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Are You There God? It's Me, Madison Avenue.How to make an ad for a church.

Thanks to SPS for the link.

The Spot: "You are not your name," says a voice-over announcer, as we see a series of different nametags. "You're not your job." We see people in the uniforms of different occupations. "You're not the clothes you wear or the neighborhood you live in." Images continue to illustrate the litany of things that you are not. "You are a spirit that will never die," the announcer concludes. "And no matter how beaten down, you will rise again." The tag line: "Scientology. Know yourself. Know life."

Seems like it should be easy to make an advertisement for a religion. After all, you've got an incredibly appealing suite of products on offer: inner peace. Sense of community. Eternal salvation. Who wouldn't want to act now, before supplies run out?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been running ads for decades. I have clear memories of a spot from my youth in which Alfonso Ribeiro accidentally breaks a neighbor's window and—with operatic gusto—owns up to the crime. Nearly all the Mormons' ads (including more recent ones) are vignettes about doing the righteous thing. The protagonists tell the truth, spend quality time with their families, and help those in need. Afterward, they feel good about themselves for having behaved so admirably. These ads don't make an aggressive sales pitch but instead attempt to burnish the LDS brand by associating the church with positive moral values. You can expect to find upstanding citizens like these in the LDS fold, the ads suggest.

The New Life Christian Church, which operates from three Northern Virginia campuses, has been airing a string of low-key local spots full of banter about silly, decidedly nonspiritual topics. "What's the word for dried apples?" wonders a woman in one of the ads, noting that while dried plums are prunes and dried grapes are raisins, dried apples have no moniker of their own. "A place for random people," reads the tag line, as an on-screen URL directs us to the church's Web site. This slogan sort of undercuts the gravitas of the church. I'm finding it hard to imagine, for instance, a mosque or temple billing itself as a collection barrel for "random people," instead of a carefully considered choice with profound consequences for one's soul. (On the other hand, it seems like Unitarianism has been successfully pushing the "place for random people" angle for quite some time.) But the goal here is to imbue the church with a welcoming, nonthreatening personality. We're invited to identify with the ads' friendly characters and to imagine they're the type of fun folks we might meet were we to drop in on a Sunday service.
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