Strategy & Marketing

A Look at Mormons from a Branding Perspective

With Mitt Romney leaving the campaign trail, I’ve been thinking about Mormon beliefs – especially in relation to branding and identity.  Having had a presidential candidate out there, a lot more people are thinking about the Mormon faith – not necessarily about converting, but asking questions about theological integrity, relationship to orthodox Christianity, and perception in the culture.  This isn’t a doctrinal discussion, but a branding one, and in that light, here are a few thoughts:

1)    The Wall Street Journal today did a fascinating front page analysis on the issue.  Essentially, the story focused on how difficult its been for the Mormon church to be in the spotlight during this campaign.  Polls have revealed that people are far more hesitant of a Mormon candidate than the mainstream media thought.  An NBC poll found that 50% of Americans would be “very uncomfortable” with a Mormon president.   Some in the church have positioned religion as a factor in the race, but other prominent Mormons have acknowledged that there were many other factors involved in Romney’s particular campaign as well.

2)    The Mormon church did kick into high gear from an activism point of view during this race.  At least 150 new websites were created to defend their faith, and church leaders hired Apco Worldwide to begin a public relations campaign last fall.  The church is very familiar with the media.  They created their own advertising agency years ago and have produced high quality TV commercials for years.

3)    They also posted videos on YouTube – as least 22 so far trying to defend the “Are Mormons Christian?” and similar questions.

4)    They’ve tried to answer allegations about the questionable history of founder Joseph Smith.  A man who faced many charges in his life – including treason – but according to WSJ apparently was only found guilty of misdemeanor fraud.  Either way, there are obvious questions about a man with such a troubled life founding a religion.  That issue and the racism questions that have dogged the church have spurred much of the media activism.

5)    It’s interesting that Mormons are going to great effort to identify themselves as “Christian.”  In spite of the overwhelming number of orthodox Christian scholars who would consider Mormonism anything but “Christian,” they have launched a pretty comprehensive effort to make people think they’re “one of us.”  The lesson?  As I talk about in my book:  “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media,” identity is one of the most powerful forces on the earth.  Identity politics, gender identity, sexual identity, tribal identity, nationalism, and more and thriving.  The power of association is strong, and the more we break down walls, the more we put them up.  For Mormons to be associated with mainstream Christianity helps them be perceived in critic’s minds as less strange, less cultish, and more normal.  They also know that most people today have very little religious knowledge, so calling themselves “Christian” is just fine with most people.  Most folks couldn’t tell you what a Christian is anyway.

6)    Living in Los Angeles, I have many very dear Mormon friends, and we’ve had many discussions about their faith.  One of the things most people say first about Mormons is how great their family life is.  I can testify that they’re certainly right about that.  Mormons generally have terrific kids, and put a great priority on family life.  I wish Christians could learn from that.  In mainstream Christianity, research indicates that our divorce rates are about the same as the secular culture.  But successful marriage relationships and great families are a powerful pull for non-believers.  My wife Kathleen is an actress, and one day she met with a big time publicist in Hollywood who was baffled and blown away by the fact that we’ve been married 30 years.  As a publicist to major stars, he couldn’t name a single person in the industry he knew had been married that long.  It completely opened the door for Kathleen to share her faith.  From that perspective, we could learn a lot from Mormons, because having successful marriage relationships and families definitely gets the attention of the non-believing culture.

7)    Finally – Mormons “fit in.”  Most of my Mormon friends wouldn’t stand out in a crowd.  They don’t put their faith on a pedestal, or have big hair, bad suits, or gold furniture.  They have normal jobs, and are constructive members of the community.  Look at Mitt.  He’s a successful businessman, dresses well, strong leader, fits into the community.  Doesn’t seem weird.  A visit to most Christian radio or TV programs will make you wish Christians we more like that.  So when they do share their faith, their listeners aren’t already pre-judging them based on their lifestyles or habits.

What do you think?  Mormon may be the new gay.  It’s getting hip, and believe me, it’s a strategy.  Could we learn from it?  And should we speak up about the differences?

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14 Comments

  1. As a Bible-reading (yes, THAT Bible) "Mormon" (aka member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) I am troubled by your delineation when you say "we Christians can learn something from Mormons…"  It's as if you are saying defacto that a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS is NOT a Christian.  Talk about branding – you've taken an adjective and claimed it as an exclusive name.  Is that why we cannot call ourselves Christians, because Evangelicals have claimed it as their own?  If I believe Christ is my Savior and read and love the Bible, I'm confused, can you tell me what you think a "Christian" is?

    I applaud your for your long marriage and I'd like to highlight the fact that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS (it's getting difficult to type that every time…) would like to say "can't we all just get along?"  There are so many values we share aside from the principle one that Christ is our one and only Savior and that he gave his life for our sins.  We share values about the sanctity of family and life and the value of self-reliance as well as share our loathing of the principles some liberals are trying to force down our throats. 

    Finally, is there a religious litmus test for running for President?  Is a memb…, aww I give up…Is a Mormon never allowed to run just because he is a Mormon?  I vote principle, not religion.  I'd just as soon vote for an Evangelical as for a Jew as for a Hindu.  Let's get back to what unites us (if you're a fellow conservative), and that's the principles and ideas this country was founded on and what made us great.

