SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The religion known in the past 30 years for its cutting-edge public service ads on the family has now redefined ways to share its message in a major multimedia campaign.
In ads being run in three test areas throughout the United States, recent converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints share their experiences unscripted and in their own words.
Journalists in the test areas have already asked if the campaign, known as “Truth Restored,” is a response to the current presidential campaign in the United States and the attendant interest in the Church because of the Mormon faith of one of the candidates.
The answer to that is a decided “no.” The Church, which conceived the campaign three years ago, does not take account of political trends and emphasizes its neutrality in partisan politics.
Scott Swofford, media director for the Church’s Missionary Department, says the ads, although successful, didn’t explain what Mormons believe beyond family values. In 2004, Church leaders put together a task force made up of industry professionals from the advertising, media, entertainment, public relations and research fields to answer the singular question, “What message does the Church want to send?”
The result, says Swofford, was a campaign based on a series of powerful questions. “Almost everyone in some point of their life reaches a point where they ask one of these great questions of the soul. Does God know me? Does He care about me? Does He have a plan for me? Where do I go when I die? Do my relationships in this life go beyond the grave? Why does God allow so much suffering?”
These questions constituted phase 1 of the campaign that ran from April to midsummer of this year in three test areas — Kansas, New York and Nevada. Swofford says these places were selected because their populations are a good representation of the United States as a whole.
The phase 1 ads, which were placed on television, radio and billboards and in newspapers and magazines, featured actors recruited from a casting agency who were asked to spontaneously respond to the predetermined questions about God and the purpose of life. Their unscripted responses provided the basis for the ads.
As the people in the ads responded to questions, they raised additional questions that they could not answer. Instead, readers or viewers were invited to look for the answers on www.mormon.org.
Phase 2, just underway, takes the campaign a step further. Elder Quentin Cook, former director of the Missionary Department and recently called apostle in the Church, says this time, instead of actors, those appearing in the ads are all recent converts to the Church talking unrehearsed about their own personal experiences.
“It was important that we do this in an appropriate fashion, in a way that did not cause contention or tear down anybody else’s faith. These are converts’ stories about what led them to the restored Church of Jesus Christ.”
The converts include a widow seeking answers after her husband’s tragic death on 9/11, a heroin addict looking for a way out of drug addiction as she struggled to raise a family on her own and a man identified as “Don.” Don says in his television spot, “I threw myself on my knees, and I closed my eyes, and I said, ‘Heavenly Father, please help me.’ And in that moment I felt like a child again. And the whole weight of everything that had happened in the … the previous 20 years just fell away. And as though someone was sitting right next to me speaking to me, I heard someone say, ‘Welcome home.’ ”
Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, said of the ads in a recent Kansas City Star article, “They are technically well-done, using brilliant advertising savvy but not selling a commercial product. They hit you with this incredibly intense emotional experience, and while you are still feeling it, you can go to the Web site.”
Swofford says directing viewers to Mormon.org is another important innovation in the campaign. Unlike past Church television ads in which the viewer was encouraged to call for a free DVD or Book of Mormon or to request the missionaries, “Truth Restored” leaves it up to the observer to find out more about the Church.
“The landscape of America has changed” says Elder Cook. “The Internet is a wonderful tool for people who want to learn more about Church doctrine to find answers in their own way.”
Mormon.org not only provides information about the Church, but also offers a chat function where visitors can ask questions and receive immediate answers. It’s a function that Swofford said visitors are using.
“I was really surprised how much genuine exploration of what we believe is going on in the chat environment,” he said. “That is really terrific.”
Elder Cook says the campaign has an added benefit for Church members in test areas where they haven’t always felt comfortable talking to their neighbors and friends about their beliefs. “I think the members sometimes feel that because they don’t know everything about the gospel that they aren’t knowledgeable enough to respond to questions. I think they will feel more encouraged to share their own personal testimonies.”
Results for the campaign won’t be compiled until next year, when Church leaders will decide if it should be taken to other cities in the United States. But Elder Cook says he believes it is generating interest because the number of visitors to Mormon.org has increased significantly.
Notwithstanding the outcome, Swofford says the campaign ultimately will prove useful to the Church. “What we’ll learn is how to better speak to those not of our faith and explain what we believe,” he said.
This article was prepared by the LDS Newsroom at LDS.org. Ad images © 2007 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.