Ads Targeting the LDS Market

January 20, 2005 | 41 comments
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Since I often listen to KSL radio on the way to and from work, I tend to hear quite a bit of advertising aimed at members of the Church. Most of it is for products that are of little interest to non-members — LDS novels, for instance.

But there are a couple of LDS-targeted ads that stood out because the products were of general interest. And I found myself appreciating one of those ads while disdaining the other.

Men’s Wearhouse has been running some ads with recorded customer calls, with a bit of commentary by the president of the company. (I don’t know whether the calls are genuine or not, and it doesn’t really matter.) One of the calls is from the mother of a missionary, explaining how her son got all the clothes he needed from Men’s Wearhouse. The president of the company talks about how Men’s Wearhouse can meet the needs of missionaries.

Maple syrup is not, as far as I know, a pancake/waffle topping peculiar to Mormons. But Land of Joseph Pure Maple Syrup has ads mentioning that their maple syrup came from a place in Vermont near Joseph Smith’s birthplace.

So why did I like the Men’s Wearhouse ad and dislike the Land of Joseph ad?

Men’s Wearhouse is a national company headquartered outside of Utah, but I assume this ad was made specifically for the Utah market. Other, non-LDS targeted ads run here as well, but I liked the fact that the company was paying sufficient attention to the market that they understood about missionaries.

Land of Joseph’s ad felt like a marketing gimmick to me. Buy this maple syrup because Joseph Smith was born nearby!

After tracking down their website (which, strangely enough, is http://www.timesandseasons.net), I found myself even more annoyed by this, found on their Historical Setting page:

In the early spring of 1820 a fourteen year old boy went into a grove of trees. Most of the trees were sugar maples and some of those trees were more than 400 years old. In that spring the boy and his family harvested one thousand pounds of maple sugar.

Land of Joseph Pure Maple Syrup is a celebration of what happened in that grove of trees.

Leaving aside the fact that particular grove of trees was in New York, not Vermont, is it really appropriate to be using the First Vision as the basis for marketing maple syrup (or any other product)?

But maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe we should just count ourselves lucky the company is not based in Palmyra, manufacturing Sacred Grove Pure Maple Syrup.

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41 Responses to Ads Targeting the LDS Market

  1. William Morris on January 20, 2005 at 12:02 pm

    Eric:

    I think you are overreacting. After all, the owner of the company has authored a piece for Meridian Magazine that uses weather reports and maple sugar production cycles to pin down the date of the first vision.

    It’s not just a Mormon kitsch product. It’s Mormon apologetics kitsch.

  2. danithew on January 20, 2005 at 12:03 pm

    How odd that the maple syrup company would even make a point of saying most of the trees in the sacred grove were maple syrup trees. I wonder if that even is true.

    My grandparents served a mission as tour guides at the Vermont site where Joseph Smith was born, so my family went there several times to visit with them. It’s a beautiful area and the visitor’s center there does sell jugs of Vermont Maple Syrup. But I don’t recall any direct connection being drawn between the Joseph Smith story and maple syrup at that time. :)

  3. William Morris on January 20, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    More marketing copy:

    “In the Land of Joseph, according to a natural order, there is a time between seasons when winter is going and spring is coming. A place where fog swirls from the river, across the meadow, and into the woodland. A time when nights are freezing and days are thawing. A place where sap flows. A time when nature offers the sweetness of a tree.

    Land of Joseph Pure Maple Syrup comes from this time and from this place.”

    I find this completely fascinating — the marketing copy is directly drawn from the research (which I link to above). Not that that is unusual for a company, but the research in and of itself doesn’t point to any *need* for a product.

  4. Ryan Bell on January 20, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    Eric,

    Actually, I think you’re underreacting. This is pandering and profiteering in its most disgusting form. To detect and seek to satisfy a need among the LDS demographic (a la Men’s Wearhouse) is simply business sense. It’s wholly another thing to invent a product that has absolutely no special value (over other brands of maple syrup) beyond its tenuous connection to a place tenuously connected to a man who is connected to the divine. Maybe they can sell water from the Susquehannah, too, so that we can drink the water in which Joseph was baptized. That would be neat!

    (By the way, we were given a case of Land of Joseph Syrup and Pancake Mix for Christmas. Still haven’t used it, but when we do, I’ll report on whether it has enhanced my ability to receive heavenly visions, as it half-implies may happen).