  2. While this isn't meant to be a doctrinal blog, you've proven my point completely.  From an orthodox Christian perspective, there are a number of essential theological issues such as the deity of Christ, salvation by grace, and the bodily resurrection of Christ that would put Mormon belief outside of orthodox Christianity.  You may not agree, and that's fine with me.  Anyone can call themselves anything they want, (hence my conversation about branding) but considering 2,000 years of church history, there are significant issues that most mainstream Christian scholars would have challenges with. And there are plenty of better theological blogs out there to discuss it.  And regarding a Mormon running for President, I would probably have voted for him, so I have no issue with that.  We're not voting for a "pastor-in-chief" but the fact is – as I mentioned – a significant number of people do take issue with that.  You can be upset, or try and figure out how to bridge those issues.  You're obviously an intelligent guy with a genuine passion for God.  Keep the conversation going…

  3. Phil, you can't get away from the doctrine versus other stuff debate when it comes to this. If it didn't matter to Mitt that he was a Mormon, why did he run with that at the forefront? It was big in the east. and not because the evangelicals made it that way. Mitt did. and my Mormon friends did as well.

    So you're saying Mitt was a good candidate because he's been married a long time and is kind to people, and is a successful businessman? Clinton was all that, and he was not a good president from my perspective.

    Of course, this run for the White House could have been part of their marketing slant to get the mainstream to look at Mormonism, and desensitize mainstream Christianity to the fact they are a cult.

    From a marketing perspective, if you don't dig deeper after you've been dazzled by the sincere quality of the product they have, you will be fooled. Therein lies the scary part.

  4. And now… we conservatives face a decision.

    The talk of Pat Robertson endorsing Rudy Giuliani now means nothing (not that it ever did!)

    Neither does anyone care about the wide evangelical support that Mitt Romney won over.

    We now have, on the left, Senator John McCain whom Dr. James Dobson says "is not a conservative, and in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are. He has sounded at times more like a member of the other party." John McCain promotes amnesty for illegal immigrants, he called Samuel Alito "too conservative" (a good indication of the judges he would appoint), he supports embryonic stem-cell research, and he has little regard for freedom of speech.

    On the right: Governor Mike Huckabee, with 10 years of experience governing, a staunch pro-life record, and a proven force for defending marriage and religious liberties. During those 10 years, he reduced welfare roles by 50%, returned $400 million to taxpayers, and was named "One of America's Best Governors" by TIME Magazine.

    Governor Huckabee's platform calls for secure borders, supporting the military, and reining in the rising costs of healthcare and energy through practical, market-driven methods.

    And today, there is finally justice as Dr. Dobson endorses Gov. Mike Huckabee. Conservatives need to back Governor Mike Huckabee for the good of our nation. Or do we have Hillary or Obama fans out there?

    The lack of enthusiasm for Huckabee is baffling and, frankly, a betrayal of a man who has faithfully served his country–with conservative principles guiding his every step.

    Can conservatives of all stripes unite around what we're FOR, rather than what we're AGAINST? If so, our values just might be represented in the White House come '09.

    If we just want to sulk on the sidelines of this political race ("a liberal in the White House is now inevitable"), then forget it. Let the 4 years of disaster begin, as some commentators have put it.

    Vote Huckabee! And support his campaign!

    -joshMshep

    http://www.mikehuckabee.com

    p.s. should Christians ever refuse to vote? join the discussion at MySpace blogs

  5. OK, perhaps I can post a reply that gets us back to where Phil wanted this to go… 

    The Mormons have always had strong TV commercials, typically WAY better than anything from any Christian organization, but the one commercial that sticks out in my mind is the one currently running, with the two young ladies discussing the Book of Mormon at a diner.

    When you start to study the psychology behind well-done commercials and filmmaking, things become apparent when you watch commercials. Make no mistake…it's no accident that the prettier one is the Mormon. Their product placement (the book) is rule-of-thirds perfect, it's all well-lit, well-done, and, in my opinion, very effective. Notice how the prettier one seems a little nervous about sharing her "faith" with the other. Isn't that the EXACT same emotion that we experience when we try to share our faith?

    The Mormons have put a lot of thought, energy, time, and money (which they have a TON of) into their TV campaigns. For me, it doesn't change the fact that they are a cult, but for many Americans, this continued positive-light positioning, along with the Romneys of the world, may be eroding the perceptions of the past.

    These guys are marketing geniuses, down to the way they try to frustrate Christians in one-on-one conversations. Everything they do is pre-planned for results. Their main objective is to convert, convert, convert.

  6. Some would argue that Mitt was the one on top of the true conservative faction of the GOP.

    Let's face it: they are light-years ahead of American Christianity in terms of branding and letting us see only what they want us to see.

    We have either fat preachers in three-piecers, crazy-eyed prosperity-touters (some in urban cowboy-esque getup), and uber-metrosexual hipsters doing our branding. (And, yes, I'm using overkill exaggeration to make my point – no haters, please!)

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