The Church’s Internet Outreach

July 5, 2007 | 48 comments
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A brotherly reader wrote me yesterday:

I was at realclearpolitics.com today and saw that they’re running an ad for mormon.org.

Advertising on rightish political blogs makes a lot of sense right now. Has anyone else seen any Church internet advertising?

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48 Responses to The Church’s Internet Outreach

  1. Maryanne on July 5, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Are you kidding me, Adam? This seems really creepy to me. Advertising on political websites seems like an endorsement of those views, and when some members seem already to think that their is a “righteous” party, this is particularly disturbing.

  2. Maryanne on July 5, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Sorry that was supposed to be “there” not “their”.

  3. Mark IV on July 5, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Adam, the church is undertaking a media blitz right now on many fronts. I haven’t seen any ads yet on righty blogs, but I’ve seen them occasionally on movie review query engine.

    In Syracuse, Kansas City, and Las Vegas, the church has ads on highway billboards and on TV and radio directing people to mormon.org. Every day on the radio, regardless of the station’s programming (classic rock, c&w, sports talk) I hear the ads. My understanding is that this is a long term commitment of about 9 months. After that time, the campaign will be evaluated for effectiveness, and, after some fine-tuning, expanded into other media markets.

  4. John H. Jenkins on July 5, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    I see ads for the Church periodically on webcomic sites, of all places. I’ll see if I can come up with any URLs.

  5. Nick Literski on July 5, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    About two weeks ago, another person pointed out to me that the LDS church was advertising on another conservative political site (sorry, I don’t recall which one). This could indicate several things:

    First, LDS officials could be of the opinion that the most likely source of LDS converts is among those who are politically conservative. Regardless of whether you think Mormonism is truly a conservative religion (Joseph Smith certainly couldn’t have been called conservative!), this view is understandable. Most people, particularly those who are politically liberal, do view LDS-ism as a conservative religion, despite the fact that the LDS church advocates some positions which disagree with strong conservatives. LDS views on abortion, for example, are at odds with many who consider themselves “pro-life.”

    Second, LDS officials could be actively endorsing politically conservative groups, and seeking to identify themselves with such. Advertising is generally a careful game, and large corporations are quick to remove ad campaigns when scandal or public outcry makes association with a certain “product” undesireable.

    Third, LDS officials could have an interest in actively recruiting politically conservative persons as potential church members. Since many political conservatives are highly deferential to authority figures, such a demographic could be perceived as more likely to obey church leadership.

  6. Jim on July 5, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    If you search for the word “Mormon” on the New York Times website, you’ll usually come up with a “sponsored link” to the Church’s website (along with some “recovering mormon” websites, too).

  7. jimbob on July 5, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    “Joseph Smith certainly couldn’t have been called conservative!”

    Maybe not by his own day’s standards, but who knows where he’d fall in today’s political climate.

  8. Ray on July 5, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    I want a church that uses every available tool to reach every person possible. I want it to be sales and marketing savvy. I like the ads – and implying the campaign is targeted at conservatives to the exclusion of liberals is just silly.

    Nick, how about this? Fourth, the Church recognizes there are people who share its basic morals who frequent conservatives sites, so it is placing ads on those sites at the same time it is placing links on the New York Times website and other more liberal sites. Sounds reasonable to me.

  9. Visorstuff on July 5, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    I like the idea, but agree that it seems that they are endorsing views. Perhaps this is why the advertisment links to the Mormon.org site, and not the LDS.org site?

    Agree that the church needs to take advantage of every venue to advertise. I’d be interested to see what the click-through rates are compared to other sites.

  10. Mark IV on July 5, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Or,

    Fifth, the church recognizes that people who frequent conservative sites are especially in need of the gospel, and the presence of its ads there can be seen as an attempt to reach the black sheep.

  11. john f. on July 5, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Does anyone actually know how internet advertising actually works? From the anecdotes so far, we know that an ad for the Church has appeared on a conservative political blog/website, a comedy website, and on NYT. Are we sure that ads for the Church are not circulating on left-leaning blogs/websites as well?

  12. Adam Greenwood on July 5, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    I would suggest reason #5: with Mitt Romney running for President, politically active conservatives are curious about Mormonism and are probably more likely to follow a Mormonism link than at other times.

