Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Gentle, Advertising People

Our Association, if you haven't heard yet, is advertising. The UUA has launched a print ad campaign, the first example of which you see at right. I personally have a couple misgivings, which I'll get to in a moment.

In addition to running a couple of print ads in Time Magazine, the Association is paying for what they call "advertorials." I can't tell exactly what all the advertorials include, but they definitely include sponsoring, a collection of stories from the Magazine about matters of faith.

I tried in vain to find the religion section from the Time homepage, to no avail. To find the pages, it appears you have to know where to look. The page currently runs an online poll asking readers' beliefs. The choices are: that there is an all-powerful God, that a spirit pervades all experience or that science explains everything. Right n0w, with 233 responses "spirit pervades" has over half the votes. Clearly UUs are swamping the poll.

So I'm all for anything that raises the profile of Unitarian Universalism outside the church. I am concerned, however, that the campaign does little to address one tension within a church comprised of theists and non-theists. Sometimes it seems that the only UUs who don't think the church is too Christian are those who think it's not Christian enough. We lose members who are looking for a spiritual home and find the church insufficiently nourishing and we lose members looking a community of Humanists who find too much God talk.

This tension is the great challenge of the church, made more challenging because it is difficult for the church to be neutral about matters of faith. And pretty much impossible to be perceived as being neutral. Hence, my misgivings about the ad. Some, in and out of the church, surely perceive the ad as being anti-theist/pro-Humanist. As such, how welcome will UU Christians or other theistic UUs continue to feel in the church? How well with the ad attract people who believe in something divine, but are uncomfortable in mainline churches? Happily, the online part of the church doesn't show much of a backlash yet, but we need be sensitive how the ads are playing.

The tagline for the "advertorial" linked to on the UUA website is "Find us and ye shall seek." This better summarizes what we are about. The church's great strength is its ability to welcome diverse spiritual seekers. That's also it's greatest challenge. Our ad wizards should bear that in mind.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I'm wrong about that last bit. The mock-up advertorial pdf on the UUA website shows that the tag is the old "Seek and you shall find." I saw "find and you shall seek" on a UU blog, but now can't find it again. Personally I like that version better -- witty and descriptive. It'd be great if that could wend its way to UUA and make it into the campaign at some point.


Shelby Meyerhoff said...

Wow, I went on the Time site after reading your post, and noticed the same thing -- there really is no way to end up on the religion advertorial from the main page, or even from an article about religion.

Randy said...

I'm with you - the 'find and ye shall seek' phrase is a great approach and would strike an even better tone. Still, the current ad does the job it was written for - get our name out and visible, perhaps for the first time for most Time readers. I had misgivings about an ad campaign at first, but the more I think about it the more I think it's worthwhile.