< "I'm a Mormon" Media Campaign

Transcript

Friday, October 14, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

In more image management news, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon Church, has launched a national media campaign. And not a moment too soon. Last week at the Value Voters Summit in Washington, Pastor Robert Jeffries, while introducing candidate Rick Perry, took a swipe at candidate Mitt Romney.

PASTOR ROBERT JEFFRIES:

Mitt Romney’s a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Also putting the Mormons in the spotlight, the Tony Award-winning Broadway show, The Book of Mormon, a couple of Mormon-related TV shows, and, of course, Mitt Romney and John Huntsman, two Mormon presidential candidates.

This month, after a long time in development, the church rolled out its latest effort to essentially re-introduce the faith and its followers.

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TOM NGO:

I am a vice president of research for a major  entertainment company. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a husband and a father. My name is Tom Ngo, and I’m a Mormon.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

The “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign is now featured in a dozen cities around the country. Ron Wilson is the senior manager for Internet and Advertising at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He says there is a huge knowledge gap when it comes to Mormons.

RON WILSON:

Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fourth largest church, fifty percent of the population didn’t really know who we were. And of the other fifty percent, a lot of them were misinformed about the church and the members of the church.

So the goal of the campaign was specifically to help people who have never been exposed to friends or family or acquaintances that were members of our church, that were Mormons, to give them that opportunity.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Tell me how you developed this campaign. What did your market research uncover?

RON WILSON:

We just weren’t relevant to a lot of people. They just didn’t think of us. And when they did think of the term “Mormon,” top of mind was family oriented.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

That’s a good thing.

RON WILSON:

That was a good thing. But then there were some bad things: secretive, some said we were a cult, some said we were weird.

Now, what was interesting though is if someone knew a Mormon, it was completely different. That’s when we said, wait a minute, we have got to get our arms around this and figure out how do we allow people to have a better experience, or at least understand who we are.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So this new campaign, it’s pretty impressive: a dozen US cities, seven states, ads on TV, buses, billboards.

RON WILSON:

Yeah, I mean, our website Mormon.org, we redid it, to help people have an opportunity to interact with a Mormon. It was important to us to, if you can’t have your own Mormon friend, we’ll give you a virtual Mormon friend.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So when you say “virtual Mormon friend” you’re not talking about a computer-generated Mormon.

RON WILSON:

No. [LAUGHS]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

You’re just talking about connecting people online.

RON WILSON:

Exactly.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

The campaign that I’ve been watching on YouTube doesn’t seem to be about the religion and all. The theme seems to be, I’m just normal, nothing weird here, right?

RON WILSON:

Yeah, that’s a lot of it. Some of it is specifically, hey look, this is who we are. We’re diverse, we’re different. We live all over the world. And there’s one common thing, and that is we believe in Jesus Christ.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

What is it that you think people are expecting, besides the “not a Christian” thing?

RON WILSON:

Well, that’s the interesting thing about it, is that 50 percent of the people don’t have a clue who we are.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Let’s not skate around polygamy. Isn’t that an issue?

RON WILSON:

Oh certainly, certainly. That is one of the misinformation pieces that are out there. And so, without us having to come out and say anything about it, it’s not too hard when you start watching all of these people on Mormon.org who are Mormons, and you see that not one of them has a second spouse, that that’s not true.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

But what’s the power of your website against HBO’s Big Love and the reality show Sister Wives?

RON WILSON:

I think most people realize that those are just programming for entertainment, that they’ve taken a small segment, and in some cases the HBO show, something that’s not based on very much reality, and used it to try to get viewers.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

The church commercials in the 1990s were branding the church as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now the brand is Mormon. I was wondering why the word change.

RON WILSON:

Well there was a disconnect. We did a really nice job of helping people understand that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a family church. But it didn’t do anything to connect Mormons to the church name. So Mormons are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And we realize at this point look, the nickname was given to us back in the late 1800s, and we need to take that and own it and help try to change the feelings about it because most of the people who called us Mormons then didn’t really like us.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

The church says that the new ads are entirely unrelated to Romney’s or Huntsman’s presidential races and that, in fact, the ad campaign was in the works before either of them announced their candidacies. Polls suggests that there is a great deal of resistance among some to electing a Mormon president. Do you hope these ads will help?

RON WILSON:

It has nothing to do with that. I mean, it has nothing to do with Harry Reid who also is a Mormon who’s in politics, who’s on a different side of the spectrum politically.

The church has no position politically. We don’t endorse parties, we don’t endorse candidates. The only thing the church does is it encourages its members to be involved, to vote and to vote their conscience.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And in terms of the cultural spotlight, the TV shows, the Broadway show, and all of the coverage that focuses on Huntsman and, and Romney, do you think this is a net plus, a net minus, a mixed blessing, what?

RON WILSON:

I think it’s just interesting timing. We’re kind of calling it the Mormon moment. And, for whatever reason, everything has collided at the same time. When we originally came up with this campaign and came up with what we’re trying to do, it’s never varied. And it was just to help people understand who we were, and so that they can come to our website and learn more about Mormons and make their own decisions.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

On the website, what’s the most frequently asked question?

RON WILSON:

It wasn’t what we expected but it’s, do Mormons believe in the Bible? And the answer to that is absolutely.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Which one?

RON WILSON:

[LAUGHS]  We, we use the King James version.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

[LAUGHS]  Okay, thank you very much.

RON WILSON:

You bet.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Ron Wilson is the senior manager for Internet and Advertising at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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