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Mormonism is already in lights on Broadway, thanks to a Tony-winning musical; now it's in a 40-foot digital billboard in Times Square, courtesy of the LDS Church.
Yep, there's no business like show business to boost a religion.
The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has now launched a million-dollar ad campaign in the Big Apple, with a Times Square looping video staring down at tourists and ticket-holders around the corner from the Eugene O'Neill Theater, where the raunchy "Book of Mormon" satire about LDS missionaries in Uganda has been playing to wildly applauding audiences.
In the Mormon ads, a video portrays several church members who briefly describe their interests and background. Each then concludes with the line, "And I'm a Mormon." The video ends with a collage of diverse faces, all of whom are LDS.
The 14 million-member faith also bought ad space on 200 of the city's cabs, in a spot known as "taxi-toppers," as well as for a video clip on the screen inside the cabs. This week, the church put up posters inside subway cars and on bus shelter boards. Next week, it plans to add a second, static poster in Times Square, at a right angle to the digital one.
"The 'I'm a Mormon' campaign was tested in nine U.S. markets last year and is being expanded to additional areas," LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said Tuesday. "We included New York City in this round because of conversations about the church happening there."
By the understated "conversations," Trotter is referring to the widespread publicity surrounding the musical written by the creators of "South Park," Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez of "Avenue Q" which walked away Sunday with nine Tonys, including the prize for best musical.
The play has been the buzz of Broadway, heralded in exuberant reviews, then discussed, debated and dissed in major newspapers as well as on the Internet.
The church issued a brief official response in February before the show opened: "The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."
The church's home Web page has since added a link to statements from members sharing their reasons for believing in the faith's signature scripture, The Book of Mormon.
"If I were in [Mormon leaders'] shoes," Utah advertising expert Bill Cutting said, "I would do exactly what they are doing."
His only suggestion: ride the free publicity all the way.
With the mega-hit musical and, soon, two Mormon presidential candidates, said Cutting, who is not LDS, a top church leader should go on "Meet the Press" or some other major television shows to "put a nonsanctimonious face" on the religion.
For years, Catholics have been lampooned on stage and film, with musicals such as "Nunsense" and "Sister Act," and Jews have been making fun of themselves, noted Cutting of TWIO Brand, a Salt Lake City brand-strategy company. "This is the chance for Mormonism to publicly stop taking itself so seriously, as any religion has to do."
The musical's national publicity, he said, provides the church with an "enormous opportunity."
Though not all Mormons welcome this type of mocking attention, many are playfully resigned to it. At least, said one person commenting at the LDS blog bycommonconsent.com, "It's better than being tarred and feathered."