  5. danithew on January 20, 2005 at 12:26 pm

    LOL. I always enjoyed the Aunt Jemima figure in the commercials that would talk to us. I’m trying to imagine a television commercial for this product and what they might do. :)

  6. Dave on January 20, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    I notice the URL for the company’s website is http://www.timesandseasons.net. Is this post just a clever promotion for T&S’s first commercial spinoff? And http://www.timesandseasons.com is an interesting detour as well.

  7. danithew on January 20, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    That url site states that they also have an office in Pittstown, New Jersey. I wonder how they market their syrup there. :)

  8. Kaimi on January 20, 2005 at 12:31 pm

    A few quick notes –

    1. Real Vermont maple syrup is awesome. I mean, incredible. Thus, it seems entirely possible that someone who has tasted only Aunt Jemima will open their bottle of Land of Joseph and think that this brand is something special. That would be wrong. Vermont syrup as a category is special.

    (And a side note — why buy from a place that gives syrup and pancake mix, when you could instead buy from a place that sells Vermont cheddar cheese, which is among the best domestic cheddars. E.g., http://www.sugarbushfarm.com/ . Or any of a number of other Vermont farms.).

    2. Ryan, there’s apparently a thriving industry in “Jordan River water” — people living in the Holy Land will bottle up water from the Jordan and sell it to tourists.

  9. Kaimi on January 20, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    I should note that I have no financial or other relationship with Sugarbush Farm. I do, however, have a half-gallon jug of their maple syrup in my fridge. :)

  10. Scott on January 20, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    There is nothing special about Vermont, except they are an upside down version of New Hampshire. And there are plenty of Maple trees in New Hampshire, which produce quality sap for just as good syrup.

    Their ad sounds alot like Tweek’s parents coffee shop ads from South Park.

  11. lyle on January 20, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    kisch? or commercial priestcraft?

  12. Kaimi on January 20, 2005 at 12:40 pm

    Scott,

    I’ll take your word for it — I think the real good stuff can come from a region which includes Vermont, New Hampshire, and also (I’m pretty sure) parts of upstate New York and Massachusetts as well.

    However, the Vermonters seem to have better distribution — I can find Vermont stuff in the stores in New York, less so for N.H.

  13. J. Scherer on January 20, 2005 at 12:46 pm

    I live on the susquehanna. The waters not as clean as it was in Joseph’s day, but if anyone wants some authentic baptism water we could arrange a deal. :)

  14. Ryan S. on January 20, 2005 at 12:49 pm

    I’ve heard these ads, and I also don’t care for the holy syrup ad. I have a special dislike for any company that markets its products by saying “if you buy our products, you will have a stronger testimony.”

    You’re going on a mission and need suits? hey- we sell suits= fine with me.

    You’re going on a misison and need suits? Buy our suits and be a better representative of Christ = not fine with me.

  15. mike on January 20, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    none of these companies are particularly troubling to me. it’s like they say, “a fool and his money are soon parted.” if these people are dumb enough to buy this stuff, then go ahead and let them. financial darwinism at its finest.

  16. SFW on January 20, 2005 at 2:07 pm

    I haven’t heard these ads (one of the nice things about living beyond the corridor!) but, from what I’ve read, the syrup ad doesn’t seem bothersome. Does the syrup ad merely imply that the syrup is better because it was derived from maple trees near Sharon, Vermont? Or does it claim to give the eater some boost to her testimony? If the former, it seems no different than connecting any product to a particular locale…it’s all about marketing. If the latter, caveat emptor.

  17. Bryce I on January 20, 2005 at 2:12 pm

    I wonder if they have a Howard Dean label as well? Or Jim Jeffords (for the less liberal crowd). How else can you brand a Vermont product as being from Vermont?

  18. Bryce I on January 20, 2005 at 2:14 pm

    Coke tried sticking Dasani labels on London tap water and charging outrageous prices for it. Didn’t work for them.

  19. Steve Evans on January 20, 2005 at 2:52 pm

    J. Scherer, I know you’re a fraud, because no one can dip in the same river twice. Ergo, the susquhanna of baptismal days is forever gone.

