Mormons seeking to improve their brand image

November 18, 2011
By tomsander

We reported earlier on our research that shows that Mormons are among the least liked of several dozen religious and non-religious groups we polled about.  See “Pinpointing Romney’s Mormon Challenge” (WSJ) by Robert Putnam and David Campbell.  More on these negative “feeling thermometer” results towards Mormons in Putnam and Campbell’s award-winning American Grace.

The NY Times reports today on the “I am a Mormon” campaign where the LDS has hired two advertising firms (Ogilvy & Mather and Hall & Partners) to try to counter the negative stereotypes that many Americans have of Mormons — that they are, according to focus groups, “secretive,” “cultish,” “sexist,” “controlling,” “pushy,” “anti-gay.”


Church leaders like Mr. [Stephen] Allen [director of LDS missionary department] say that the timing and tenor of the campaign have nothing to do with the political campaigns of two Mormons running for president: Mitt Romney, the putative front-runner, and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., both former Republican governors. To avoid the perception that it was trying to influence politics, the church is intentionally not airing the campaign in states that have early primaries, going so far as to cancel their advertising in Las Vegas when Nevada moved up its primary, said Mr. Allen.

And yet, the church’s campaign could prove to be a pivotal factor in the race for the presidency. The Mormon image problem is a problem not only for the church, but also for Mr. Romney. For all their success professionally and financially, Mormons still face a level of religious bigotry in the United States equal only to that faced by Muslims….

The highly negative poll numbers that surfaced in the first Romney campaign were deeply disturbing to the church’s top leadership, according to people involved with the church’s advertising campaign who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize their jobs. Church leaders were also taken aback by the vitriol directed at Mormons after the church contributed money and volunteers to pass Proposition 8, the California measure in 2008 that banned same-sex marriage.“You would think,” said one person involved with the advertising campaign, “that the higher Romney’s profile, the better it is for the church. It’s actually the opposite.

“The people who are very savvy within the church and understand media,” this person said, “know that if Romney gets the nomination, ultimately for the church it’s a problem. Politicians are polarizing figures, they’re not uniting figures. What it does is completely eliminate the option of Mormonism among a whole swath of people who will never ever consider it. They’ll say, I know one Mormon — our president — and I hate that guy.”

In many ways, Mr. Romney and Mr. Huntsman embody the Mormon archetype: clean-cut, Republican American family men. The church’s campaign is designed to introduce a rainbow of Mormon faces who counter the stereotype. These Mormons are not only white, but also Asian, black and Hispanic, and from countries other than the United States. There are plenty of traditional two-parent families, but there are also single parents, working women and stay-at-home fathers, and even an interracial couple — all family arrangements rare among Mormons until recently.

Read “Mormons’ Ad Campaign May Play Out on the ’12 Campaign Trail” (NYT, 11/18/11, by Laurie Goodstein)


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