By Adrienne Cardon [Adrienne sent me the following submission.]
I was just a Beehive when those rosy, soft around the edges Homefront commercials rolled out on late-night television. These iconic spots featured families in motion, well-coifed moms and busy pops who metamorphosed from 90’s corporate dads to storyteller/ballplayer dads in 30 seconds.
Family, isn’t it about time? asked the ads. They were a bit schmaltzy, they were a bit dewy, they were a bit, well backlit. But here’s much forgotten takeaway – they were effective.
This little tagline, this bookend to each commercial was extremely successful. Little by little, public perceptions started to change. People started to pair the word “Mormon” with the word “Family.” Congratulations, branding team. Mission(ary) accomplished.
So, seeing the newest efforts is a bit puzzling to me, because the takeaway word I’m hearing this time around is “same.”
“I’m an artist.”
“I’m a surfer.”
“I’m a fashion designer.”
“I’m a public relations manager.”
“ . . . . . and, I’m a Mormon.”
Of course, there is no official tagline to these spots, but the implied one I hear with the fade to black is: “Mormons. We’re just like you.”
Or perhaps “Mormons. We’re cool.”
Or more pessimistically: “Mormons – we’re not as weird as you think.” And it’s said in a normal, 30-year-old female voice (not in a Lloyd D. Newell voice).
The Mormon in me sees these slick new ads, is affirmed and excited by what feels like a big step in the right direction, and says “Yeah! We are normal!”
The creative director in me sees this and says “heh?”
This messaging strategy goes against everything I have learned in ad school (yes, BYU ad school, I was an early Ad lab alum) and also everything I have learned from working at some of the biggest and most-hyped ad agencies.
Advertising 101: Same will get you no where.
Differentiate. Differentiate. Differentiate. In branding, the message should not be ”we’re just like you,” A) because this is never entirely true, and B) because this is a fundamentally bad way to brand.
This principle in marketing-speak is called Unique Selling Proposition. It layman’s terms: What is the thing that makes your brand better than every other brand?
I’m an advertiser. I work better in metaphor.
Let’s say you own a bakery. You have the invented a new bread recipe – what is easily the best bread recipe in the world. It’s packed full of fiber and whole grains, it’s nearly universally delicious, it’s inexpensive, eating it actually makes you lose weight – you may even say this bread is magic. You ask an ad agency to market it for you, your Awesome Magic Bread.
It’s time for the pitch and you hear the following:
“Buy Awesome Magic Brand Bread: It’s regular tasting, it’s sliced, you can even use it to make grilled cheese sandwiches! Awesome Magic Brand Bread is just like your bread!”
You know what that sounds like to a consumer? “If it’s just like my bread, why on earth do I need yours? I’ll keep using mine.”
Such a reductive message! If it’s exactly the same, there is no reason for any consumer to take action. Wouldn’t you grab your ad man (or woman!) by the throat, and say “Tell people how different my bread is! Tell them how much better it is!?”
The new “Mormons are regular people” ads suffer from the same issue. We have such a rich gospel, a gospel makes us different than others, even in spite of the similar hobbies and opinions we may share with those not of our faith.
So why not put the emphasis on “Mormon” in our advertising, instead of on “skateboarder?”
The fundamental problem it seems (the very problem these ads – I think – are trying to address) is that people still have misconceptions about Mormons. They still don’t know what the word “Mormon” means. “Surfer?” They know what that means. “Fashion designer?” They know what that means. But “Mormon?” Nope. And these ads are not really doing anything to further define the most important word in the equation.
In the same way that the cutesy Homefront ads told people that “Family” was important to us, can’t our latest outreaches do the same by pushing phrases like “Modern Revelation” “Modern Prophet” “Tithing” and “Word of Wisdom?” A former advertising professor of mine points out that this is what the “Truth Restored” campaign attempted in a semi-whitewashed way. The results weren’t so great. The strategy was right. The execution missed the mark. There weren’t specifics. It wasn’t memorable.
Advertising 201: Make it memorable.
We believe God talks through a modern-day prophet. We believe God has a body. We believe in baptizing the dead. Pretty weird? Maybe. Pretty provocative? Perhaps. Memorable? Definitely. And when it comes to branding, if you can get people to remember your message, to form an association, you’re more than halfway there.
That’s not to say these newest ads are without value, but I do think that they suffer from an unfortunate decrescendo. All the focus is up front, and “Mormon” is still as diluted and undefined as it ever was. The Unique Selling Proposition is simply not there.
What if we were to get over our fear and do something like this?
My name is Adrienne Cardon.
I’m a copywriter.
I’m a jewelry designer.
I’m a cheese-of-the-month club member.
I’m a big fan of the movie Spinal Tap.
And I believe that God talks to our prophet Thomas S. Monson the same way that he talked to Moses thousands of years ago.
And I am a Mormon.
The time for insecurity is over. We cannot be afraid that people will hear phrases like “Modern Revelation” and tune out. As a Mormon I wonder, “Why hide something so glorious?” As an advertiser I wonder “Why hide something so memorable?”
So let’s be memorable. If we put these messaging strategies to work, people will at least know what it is we believe, whether or not they choose to buy it. Help people understand who Mormons are by defining them by their most uniquely Mormon characteristics – their Mormon beliefs.
I think it’s about time.
Adrienne Aggen Cardon started her advertising career at Crispin, Porter + Bogusky working as as copywriter, moved to Ogilvy and Mather NYC for 2 years, and is currently the Creative Director of advertising at BYU Broadcasting. She is married to filmmaker Jared Cardon and belongs to a Cheese of the Month Club.