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.