    If the Church put up a link on a B-movie site that was discussing September Dawn, I wouldn’t think it was because the Church thought B-movie fans were primo people or because the Church wanted to endorse September Dawn.

  13. Adam Greenwood on July 5, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    We don’t know, John F. And we don’t know if the Church is targeting certain sites or if they’ve just signed up for a service that’s promised to get them in front of X number of eyeballs.

  14. AH on July 5, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    I’ve saw an ad on the Drudgereport. I to do a double take on that, but sure enough it was a church ad on Drudge. Only saw it once though.

  15. Jay S on July 5, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    I just saw a banner ad for Mormon.org on the Las Vegas Review Journal website. I think it is part of their church’s campaign to use all media.

  16. Wilfried on July 5, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    And of course I love it’s a link to mormon and not to eldeeyes.

  17. Coffinberry on July 5, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    Don’t forget that some internet advertising mechanisms try to match the advertising to the content. Thus a page that discusses Mormons might get a link. If conservative sites are discussing Mormons, then those sites are more likely to get links. Has nothing to do with affilliation or endorsement (think of how many disclaimers you’ve seen, saying “we are not responsible for the content of the advertising links displayed”).

  18. john f. on July 5, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    re # 14 and # 18, that’s what I mean. It seems to me there are algorithims involved that are relative black boxes to all of us uninitiated, and these control where the ads appear, not the Church’s choice to appear on the comedy website, although that would be a violation of church and state.

  19. JKC on July 5, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    11 is the most likely reason. The church is to call sinners, not the righteous, to repentance.

  20. Nick Literski on July 5, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    From my own reading of Joseph Smith’s words and history, I would say that he would be considered a political moderate in today’s climate. I think he would appear to be more liberal than most modern American LDS, based on the things advocated as mayor of Nauvoo. One thing I don’t see in Joseph Smith’s thought, is any inclination to urge civil enforcement of his religious standards. That in itself would put him outside modern conservative circles.

  21. Adam Greenwood on July 5, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    I’m putting an end to the argument about whether Joseph Smith would be a Republican or a Democrat today. If you think Joseph Smith smashing the presses and favoring gradual, compensated abolition makes him a Democrat or a Republican, be my guest, but do it elsewhere.

  22. Jonovitch on July 5, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    [Deleted with pleasure].

    For the record, with Firefox and Adblock Plus, I don’t see any ads, ever, so this is all news to me. At first glance, it seems odd that the Church would advertise on the Web, but it doesn’t seem to be much different than the TV ads I’ve seen as I skip past the quasi-religious cable channels. The Church certainly doesn’t endorse other religions, and yet they advertise in the common Christian broadcasting space.

  23. Jesse Harris on July 5, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    RealClearPolitics uses Zedo, Google AdSense and TribalFusion for advertising. These are all advertising networks that check the content of the page to display relevant ads. Given that RealClearPolitics and other conservative politics sites are likely to be discussing Republican presidential candidates (which includes Mitt Romney), it makes sense that the content would then trigger the ad.

    In other words, move along, not much to see here. You can try reading into it as much as you want, but advertisers general buy specific keywords or a number of impressions and have little direct control over which sites their ads will appear on or what ads they will be near. At best, this is an interesting study in Internet advertising and nothing more. Stop making it more than it is.

  24. Jonovitch on July 5, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    [Deleted with pleasure].

  25. jjohnsen on July 5, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    I’m with Jesse here, the sites probably aren’t even paying attention to who is advertising, and Google (or whoever is feeding the ads) is probably just using keywords to match up advertising with readers. I doubt the Church pinpointed certain sites and said ‘put our ads here’.

  26. Nate Oman on July 5, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    I find it extremely unlikely that the church contracts with individual websites for advertising. That is simply not the way the market works, at least if you are doing a mass advertising campaign. I agree with Jesse: There isn’t much to see here.

  27. john f. on July 5, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Blame the algorithims.

  28. john f. on July 5, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Oops, misspelled that one twice — should be algorithms.

  29. Wilfried on July 5, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Also, not to forget in this discussion: http://www.mormon.org has been nicely redone and expanded.

    And other languages have not been forgotten !

  30. mjp303 on July 5, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Is anyone aware of any other churches that are using internet advertising?

  31. Bonjo on July 5, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    I\’m fine with the church advertising online. However, the moment they venture into pop-up ads, I will be forced to question my faith.

