Ads that don’t suck

While recently visiting a commercial website, I noticed the following advertisement prominently displayed on the homepage:

It was animated and each line appeared as if Zack and Jo were actually chatting. “i had a question no one would answer :-(” Really?

Here is the thing: that ad is a bit embarrassing. After saving a screen shot for posterity, one of the first things I thought, was: “Well, what ad wouldn’t suck?” There isn’t a simple answer. Church ads shouldn’t act like there is nothing going on. We are advertising a Church, and a weird one at that. The Church is rolling out a new this summer, with an associated new advertising push. I have high hopes. But I’d like to do an exercise, in exploration.

What ad wouldn’t suck? I pitched the question to Scott and he came up with a great concept, which I share with you. The hook isn’t, “we have all the answers.” We don’t, and most smart people will realize that. One possible hook is, at least for me, “We are not making this up”:

I can think of a number of Joseph Smith one-liners that would be great…as well as some that probably wouldn’t work so well.

Good: “I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, and administering to the poor & dividing his substance, than the long smoothed faced hypocrites.”

Probably not so good: “Wo, wo, wo to christendom.”

Now any Mormon advertisement online should link to a place that includes a page with simple formatting that includes a brief paragraph on why we are advertising (open and honest), as well as:

  • A link to a brief history of the Church
  • A link to a brief explanation of current beliefs
  • A link to a brief explanation of current practices
  • A contact link (email, IM, whatever)

Feel free to share your ads that don’t suck.


  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    Fun post!

    “Why would a high school kid get up two hours early every day?”

    “Why would a 19-year-old give up his IPod for two years?”

    I’m sure there are a lot of good J. Golden Kimball and Brigham Young one-liners out there.

  2. This is a very smart post.

    I think any of those JS statements should be faded out with a statement from Christ or a testimony of Him. Well, either fade or blink.

    This post made me think of a possibly better post. Church Ads that Suck with some nice offensive one-liners.

    You ever see these? (you have to click through)

    They’re certainly thought provoking and cute… but I always feel a little disconcerted seeing paid advertising for some reason.

  3. I have found the chat box ad a bit weird. Especially because I see it on the pages for some of the webcomics I follow, and the juxtaposition is a bit off-setting.

    However, in defense of the ad, it is advertising a neat feature of that I am guessing many people don’t know about. People with questions can actually chat online with missionaries in the MTC and be taught the lessons from Preach My Gospel. There is a teenage girl who in my ward who has been doing this because she doesn’t want any pressure from her boyfriend while she is investigating (and doesn’t want anyone to think she’s doing it just because he wants her to do so). Her online learning was how I learned about the chat feature, as a matter of fact. It is quite awesome.

    That being said, I do think the internet advertising for the church has a lot of room to grow. Not nearly as full of golden awesomeness as some of the more recent TV spots. (Favourite one is still dad singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” over the phone while working in a factory.)

  4. Alex, I’m sorry to inform you that those Homefront ads are being nixed. But hey, you can still watch them on YouTube whenever you want.

    Another point of praise for the chat feature: it’s staffed by missionaries who can’t serve traditional missions for one reason or another.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Great one-liners. I like the concept; Joseph is a really intriguing figure, but by always using the lowest common denominator type approaches we don’t let that show.

  6. Cool post and great thoughts on ads. Keep it up!

  7. Hm, as interesting and entertaining as the main topic is, I’m hung up on this:

    “a brief paragraph on why we are advertising (open and honest)”

    What are you imagining this would look like? Here are some ideas:

    -You’re going to Hell without this
    -We need your tithing donations
    -We just really, really care about you and want what’s best for you
    -We’re sick of being mocked. We want you to think we’re awesome
    -Prop 8 was a PR nightmare. We’re hoping this will fix it

  8. MikeInWeHo says:

    The United Church of Christ has a series of TV ads that don’t suck. Not sure they’re still running.

  9. Interested in magic underwear?

  10. Ah hell, Vicky. Now who can compete with that?

  11. I really do like those Joseph Smith lines as advertisements. That’s a great idea.

  12. B. Russ, I imagine that you are trying to be funny, but instead you look like a DAMU tool.

  13. I think the church needs to take advantage of the moment. Just think how much traffic ads like “Do Mormons really believe Jesus and Satan were brothers?” or “What does the Mormon church say about social justice?”

    Sure, there’d be potential for a PR disaster if somebody screwed up, but if they did it right, you could give a little positive information to a lot of people really fast.

  14. I’ll try to better cater my humor to your taste in the future.

  15. “’Mormonism’ has made me all I am; and the grace, the power, and the wisdom of God will make me all that I ever will be, either in time or in eternity.”
    ( Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 451.)

