The 'Mormon' brand

  • Article by: SUSAN HOGAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 6, 2011 - 10:12 AM
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A frame grab of Joy Monahan, a professional surfer, from the ad campaign, "I'm a Mormon," on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints website. The church has launched a visible ad campaign, which seeks to quash straight-laced stereotypes by showing off a cool, diverse set of Mormons. -NO SALES

Photo: Mormon.org, Associated Press/New York Times

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A decade ago, as the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City approached, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched an all-out effort to stop the word "Mormon" from being used in the mainstream.

It suggested that the press instead use the shorthand "LDS" to refer to the church and "saints" for its members. That never caught on.

"Saints" conjured images of a New Orleans football team to some, and dead holy religious figures to others. Besides, the effort hit a sour note with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which wasn't about to change its name.

Mormons profess smoke-free, alcohol-free clean living, but that wholesomeness has never been enough to overcome the image problem they endure in America. Having two GOP presidential candidates -- Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney -- so far miss with the "family values" crowd further underscores the problem.

Although politics isn't the church's business, leaders at the church's headquarters in Salt Lake City recently struck out to improve the Mormon "brand" through TV ads and billboards using Madison Avenue marketing techniques.

Instead of trying to eradicate the word "Mormon" from our lips, the campaign features church members from all walks of life proclaiming, "I'm a Mormon." Nearly 6 million Mormons live in the United States.

The effort is similar to the "I'm a Muslim" ads done by American Muslims leading up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Those ads were effective because they featured Muslim firefighters and other first responders.

Will the Mormon ads make a difference? Not likely on a large scale. American attitudes toward Mormons have changed little since Gallup started polling about them in the 1960s.

That spells trouble for the current Mormon GOP presidential candidates, just as it did for Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion. He, too, sought the U.S. presidency.

Although the church distanced itself from polygamy ("plural wives") in 1890, it remains a reality in Mormon culture. Mormons say they are Christians and that Jesus appeared in America -- which doesn't square with mainstream Christian teaching.

Frankly, a lot of religions teach logic-defying beliefs. Some of their members make stellar public servants; others give politicians a bad name. Mormons are no different.

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Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer.

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