  32. Nick Literski on July 5, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    #21 Adam Greenwood:
    Thanks, Adam. I’ll read your post as I’m sure you intended it to come across, i.e. something like “Please save discussion of Joseph Smith’s political views for another thread. I’d really prefer we stick to the LDS church’s internet advertising in this thread.”

    [Editor: good.]

  33. Nick Literski on July 5, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for the useful information on how these ads really work. That makes complete sense. I do hope, however, that these services manage to exclude some sites, regardless of content. Considering that “mormon.com” was once exploited as a porn site, I’d hate to see LDS church ads show up in embarassing context.

    Then again, maybe they *should* be advertising on porn sites, to reach the “sick who need a physician?”

  34. Adam Greenwood on July 5, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Probably, if the Church didn’t have to pay the p*rn sites to do it. As far as I know Christ didn’t have to bribe the publicans to eat with them, so we don’t have lots of precedent to guide us.

  35. Guy on July 5, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    re 29. I agree with Wilfried. I love the way they have redone the mormon.org site
    It has been quite some time since I have been to that one. LDS.org is the one I normally go too.

  36. Bookslinger on July 5, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    #23, Jesse: That’s partially correct. Small time advertisers (under $500/month or so ) with Adsense and other pay-per-clicks, or pay-per-exposure/impression, don’t have much control over where their ads appear; they buy the clicks or exposures/impressions or keywords like you said.

    But once an advertiser is in the $2,000+/month category (okay, I don’t know the exact cut-off point now ) then they _do_ get more say-so with the ad-serving companies, as there is then more budget and profit $$ for advertising account reps to get involved, and perhaps even for custom algorithms, or at least _access to_ off-the-shelf algorithms that the lower budget advertisers don’t have access to.

    As a web-master I haven’t been intimately involved in pay-per-click/impression advertising for my web clients for a while. But even a few years ago, even small time advertisers had control panels where they could select the categories of web sites to target or avoid.

    At the $2000/month range and up, it pays to do the extra analysis to see which _categories_ of web sites have the highest click-through ratio, and not only that, they check the “conversion ratio”. The latter is not just those who click through, but those who click through and “buy something”. Which in the church case might be those who request either material such as a book or video.

    Overture.com, a big pay-per-click, was big on helping track conversion ratios.

    A humongously popular web site such as Drudgereport.com is a category in its own, as is every other high-traffic web site, just like a widely-distributed magazine, so for those web sites who get hundreds of thousands of hits per day, it does pay to do the analysis down to the web-site or even web-page level.

    #11: john f: Isn’t the NYT a left-leaning web site?

    #18: john f: “although that would be a violation of [the separation of?] church and state.”

    How do you reason that? The state has nothing to do with it. Internet advertising consists of contracts between the advertisers and ad-serving companies, and then between the ad-serving companies and publishers (web sites who display the ads), or between advertisers and search engines (Google). All those parties have the right to select who they do business with.

    When I actively did banner advertising, there were control panels that had thousands of categories, and a very complex hierarchy of categories that allowed inclusion/exclusion based on the advertiser’s wishes.

    In advertising, discriminating where you are going to spend your dollars is essential.

  37. Coffinberry on July 5, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    The incomparable Mark Twain reportedly said “A lie can travel around the world while truth is putting its shoes on.”

    With this form of advertising, the Church is finally putting its shoes on. And it’s about time! For years and years, others (often with a message uncomplimentary, if not downright contrary) have been providing internet readers with links about “the truth about mormonism,” “shop mormon underwear,” and the like (I recall the dust up, probably some 4 years ago now, over exactly that kind of advertising at Beliefnet, who had turned to Google Ads for income during its near fiscal-collapse). If the Church wants to get its own story out there, it’s got to put it where people find it and click on it. Thus, it seems appropriate that where Mormons are discussed, there should be a link to an official site. I think it shows the good that the Internet can do–what better way to provide an instant counter-action to mistaken understandings or deliberate deception.

  38. Coffinberry on July 5, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    to mjp — yes, several megachurches do, as well as internet ministry arms of some denominations. A key difference is in organizational structure of the religious group.

  39. Left Field on July 6, 2007 at 7:41 am

    The ads were run for awhile at the top of the page on the Snopes discussion board. Here is a discussion of the advertisements:

    http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=9478

    It’s an interesting window into how the ads are perceived by others.

