if branding and marketing allows more people to hear about Jesus isn’t this exactly what Paul was talking about in 1 Cor 9? Marketing and branding at their most basic levels are neither here nor there, they aren’t inherently moral or immoral. It all depends on what is being marketed.

    For example, the very existence of this blog that you’ve written in is an attempt to start a certain brand. You are using a blogging software (wordpress) that has a brand. This isn’t bad, it’s the world we live in. The question is, what are we going to talk about and promote?

    • Mike Pohlman says:

      Thanks, Allan, for your comment. I do, however, maintain that there is a difference between coming to a “brand” and coming to the person of Jesus Christ. Huge difference. The former is a human creation made through advertising and marketing while the latter is the living God. And the reason “There’s something just not right about a religion launching a national advertising campaign” has to do with the very nature of religion. Christianity, for one, is not a product to be advertised, but news to be proclaimed. And the examples you use of the Jesus Film, Billy Graham, and TGC are not advertising campaigns or brand strategies, but efforts to get the good news out. The “I Am Second” campaign, on the other hand, does strike me as something more akin to the “I Am a Mormon” advertising campaign. Again, thanks for weighing in.

      • allan says:

        Hi Mike. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Perhaps I should rephrase what I said to be more clear. I do not believe that creating a strong brand automatically implies that a person is coming to that brand and therefore not coming to Jesus. You are right that marketing is a human creation, but it is a human creation that can be used to bring Jesus glory in the same way that Paul used the law, freedom, rituals, etc. to draw people to Christ (1 Cor 9:19-23). All of the things Paul alludes to in these verses are man made, but this doesn’t disuade him from using them. I totally agree that we want to draw people to the living God (1 Cor 9:23), but I don’t think this implies anything man made must be stricken.

        In terms of the Jesus Film, Billy Graham and TGC, I respectfully disagree that these three have not attempted to create a brand or develop marketing campaigns. All of them have or have had a very conscious effort to create a brand. The Jesus Film has done huge advertising in many countries and has been played on national T.V. in many countries around the world. The Jesus Film has a logo, it’s got a website, it even has a tour you can go on in Orlando. Everyday on my local Christian radio station I hear ads from the Billy Graham Assoc. They are marketing to me. I’ve seen Billy Graham specials on CBS at certain key times during the year. And you can guarantee that back in the day when a Billy Graham Crusade rolled into town there was a massive marketing thrust alongside it. As far as TGC, why do you think they’ve created such a nice site with their uniquely black and white 3-person interview videos? They’re using obvious marketing techniques to create a brand. When the TGC conference was approaching I saw their ads on a number of prominent Christian websites like Biblegateway. I really don’t see how you could suggest these guys aren’t doing marketing or creating a brand.

        And these are perfect examples of my point. They have created brands, they are marketing those brands, but their brands are ultimately pointing people to Jesus. None of them are trying to gather a following for themselves, or make their name great just for themselves. But they are trying to grab our attention through marketing for the sake of the gospel and people coming to Jesus. Branding does not by necessity contradict coming to Jesus, it can be used in a very redemptive way to actually draw people to Jesus.

    • Great remarks Allan! It’s a very touching video. It never ceases to amaze me how anyone can take something beautiful and make it into something otherwise.

  7. epaenetus says:

    I pray that the evangelical church already went through this phase with Schleiermacher, and no longer feels the need to try and make ourselves “marketable,” or “appealing” to the world.

  8. bfawbush says:

    Maybe they’ll even start a chain of decaffeinated coffee houses!! 😉

  9. Do not, for a moment, underestimate the other Mormon agenda at work here. They want to position Mormonism to appear to be just another form of Christianity, so that they can get their guy into the White House.

    • Jim A. Randall says:

      My feelings exactly.I feel that the American public is being deceived and I blame the
      media for not probing. They at least owe it to the American public to define Mormonism and tell us the truth about their history. I don’t even think the Mormon people know. They probably think that there is a conspiracy and prejudice against them. How could they believe that their leaders were without flaws with their fifty or so wives and greed infested business practices. They have changed the words of the Bible and created a history that cannot be verified.

      • roller says:

        But of course you do know. Those mormons, how could they know what they believe, right? Only the born agains know better. I always find it odd when religions bash other religions….that is the born again way, right? Dedicating classes to make sure their followers know how horrible other religions are? I thought we go to church to better ourselves, to become more christlike. Why don’t we all look inward and stop worrying about what others want to believe. Pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t be trash talking other people who are trying to do the right thing. All the people that I have known that are mormon are nice folks, not hurting anyone.

  10. Pingback: The Lead Singer of The Killers | Denny Burk

  11. John Downey says:

    Good article, I think the Mormon church’s ad campaign has an eerie correspondence to a certain governors political aspirations, meaning of course the timing is less than a coincidence.

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