I am Mormon, and so can You

Everywhere online they pop up where videos are shared, especially the most popular Youtube website. A person starts talking about what they do as a mother, a surfer, a biker, a reporter, and a number of other self-descriptions. Near the end the person will pronounce they are a Mormon like some curtain has be drawn to reveal the big surprise. Most of the videos present people that wouldn’t be known if they hadn’t been introduced this way; and sometimes are quickly forgotten. A few are relatively famous, but not household names.

Related to the now unavoidable videos are a less invasive sharing of messages about Mormon membership. Latter-day Saints all over the world are invited to share their testimony in short texts that are to be read by others. They arguably might be a better way to let others into the lives of Mormons, but much harder to find. Going to lds.org didn’t help. It is easy to find the place to create an account by following Menu/Church/Sharing the Gospel Online on the front page, but it took more digging to actually read the entries.

How successful are these ads? No real statistics have been reported, or what they would mean. It depends on the purpose of the campaign. The few responses that can be tracked seem to indicate better familiarity with the format than any real Mormons. The number of mocking, counter ads, and dismissals indicate nothing has changed on the Internet. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t succeeded offline, but what and how much has not been examined publicly. There are reasons it might not have succeeded like intended.

It has already been mentioned why the text version probably hasn’t worked out well. They are hard to find even on the LDS Church’s own online pages. The videos have larger problems, but not fatal for why they exist. Some personal favorites include Jane, Jeff, and Valentin because of how they represent a change in life because of the gospel. Among my least favorite is Joy(nothing personal) who doesn’t seem to explain how her faith is part of or changed her life.

The argument that they don’t really present typical Mormons is not one of the reasons they don’t seem to work. By stating that the typical Mormon is not represented is based on stereotypes that never existed. All kinds of people are Mormon and active. Even the more “orthodox” or “Utah” variety have an assortment of personalities and life experiences. No two Mormons are the same even with a common faith and value system.

The first missing element is an explanation of what Mormonism is or what it means to believers. Sure, there are good stories like Valentin that show how the Gospel has changed their life for the better. Sadly, there is no mention of Jesus Christ, the Atonement, or the Book of Mormon. It may hint at the normality of the membership, but what makes Mormons different should still be recognized. Again, the various member written (but harder to find) texts do a better job of expressing the internalization of external lives. An improvement would include hybridization of the two approaches. The video’s should end with “for more information click . . . here,” with a link to more substance.

Of course there should be a purpose to any advertisement campaigns or they can be a waste. In this case it is more than the soft messaging that needs improvement. When a viewer gets to the end, then what? What are they to do with the information about a person they will never meet who happens to be Mormon? There are too many guessing games and the expected spoofs are evidence of that fact. They are content without context other than a nickname. Every missionary is taught that after a relationship is developed and a lesson is taught, then an action for the investigator should be extended. It is known as the “will you” question. Surprisingly these are missing. Here are some suggestions:

Get to know us. We are your neighbors, co-workers, friends, and even family. Have you talked with a Mormon today?

You would be surprised who might be a Mormon. Find one today and discover friends are strangers unmet.

Visit www.lds.org and learn more about Mormons like . . . [name of person on video]

Perhaps there are better ideas than the “I am Mormon” campaign. It isn’t bad, but there seems to be missing elements. With the self-made world of personal blogging and social media, Mormons don’t have to be constrained by what the LDS Church develops. In fact, recently they have called for sharing the Gospel as Internet individuals coming up with our own viral messages. Imagine the possibilities.

16 thoughts on “I am Mormon, and so can You

  1. I actually like these ads. I especially like what it’s doing INSIDE the church. I grew up in a church where the stereotypes were gospel, and now the leadership of that same church is showing us that we are all unique, and can still be one.

  2. I think its very shrewd to take ownership of the somewhat pejorative adjective “mormon”. Much like the black community owns n***** and the gay community owns f*****. The church avoided the term for a long time, recommending we say we are “member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”. Which is off-putting both to the speaker and the listener. By attaching “I’m a Mormon” to so many “normal” people in the videos it just plants a stake in the ground (!) anchoring that term to more familiar people. This is video campaign is probably a tactic in a long term strategy, not the entire strategy…

  3. Mark H. that is actually an explanation I have heard before. That these videos are intended for, and perhaps more to, the members than outsiders. As a musician I think you would be interested that Brandon Flowers of the Killers has done his own “I am Mormon” type interviews without using videos. Yes, I really admire him because he is trying without devaluing his talents. He is not running away from his past (and even present?) indiscretions and yet not making excuses while building his faith. His making a video would be awesome, but I digress.