  40. Ben on July 6, 2007 at 8:40 am

    I saw an ad for mormon.org on maximumpc.com on May 31.

    I doubt that the church is deliberately targeting the hardcore modding/overclocking crowd.

  41. john f. on July 6, 2007 at 9:02 am

    re # 36, Bookslinger, I was just joking about the separation of church and state. I do not believe that ads for the Church appearing on a comedy website would be a violation of the separation of church and state.

  42. JM on July 6, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    I’ve seen BOM ads on Youtube

  43. Ben There on July 8, 2007 at 3:35 am

    FWIW, I’ve seen mormon.org and BoM ads on YouTube. Searching for “Mormon” on YouTube though, more often than not turns up an anti-religious ad calling the existence of Jesus Christ into question. So apparently keyword searches do not trigger the LDS ads on YouTube.

  44. Steve on July 8, 2007 at 11:10 am

    Re #33. I remember seeing a story on Nightline about a “church” (actually it was just two guys that called themselves ministers) where advertising on porn sites was just a starting point. They also went to conventions, and at one point in the story they even tried to save Ron Jeremy. Call me nuts, but I think this is a great idea. Although I’d only send apostles to porn conventions. Certainly not 19 year old boys!

    I’d be surprised if the church was paying less than top dollar for online advertising and have a big say in where their ads run. I’ve never seen a church banner ad or google sidebar ad on HuffPo, DailyKos, Wonkette or any other liberal site I frequent. I’m not that concerned that the church would be advertising on RealClearPolitics because that site strikes me as being for political junkies without a clear bent (although that’s just my opinion).

    I’m more concerned about the church advertising on DrudgeReport or NewsMax (if true). Even then, I’m less concerned about this than I am about the church appointing Joe Cannon to run the D-News. If President Romney decides to abolish the IRS rule that churches can’t specifically endorse political candidates or parties, would it surprise anyone if the LDS church made an official announcement that it’s officially supporting conservative republicans, if not making it a temple recommend question?

    As an aside, the church runs ads on X-96, the alternative rock radio station in SLC. The interesting thing is that the ads are all for LDS Family Services. I guess that means that the church thinks only distraught pregnant teens listen to X-96.

  45. Ray on July 8, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Steve, the last sentence in your third paragraph made me laugh. Thanks.

  46. Bradley Ross on July 8, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    I may have written the post the Nick mentioned in #5. It has a screenshot of an LDS ad up on Drudge. It seems like Drudge sells the ad space on his site directly, so I assumed that the Church had deliberately purchased space there.

  47. Jonovitch on July 9, 2007 at 2:36 am

    Requesting my comments (22) and (24) to be undeleted.

    I’m assuming they were removed based on rule 5 of the T&S comment policies, which reads:

    “5. Similarly, comments should be related to the blog entry they are posted to, or to a subsequent comment on that entry. Of course, some amount of topic-shifting is normal in any discussion. However, completely-off-topic comments are not appropriate.”

    My comments were a tangent, true, but a direct tangent to previously posted comments (which remained intact on this page), and they were also related to the broader context of politics in our religion. They were not excessively rude or offensive (see rule 8), rather they were offered as a bit of humor. Yes, they poked a little fun at Adam’s zealousness in keeping the comments here rigidly focused, but they were offered in jest and good fun and were in no way attacking him personally.

    I was truly surprised to see Adam’s (over?)reaction in deleting the two “offending” posts. I was even more dismayed that he publicly announced his pleasure in stifling a broader commentary (see rule 1).

    Please correct me if I am wrong, forgive me if I offended, and replace my deleted comments.

    Jon

  48. James Anderson on August 7, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Sightings of these ads:

    Billboards:

    I-215 near I-15 \’Fish Bowl\’ interchange in Las Vegas.
    Rancho and Jones in Las Vegas.
    I-680 (Omaha/Countil Bluffs area) near Winter Quarters.

    Web: Yahoo Mail personal welcome page.

    A site about American ghost towns.

    I heard the LDS Family Services ads on KUUU, the hip-hop station here in Salt Lake (co-owned KAUU Manti also).

    They advertise on all the radio stations, and air mormon.org and other ads on all Bonneville stations, and KUTR, the LDS-music formatted station. Hear that one at utaham820.com. All of Bonneville\’s stations are online as well.

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