It was about a month ago when I wanted to listen to a song. I don’t remember which song, but I distinctly remember the preview (in truth, I remember being startled that YouTube had commercials to begin with—when did that happen?)
“Mormons are regular people who enjoy things like skateboarding and panting.” That’s the thrust behind the Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints new social media campaign. Or at least that’s how commentators are interpreting the campaign. In an article for NEWSER, an online news source known for condensing the news into snack-size portions, reports that the Mormon adds are running in nine cities across North America, including Pittsburgh and Minneapolis.
As NEWSER columnist Rob Quinn comments, each Mormon commercial “feature[s] a person talking about their jobs, their families, and their interests before declaring: ‘I’m a Mormon.’” Quinn goes onto explain that the ads are meant to help people understand the Mormon church, despite the fact that many find the television commercials and YouTube previews a tad suspect.
After doing a little digging, I found out that the commercials have been airing since August of 2010 in the United States, but they’ve only reached Canadian audiences as of last month via YouTube.
According to the Mormon website, the commercials aren’t new at all; their webpage claims that “for thirty years the Church has produced television and radio messages about the family.” They even explain why: “[The Church] knows that strong families are the foundation of a happy life.”
But are the Mormon ads more than just a celebration of family values? Let’s look at the rhetoric of one advertisement to find out.
“Hi, I’m Alex Boye” is a YouTube commercial that runs for roughly two minutes. The commercial features Alex Boye, a London native and recording artist. In the commercial, Boye talks about his boyhood, when his mother abandoned him to go back to Nigeria. He tells of the days when he aspired to be a musician to attract girls and money, and when he won a recording contract with a small record company. Boye tells that he soon found a manager, and before he knew it, he was signing a deal with Universal.
The commercial ends with Boye saying that he now engages with music to touch people, to “heal their souls,” as he says. The commercial ends with a quote from Boye: “I’m a father, a husband, and a musician. My name is Alex Boye, and I’m a Mormon.” End scene.
The commercial isn’t so much about Mormonism as it is about dispelling some of the stereotypes against Mormons. At first, Alex Boye doesn’t seem like a member of the Latter-Day Saints, as he doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of a white, bible-thumping, Salt Lake City, resident.
The commercial allows you to identify with Boye before he “comes out” with it: “I’m a Mormon” he adds at the end, after the viewer has already identified with him. The Mormon church wants to showcase how Mormons are just everyday people like you and me, and that the religion isn’t as radical as one may think.
But this begs the question: what are the Mormons selling? The definition of advertising is “to draw attention to a product service or event in a public medium in order to promote sales.” The overlap between consumerism and religion makes me uncomfortable, but perhaps it shouldn’t; after all, churches are institutions that need to attract followers to stay afloat.
Mormon YouTube ads engage with social media to advertise their religion, an online version of the door-to-door campaigns conducted by the Jehovah’s witnesses. The only difference is that you can no longer shut the door if you don’t want to talk.