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Church Ads. Isn't It About Time?
By Aaron Johnston August 23, 2004

I hate bad advertising.

Take last night, for example. I was driving home when I heard a sixty-second radio spot for a local plumbing company. During the spot, an announcer explains - rather excitedly I might add - that plumbers from this particular company don't smell bad.

And that was it. For a whole sixty seconds, all the man talked about was how these plumbers don't reek of bad odor.

Rather than talk about their service or prices or reliability, this plumbing company choose to put all their advertising eggs in the no-stinky-staff-members basket.

ANNOUNCER: So call Thompsom Plumbing. Because our plumbers don't smell bad.

OK, did I miss something? Did I suddenly fall into a parallel universe, one in which plumbers are hired to NOT smell bad instead of being hired to fix the pipes?

I can see it now. I'm sitting in the living room with my wife.

"Golly, this house stinks," I say. "The candles stink. The trash stinks. The dog stinks. Can't we get some relief?"

My wife raises a finger, as if suddenly struck with inspiration. "I know," she says. "What we need is something that does NOT stink."

"By George you're right," I say, sitting up suddenly. "But whatever could that be?"

As an answer to our plea, the radio plays a particular commercial.

ANNOUNCER: So call Thompsom Plumbing. Because our plumbers don't smell bad.

"Eureka!" I shout. "That's the answer. Quick, honey, write down that number. "

OK, I hate to burst your bubble, local plumbing company, but nobody cares that your plumbers all small of roses. Think about it. If the toilet explodes and water is spraying up to the ceiling, all I care about is that someone stops the water before the house floats away. He could be a rotten egg with hands for all I care. What's important is that he fixes the leak.

Of course, what's most appalling about this ad is that someone thought this was a good idea and paid real American dollars to produce it and play it on the radio.

Ouch.

The fact is, bad advertising is far more prevalent than good advertising. That's why we as Latter-day Saints should thank our lucky stars that the church clearly understands how to advertise.

A few years ago, when a friend of mine found out I was Mormon, he immediately started singing.

"Mr. Robinson, I broke your window. Mr. Robinson, I broke your window." And then finished the operatic performance singing, "I told the truthhhhhhhhhhhh."

I had completely forgotten this spot, but as he explained it to me, it slowly came back to memory.

In the commercial, a little boy hits a baseball through the window of his aged neighbor, Mr. Robinson. The boy then must decide if he's going to fess up to the deed or run away with hopes of never getting caught.

Well, of course he admits to doing it. But he does so in song.

The old man comes to the door and the little boy sings, "Mr. Robinson, I broke your window. Mr. Robinson, I broke your window." And then when the relief of being honest washes over him, he sings triumphantly, "I told the truth."

The spot ended with the announcer saying something about the importance of being honest.

I may be butchering the commercial, but that's the gist of it.

And here was my friend, some fifteen years later, reciting the commercial as if he'd seen it on television only yesterday.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is every advertiser's dream: long recall.

The church has been making public service announcements like this one for over thirty years. (Well, actually Bonneville Communications made the spots for the Church.) They're all part of the Homefront campaign, the longest lasting, "most highly awarded PSA campaign series in broadcasting history" (Bonneville Communications website).

You hear that? The most awarded PSA campaign in history. In a word, church advertising rocks!

My favorite series of ads from the Homefront campaign end with the tagline: "Family. Isn't it about time?" These are classics.

The best of the bunch is the one in which a little girl constantly asks her father to read to her a story. Remember this one? At the end of the spot the little girl creeps into her parents' room while they're sleeping.

"Daddy, can you read me a story?" she asks once again, in that adorable, not-pronounced-correctly way.

The father barely wakes up. "Go ask Mommy," he manages to say.

The little girl then walks around the bed to Mom's side and asks, "Mommy, can Daddy read me a story?"

OK, say it with me: Ahhhhhhhhh. Kids say the darndest things, don't they?

It's a cute spot. And I'm a sucker for cute.

Another classic spot was the one in which a gruff-looking factory working sings to his daughter over the telephone. He's at work taking a break, and the little girl has apparently requested a rendition of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider."

Fearful that his fellow workers might overhear him singing a children's song and think him unmanly, the father begins singing quietly. Soon, however, he's into the song and singing as loudly as he would if he were home. His daughter couldn't be happier.

He then tells her he loves her and hangs up the phone.

Sure enough, a crowd of men have gathered. They tease him for his singing, but he shows no sign of shame.

"What can I say?" he says, smiling. "She's my little girl."

That, folks, is a great spot.

The true genius of these commercials, though, is that they're all public service announcements. That means they get free air time. The church pays to distribute the spots, but not to play them. Television and radio stations do that for free.

And why for free? Well, firstly because TV and radio stations are required by law to play so many minutes of PSAs a month. Secondly, PSAs are for the public good. They teach lessons on morality and family values that benefit all of society.

That's why I'm sad the church has made so few, if any, Homefront spots recently. The campaign has practically skidded to a halt. After thirty years of consistently good advertising, the church has slowed Homefront to a crawl.

There are several reasons for this, the economy being the most obvious. When money is tight, advertising budgets are often the first ones to go.

But another reason is that the church has placed a greater emphasis on the "call for a free copy" campaign. You know the one I'm talking about. In these spots, a toll-free number pops on screen and the announcer invites people to call in and get a free copy of the Book of Mormon or the Bible.

It's a great campaign. The church has had tremendous success with it. Thousands of fellow Christians have been introduced to our beliefs through this effort.

But I sure do miss the Homefront ads. And so...

Dear Church Audio Visual Department,

My fellow Homefront fans and I are dying for some more commercials. Don't leave us hanging. The campaign has been doing just fine for thirty years now, so let's not spoil a good thing. Get out there and roll those cameras.

And while we're waiting, put all the past Homefront ads on a DVD collection and sell it through church distributon. People would buy it. I know I would. The vignettes of cute kids and happy family moments are far more entertaining than most movies I see these days.

Respectfully yours,

Aaron Johnston

Come on, wouldn't a DVD collection be cool? What could be more fun than gathering the family on a Sunday evening and watching the Homefront ads?

Goodness, now that I think about it, that's a Homefront ad in and of itself, a family gathering to watch good commercials. It brings a tear to my eye.

Copyright © 2004 by Aaron Johnston

 
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