  20. Rosalynde on January 20, 2005 at 3:27 pm

    A detour, but it will connect up…

    For the first hour after I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I sat staring at the television in a stupor of life-shattering shock. (Clearly the pregnancy was an unexpected–but welcome–development.) My mind was totally blank, I couldn’t think of anything… but as I sat staring at the daytime television, all the ads for baby products began to jump out at me. It slowly dawned that I had now been interpellated as the target for a whole new field of aggressive, manipulative, dubiously ethical and profit-maximizing advertising campaigns; I was that consumer that lays the golden egg, the newly expectant mother. And I started to get really, really annoyed.

    I get that same feeling when I hear or see ads like the one described above, which rely on exploiting the most deeply cherished beliefs of a niche (and sometimes naive and vulnerable) market to sell useless products, the proceeds of which will line deep pockets. I’m with Ryan, I think it’s pandering and profiteering at its worst. And ultimately I think it will prove unsuccessful. Consumers across the board are becoming more sophisticated, and more wary and resistant to advertising. I actually wonder how this will affect the progress of missionary work, which–not implying an analogy between the gospel and specious syrup–sometimes uses the manipulative techniques of advertising to open doors.

  21. The Mighty Richard on January 20, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    As a resident of Zion, I generally prefer supporting businesses that I know to be LDS-owned. However, I have thus far shunned the Land of Joseph syrup in the grocery store for reasons well articulated above. I have never actually heard the commercials or read the copy before, but the whole first vision connection seems calculated to deceive.
    Plus, when you start trying to shill your product by appealing to my spiritual sensibilities, you are dangerously close to money-changer in the Temple territory.

  22. J. Stapley on January 20, 2005 at 3:54 pm

    The last time I was in Utah for conference, I listened to one of the sessions on the radio. As soon as the last amen was pronounced, the commercials began. And while some were by the priestcrafters, some were ads for the latest book by this or that apostle (though maybe the publishers fall under the previous appellation). I felt very dirty. And while the odds that I would have read the apostolic books were essentially zero to begin with, I am now actively apposed to their being.

  23. J. Stapley on January 20, 2005 at 3:56 pm

    oh, and by the way, Zion is in Missouri….

  24. Ryan Bell on January 20, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    J. Stapely– you oppose Apostles writing and marketing books?

  25. J. Scherer on January 20, 2005 at 4:01 pm

    Steve Evans,
    Actually the Susquehanna branch, which is in my stake, still uses the river as a baptismal during the warm weather months. The occasional convert even chooses to be bapised in the river as late as November and December. However, the water I would offer to the public would be the down stream- polluted by coal companies water. Nevertheless, Susquehanna river water.

  26. Mark B. on January 20, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    My dictionary gives the following definitions for interpellate:

    To interrupt (a person) in speaking; hence, to break in on (a process or action).

    To address an interpellation to (a minister in the French or other Chamber)

    It then defines interpellation as:

    The action of appealing to or entreating.

    Aha. Now I get it.

    Of course, the OED says it’s obsolete, and the last example shown is from “abt 1670″. Not even I am that old.

    Kudos to Rosalynde for resurrecting old words–it helps me to justify the otherwise questionable use of my time reading blogs.

  27. J. Stapley on January 20, 2005 at 4:33 pm

    J. Stapley– you oppose Apostles writing and marketing books?

    Let’s just say that I would prefer that they would either publish with the church (which won’t happen) or that they be marketed in fashion that doesn’t have these implications.

  28. The Mighty Richard on January 20, 2005 at 4:46 pm

    J. Stapeley – I know Zion is in Missouri. That was an intentionally lame attempt at giving my words more weight. You know, because I live in the belly of Mormondom, I must have special insight about Mormon business practices.

  29. J. Stapley on January 20, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    I knew you knew. Similarly, (I spent a large portion of my life in the Kansas City area) I was asserting the distinction to add to the provenance of my comments…the Church is truer there.

  30. Rosalynde on January 20, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    Mark B–

    You know, you could always just spend your time on the OED itself, and not bother with the blogs at all; you’d get a much higher proportion of grand old obsolete words that way.

    Actually, “interpellate” has a technical meaning in (very complex) post-structuralist cultural theory, originating in Louis Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Essentially it refers to the manifold processes by which ideology creates a human subejct out of the human organism.

  31. Kaimi on January 20, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    Aww, Rosalynde, you missed the perfect opportunity — you should have composed a snappy reply using lots of fifty-cent words, and sent poor Mark back to the dictionary again.