  16. “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”
    ( History of the Church, 6:303. )

  17. Sorry, I forgot to put #15 is by Joseph Smith.

  18. I don’t think going with Joseph Smith Quotes would be that effective of an advertising tool. It sounds very similar to the “Truth Restored” ad campaign the church tried about 5 years ago, that didn’t get very far.

  19. I don’t remember that Matt; actually, a history of Mormon advertising would be a very interesting study.

  20. “this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”

  21. To be fair, all I have is some anecdotal comments on that from a fireside a few years back. The speaker was from the Public affairs department and gave the example of a full page ad in a newspaper saying something like your second Joseph Smith example, but more specific to the separateness of the father and the son.

    I do agree, it would absolutely be a fascinating study.

  22. Sunny,

    “a brief paragraph on why we are advertising (open and honest)”

    What are you imagining this would look like? Here are some ideas:

    -You’re going to Hell without this
    -We need your tithing donations
    -We just really, really care about you and want what’s best for you
    -We’re sick of being mocked. We want you to think we’re awesome
    -Prop 8 was a PR nightmare. We’re hoping this will fix it

    This strikes me as overly cynical, to be honest. I am probably one of the more well-wishing, naive sorts but I guess my honest answer to the question of why we’re advertising would be something like this:

    “We believe that we have something very special in our beliefs, and we have found that sometimes it’s difficult to reach people and share that message through all the noise.”

    In other words, I see the list of explanations you gave as reasons it’s difficult to advertise, but not as reasons for advertising in the first place at all.

  23. Mike, I like those UCC ads too. They don’t suck.

    Also, Joseph said so many fascinating things- we could and should use him more. We have, by my observations, an interesting split in the church: From the inside, we adore the silhouette of Joseph- even as a general body we might be kind of ignorant of his complex history. But from without, I see us as sometimes being kind of embarrassed and stammering along regarding him. We need to get over both of those things, if we’re ever going to convince anyone we should be listened to.

  24. I am hopeful about the new program. The new ad doesn’t even come off crazy to me. I don’t think anyone ever looks at an ad without knowing they are selling a product or service of some sort, so wanting the church to have ads that “have nothing going on” is silly. Ads, by their nature are all about that. I also don’t think the ad comes off as trying to say we have all the answers.

  25. I just watched the UCC “Ejector” ad. Awesome. We would absolutely not run that ad. I wish that we would.

  26. I’ve been getting that “conversation” ad on my computer for a few months now- anyone know why?? I’ve been a member for 25 years, since I was a teen. It would seem I could be “better targeted” if the church is sending me an ad, ie I already believe the contents of the ad. So I should be sent an ad w/an uplifting quote or something.

  27. What is the target market for the ads? How effective are they for the target market? I know who the church wants to reach, but who are they reaching in actuality? Can these ads be written mostly for the PR department rather than real people?

    Today the . JWs came by . It is interesting that they are having similar problems. We are spending about 1200 hours per convert also. Can an ad help?

  28. Stapely,

    I am trying to figure out the criteria you are using in implying that the current campaign sucks. Is it entirely because you find the campaign embarrassing for whatever reason?

    It seems to me if we are to measure suckiness (or not) of an ad campaign it should be on the most important metric: effectiveness. If the campaign works then it doesn’t suck. If it doesn’t work then it sucks. And by “works” I mean it attracts legitimate and sincere investigators, which is what I assume the objective of the campaign is.

    As an aside, in my experience some of the most effective web marketing is done by ugly and otherwise embarrassing looking sites.

  29. That is a good point, Geoff. Ads should definitely be judged on the basis of whether or not they get the desired results. Moreover, it could be, as mmiles hints, that I am completely off my rocker and that this post was simply an exercise in hubris.

  30. Scott (22),

    Really? My question was sincere, my answers were meant as a joke.

    I really don’t know what reason someone would give for advertising because it seems odd to me to point out why an organization is advertising. I know Apple is advertising because they want my money (They don’t have a special link announcing this. I’m just smart.). I know certain organizations advertise because they either have a message they feel is helpful or they want my help/money making someone else’s life better. When I see a church (any church) advertise I assume it is because they feel they have something very special to share with people. It would seem odd to me for them to point this out.

    My answers were simply a “why else would we be advertising”, as in, why we advertise seems obvious, unless there’s some other weird reason behind the scenes.

  31. I’d love to skim through the pile of PowerPoint decks that were compiled for the new campaign. I bet the agency has all kinds of great demographic data, non-member sentiment studies, etc.

  32. But wait! Call now and we will send you__not one__But TWO missionaries! It works everytime.

  33. Sunny, that makes sense. I misread your comment. Thanks for the clarification.

  34. #31 Kyle,

    Have some connections into the church department that does demographics. Apparently the church has data and resources for demographic studies but the problem is getting it passed up the ladder. If it is not specifically asked for nothing is offered. No one will stick their necks out to either bear bad news or to suggest anything for fear someone higher up will not like it. This is a common problem in large corporations but in the church it is compounded by the fact that God has already spoken, usually.

