Most of us who have been Mormon missionaries recognize that the LDS church targets people “in transition” (read: vulnerable) because they are the people most likely to be looking for the support of a religious belief system. Such transitions can include deaths in the family, losing a job, depression or mental illness, or financial trouble. It’s an open secret that some missionaries have been known to scour the obituaries in the newspaper to find “golden contacts.”
With its latest ad campaign, the LDS church seems to be admitting, even embracing, this tactic. The campaign, called “Truth Restored,” abandons the “Leave it to Beaver” flavor of their “Homefront” ads, which featured scrubbed people being nice to each other with the tag line, “Family: isn’t it about … time?” Instead we get personal testimonials of those people who found themselves “in transition” before the Mormons rescued them.
A man from Brooklyn tells us, “I felt so destroyed by my addiction to alcohol and drugs. 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.” The solution is obvious: at the bottom of the ad are the church’s logo, “Truth Restored,” and the church’s web address.
One particularly manipulative ad in the New York Times shows a September 11 widow and her two sons. “When that plane hit, my world crumbled. I fell to my knees. I needed to know if God was there. For a moment, I received a feeling that I will never forget. ‘Have faith. All will be well.’ … I had to find that feeling again.” Once again, the church comes to the rescue.
Kevin Kelly, associate professor of advertising at BYU, explained that he and his students had developed the campaign with “oversight from LDS general authorities on the Missionary Executive Council.” They discovered that people are looking for answers to “life’s deeper questions. This was thrilling as an advertiser.” I think what he means is that he discovered that there is a market for what the church is selling.
Test market research was positive: “One mission president reported 76 convert baptisms that he believed were in some way attributable to or had been influence by the campaign.”
The ad’s focus is simple: are you unhappy, confused, lost? Mormonism can help. It reminds me of the “I Love Lucy” episode wherein Lucy hawks a product called Vitameatavegamin on a TV commercial.
“Are you tired, run-down, listless? Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpopular? The answer to all your problems is in this little bottle. Vitameatavegamin. Yes, Vitameatavegamin contains Vitamins Meat Vegetables and Minerals. Yes, with Vitameatavegamin, you can spoon your way to health. All you do is take a great big tablespoonful after every meal. Mmmmmmm….. It’s so tasty, too! Tastes just like candy! So why don’t you join all the thousands of happy peppy people and get a great big bottle of Vitameatavegamin tomorrow! That’s Vita-meata-vegamin!”
You could find the answer to “all your problems” by taking a spoonful of some really nasty syrup. It’s a little trickier with Mormonism: first you have to accept a lot of dubious mythology, and then you have to give your time, your talents, and at least ten percent of your income to a large corporation, no questions asked. But what do you get in return?
I suppose some people get a feeling of belonging or a sense of being part of something bigger than themselves. But the promise is pretty empty. A friend of mine once described the LDS church as the only corporation he knew of whose main product was of absolutely no benefit to its customers.
At least Vitameatavegamin has meat in it.