    Where were you when we were trying to put together a list of funny, erudite adjectives, anyway? The list was mostly put together by me and Matt and Nate and Gordon, as I recall (with Russell added the German words that he and Kris chuckle over and the rest of us don’t understand) and is weighted towards general terms and legal terms. If you want to suggest a few post-structuralist power-adjectives, you’re more than welcome to do so.

  32. Mark B. on January 20, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks, Rosalynde. I just wonder whether that meaning has been let loose from the highly complex end of post-structuralist cultural theory into the mainstream of what an educated person ought to know. In other words, has it made it into E.D. Hirsch’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy?

    (And I do hope you don’t think I’m being testy. I didn’t understand the word, looked it up, and still wasn’t sure. I was, however, quite sure that you hadn’t misspelled “interpolated,” since there was no way I could massage its meaning to come up with anything that made sense.)

  33. Rosalynde Welch on January 20, 2005 at 6:14 pm

    I know you’re not being testy, Mark–though you should feel free to be as testy as you like! I certainly do. I don’t wonder at all whether “interpellate” has crossed over into general-educated use: it undoubtedly hasn’t. But it’s still a good word, and I couldn’t think of another one that expressed as elegantly what I wanted to convey (actually, I didn’t think about it at all when I used it). So am I guilty of obfuscatory jargon-mongering? Maybe, but I’m not likely to change.

  34. Kristine on January 20, 2005 at 6:21 pm

    Back to maple syrup–I just cleaned a quart of it off of the bottom of my refrigerator (and the sides, and every shelf–it’s quite amazing what an angry 4-year-old can do with one wave of the arm). I’m inclined to think that maple syrup, per se, is evil. Scummy marketing plans targeted at Mormons are exactly what one should expect from people who traffic in the foul substance.

    Harumph.

  35. Larry on January 20, 2005 at 6:32 pm

    Kristine,

    This is a child’s revenge in advance for the terror you are going heap on him/her during their teenage years. (or else a foreshadowing that they are going to work for an ad agency that caters to syrupy targeted ads to the saints)

  36. Clark on January 20, 2005 at 9:01 pm

    Personally I don’t see how pandering to the “Mormon demographic” is particularly worse than pandering to any other demographic. Why would it be worse to have a “land of Joseph” syrup as opposed to Wheaties with some sports figure? It seems either your opposed to all “style vs. substance” advertising or else there is a double standard at work. The appealation to being a good Mormon is of course a step above this. I don’t think most ads reach that point any more than Provo Girl Beer does by going in the opposite direction.

  37. Dustin on January 21, 2005 at 9:59 am

    I find it interesting they use timesandseasons.net when they also own
    landofjoseph.com which essentially
    contains the same information.

    Either way, I’m sure this site is receiving an unprecedented number of hits
    because of this blog. They’re probably reviewing their referrer logs and
    enjoying this lively discussion. A while back, some anti-mormon blog spoke about
    about how evil my software
    is – which allows LDS leaders to carry members personal information in their
    PDAs (which I’m sure they could do with or without my software). But my hits
    sure went up for the next two weeks, which I’m sure didn’t hurt my search engine
    rankings. :D

  38. Ryan Bell on January 21, 2005 at 10:49 am

    Clark,

    I am with you on the majority of cases. While a lot of Mormon marketing is just kitschy or annoying, I do think this crosses a real line of manipulating the gospel message to one’s needs. Did you read the marketing blurbs? They’re saying that their syrup is a celebration of the moment when Joseph walked into the sacred syrup grove! How can that not be offensive, especially when done from a profit-motive? If this example isn’t the modern-day equivalent of the money changers outside the temple, what is?

  39. Lorenzo on January 25, 2005 at 11:41 am

    Here is a story about targeting an LDS audience for pornography:

    http://www.usuaggies.com/2005/01/oh-my-heck-playboys-at-byu.html

  40. David on May 1, 2005 at 2:17 am

    Land of Joseph Maple Syrup is a brillant idea. It captures the essence of Vermont and combines it with a deep historical connection to Joseph Smith. You should be just as proud of Land of Joseph Maple Syrup as you are of David Neeleman at Jetblue. I am not a member of LDS, but I have recently come to deeply appreciate those who are, and that is through my connection with Land of Joseph Maple Syrup.

  41. Joe on November 28, 2005 at 5:42 pm

    Yes, and now we have Starbucks, the Decaffeinated, coming to Utah for all those insecure Mormons who need to look worldly! No “Land of Joseph” syrup on THEIR tables!