    Of course, I still have problems with these campaigns as the article explains. It would be interesting to see some brainstorming on what other kinds of ads could be made, especially in relation to the weaknesses of these. Maybe come up with complimentary followups.

  4. Craig, I still would rather call myself a Latter-day Saint, and then mention I’m a Mormon if needing an explanation. Its true that we will never get away from Mormon and so might as well accept it, but I use it only in relation to the official name. If I was to end my own video it would be “and I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint . . . a Mormon” to give a full picture. I will never call myself just a Mormon.

  5. I was wondering about the success of these ads too. As far as the regular media commercials, I know someone who had a very spiritual experience regarding those leading him to the Church. I know of others who found the Church though responding to those commercials who may not have been necessarily as touched initially as this individual was. The Holy Spirit can touch lives. However, the human touch is always the best. The examples and testimonies of those we know is the best source. The person who introduced me to the Gospel was not wishy washy in his approach! He also didn’t just give one feeble attempt. Although I knew LDS people, I had misunderstanding that they did not believe in Jesus Christ so I was a little confused when the early commercials said Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also known as Mormons. That was around the same time of meeting my friend.

    I think media is a good way to reach the masses. I even know people who took the missionary discussions because they were huge Osmond Fans. Later, they gained their own testimonies.

  6. The concept seems pretty simple to me. You might be surprised by the number of people that get to know me, find out I’m Mormon, and say something like “you’re a Mormon? I thought Mormons were [insert insanity here]!”.

  7. Jettboy, I worked with Church public affairs pretty closely for several years (full disclosure: not in the last three years, and I didn’t have anything to do with this particular campaign). But I listened to and participated in dozens of conference calls with Church public affairs people. I got to know a lot of the Church PA people in SLC. I attended training by the 70s responsible for public affairs in my area (Elder Burns was one of them). In any case, this “I am Mormon” campaign is completely consistent with the Church’s public affairs policy. The policy really started changing with President Hinckley, who had worked with the press extensively. You may remember he was on 60 Minutes at least once, which was ground-breaking.

    The point of the new Church public affairs policy was to point out that Mormons are normal people, not the weird cult members we are perceived to be by the far right and the far left. The Church played up “Jesus Christ” in our title to emphasize the savior but also to point out we have a lot in common with other Christians and do not worship Joseph Smith. We spend a lot of time on a national and local level (there are Church public affairs people on a stake and even sometimes a ward level) promoting Church service activities. Again, the point is: we are your neighbors, we support the community, we may not drink coffee but we really aren’t that weird.

    As I say, the “I am Mormon” campaign on the internet is a direct result of this new emphasis. I can assure you that the Church has metrics for measuring its effectiveness. (For example, the Church will keep track of how many Books of Mormon are asked for because of on-line campaigns vs. calling an 800 number from a pass along card vs. a TV ad). The Church will keep track of how many people watch the ads and how many Youtube views they get. Content will be tweaked over time toward the more effective ads or media. Church public affairs is not perfect and certainly will try new things to see what works, but there is some thought given to the entire process.

  8. Statistics have shown that before people join the Church they tend to have a number of contacts with members. This campaign creates synthetic contacts.

    It may very well succeed just on that basis.

  9. These ads are strictly a branding effort. There’s no call to action on purpose.

  10. Along the Latter-day Saint vs. Mormon phrasing, I thought it was interesting in General Conference to hear Pres. Packer reiterate the counsel to call our selves members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and not just fall back on the term “Mormon”. It almost seemed to me a slight push-back by him agaist the branding of the ad campaign and Mormon.org, although I wouldn’t really ready that much into it. But it does seem the potential for confusion exists… telling us we shouldn’t call ourselves exclusively as Mormons, and then having a director prompt someone to look into the camera and have “I’m a Mormon” be the last thing they say.

  11. Although it may be verboten in these parts, I would suggest listening to this podcast I recorded last winter with Kyle M, who is an advertising exec for a large firm that is frequently engaged in very similar campaigns for other corporations. I thought Kyle had some very interesting things to say on the campaign in terms of effectiveness, what it would mean to be “successful,” and how the campaign may change over time.

  12. Scott B, oh yes, we definitely forbid all listening to podcasts on other blogs. Definitely. Offenders are drawn and quartered.

  13. I like the idea of not having an actionable suggestion at the end of these adds.

    I think something like what Gary Lawrence suggested in “How Americans View Mormons” is in play here. Basically Lawrence suggested that Mormons learn to be more parenthetical in their exchanges to hint at their Mormonism.

    If the only interaction non-Mormons have with us pushes or invites them to do something, they will never let down their guard. But if we let them decide what if anything they want to do with the information on their own it will pay off in the long term.

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