  35. I’ve never seen one of those chat ads myself, but I know someone who fairly recently posted on facebook a screenshot of one of those ads that appeared on

    Now that’s hilarious.

  36. I work in internet advertising and that ad is also on an online gambling site. Now THAT’S targeting your ad!

  37. Latter-day Guy says:

    I know a few people who have asked questions via the missionary chat feature. Their responses were all disappointing. Whoever was on the other end was not terribly well informed. It would be interesting to know if the church could utilize some kind of system to route the questions (by subject?) to those who could best answer them.

  38. MikeInWeHo says:

    The Scientologists probably have the best religious advertising these days, at least around here. The production values are top-notch. “The Way To Happiness” ads pop up on my cable system, and always kind of freak me out. This one made me think of the Word of Wisdom.

  39. Actually a common reason, or one of the most effective ways to advertise, is not necessarily to sell product or service but to reassure and overcome the cognitive dissonance that enevitably occurs after you buy something — “should I have bought that… did I make the right decision”

    In that sense, perhaps an effective campaign wouldn’t be a crass “sales promotion” which is designed to get you to call this number or go to that website.

    But to reassure someone that the idea that sparked in your heart to talk to those missionaries (or your neighbor) or the questions you have are good ones worthy of an answer you can find for yourself.

    Certainly there is some component of promotion to ads, but all too often we fall into the trap in thinking that is the full purpose, when many times its much more. You’re speaking to your current target audience and assuring them they’ve made a good choice because your product fits with their values, etc.

  40. If I am interested In a ‘product’, I Google it. Once in Google, I look for a blog or forum about it, and read the opinions of the product. I think a lot of people do this. It make it very hard to make any promotion ad fully believable.

  41. As someone who analyzes internet marketing as my occupation, I find the Church’s attempts at advertising on the internet interesting.

    One of the things I study is the concept of “view through”. What that means is how many (and what type) of ad exposure is necessary before a person will click through on an ad. As Bob says, search engines are usually the final stage before click through, indicating that by the time someone gets to the point of searching on a search engine, they’re pretty far along the path. It’s also interesting to note that the more complex the search term, the more interest is indicated as well. However, most people require multiple exposures to a company through banner ads and other types of more “informative” ads before they will use a search engine.

    It’s somewhat ironic that in internet advertising, the goal of the adverting is getting the visitor to “convert”. Every company defines what it means to convert differently, but I would be interested to see how the Church defines that.

    I met the Church’s lone web analyst at a conference recently, I should ping him and ask how these ads are doing.

    What would be even more interesting would be to see how they might be using retargeting technology. What this means is that if you’ve been exposed to one ad on one website, when you visit another website instead of seeing the same ad again, you might be shown a different ad to follow up on the message of the first ad. It’s more expensive to use retargeting technology, but it’s highly effective.

  42. The United Church of Christ ads: WOW. Wow.

    I know someone who used the chat feature, too. Through my (lame) testimony video, blog, and the church’s online features, she has come very close to joining. In fact, the only thing stopping her is the fear of losing her evangelical parents (and she is an only child).

    I wonder how much the chat feature is used by people who just want to argue and create doubt in the missionaries behind the scenes. I would imagine it would be harder to tell those kinds of people from sincere seekers than when meeting them in person.

  43. #42: “..people who just want to argue …” Once a week, I got the ‘Hot phone’ while working for a big insurance co. Any mad person trying to reach the President of company, was redirected to my phone__boy those were fun days!

  44. If you’re trying to target youth (who would seem most likely to respond to a chat feature) then make sure you let some LDS youth provide substantial input on your ad design. Adults *guessing* what might be interesting to youth is one sure way of producing an ad that sucks.

  45. If you make a good “product”, and it develops a good reputation, it sells itself. If that doesn’t work, sex sells.

  46. I saw the chat ad on Not that I visit that site though…


  47. “I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, and administering to the poor & dividing his substance, than the long smoothed faced hypocrites.”

    Can I get a reference please? I need to use that in my next talk.

  48. I think it is a bit disingenuous to say that the “woe to Christendom” line couldn’t be used, but other can. I’m not quite comfortable with this concept of “spin” about ANY religion. Does a Church really need to advertise like it’s peddling toothpaste? Makes it seem like a big PR scam.

  49. @Martin – I went to a ward last Sunday that was a Cold War-era diatribe about the evils of communism, social justice, the current nation, etc. Not very “we preach of Christ,” but hey, maybe we could outsource our ad campaigns to Glenn Beck at this rate? Ironically, I don’t feel like the “average” membership is in touch with Mr. Monson on this topic, who actually seems to be very pro-assisting the weak and poor. Oh well.

%d bloggers like this: