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Baptist media spots have familiar ring

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You've seen 'em.

Those TV spots that show family scenes and have a warm tag line: "From The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."Along with millions of other viewers during the past 27 years, you've probably even taken a minute to think about what you just heard, even as other images flash across the TV screen. It's logical, it's moral, it's - well, personal.

The "Homefront" series, produced by LDS Church-owned Bonneville Communications, is one of the most highly awarded public service campaigns in history and an effective tool for the church in providing people with an "image" of who Mormons are.

The Southern Baptists like it - a lot.

So much so, in fact, that they've produced a new television ad cam-paign of their own, which will be used for the first time in Salt Lake City this week. "Just Imagine" "evokes soft, pleasant, family oriented imagery to convey the sense of peace and serenity found through the local church," according to "Facts & Trends," a publication of the Southern Baptist Convention's Sunday School Board.

Created in such a way that the "tag line" can be customized to fit the local Southern Baptist church, the spot asks viewers to "imagine a place where words of hope and kindness fall like rain, where people find out who they are and who they are created to be," the voice-over says. "A place where you can reveal your deepest secrets. A place where you can start over. Imagine a place where you can find a hope that never dies and love that never fails. Now imagine that even in today's world, that place is closer than you would ever have imagined."

Learning from the Mormons

After press kits detailing the new campaign were released earlier this year, an article in the Wall Street Journal noted that "Now the Baptists . . . are waking up to what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has known for decades: A well-made television ad with a slick sound-track can enhance a church's image, get `unchurched' people to think about God and perhaps even lure a few souls across the church's threshold."'

The North American Mission Board produced four different advertising packages last year. Each includes a radio commercial, newspaper advertisement and a television commercial, all targeted to a specific demographic group. In addition to "Just Imagine," the others are "Take Cover!" geared to teens; "Destination Eternity," focused on people in life's "fast track," and "Ray of Hope," which targets young adults.

In its April issue, the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Witness, a monthly tabloid, chronicles a meeting of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee held earlier this year in Nashville that "included estimates on the scope of Mormon TV and radio advertising."

It quoted Bob Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, as saying that Mormons' "whole home-mission thrust is commercials." The comments came in discussion about a motion passed during the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas last year directing the development of "national television and radio spots to reach people for Christ, strengthen families and enhance the image of Southern Baptists."

Strength in numbers

Combining three of the church's national agencies, including the Radio and Television Commission, into one entity now known as the North American Mission Board was part of the strategy to allow for such production, according to Tom Elliff, president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"Prior to this last year, none of the agencies by themselves would have had a substantial enough budget to have large-scale public relations efforts on their own. With this restructuring, it made it possible that resources would be available. We always have had advertising on TV and radio, but not to the extent it appears would be possible in the future."

Have Southern Baptists patterned their current media campaign after LDS media efforts?

"Southern Baptists are not generally a reactionary kind of people," Elliff said. "We're pro-active rather than reactive. We don't watch somebody do something and say, `Hey, we're going to try to do that, too.' "

Even so, several Southern Baptist media officials have high praise for the LDS campaign.

"I've been aware of the Mormon media campaign and watched their strategy kind of unfold for a number of years," said Tom McEachin, media strategist for evangelization with the North American Mission Board. "The Mormons did a good job of climatizing their ads and not dealing with theological issues for many years. The Southern Baptists have been very impressed with the ads done by the Mormons. The quality has been really received well by the TV stations and others. They set a quality standard for religious broadcasting.

"In a sense it's helped us," McEachin said. "We would always have people (within the old Radio and Television Commission) who could not see the point in spending so much money to produce these kinds of things. . . . The Mormon TV ads have done a good job for Mormons in terms of image. The national image of Southern Baptists could be improved."

Doctrinally centered

The new campaign his organization has rolled out "is not an image campaign in the sense that we want to position ourselves as pro-family and pro-this or pro-that, but it talks about doctrinal issues," he said.

The Utah premiere of the Southern Baptist campaign will include 155 TV spots, 448 radio spots, full page ads in both the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune and four billboards.

TV, radio and billboard ads used in Salt Lake City all offer people a toll-free number to call, where they can receive a free copy of the "Jesus" video produced by the Campus Crusade for Christ - an evangelical Christian organization.

Using yet another "marketing" tool employed by the Latter-day Saints in previous campaigns, the caller's name and address are taken. In the coming days, a Southern Baptist representative will visit the caller personally to deliver the video - and to seek information about the caller's religious beliefs and assess interest.

The database generated by the calls will then be used by volunteer missions personnel and others during the next few months to encourage those interested. Officials hope anywhere from five to 10 new Southern Baptist congregations could be created along the Wasatch Front as a result of the campaign.

But similarities between the two faiths in terms of media efforts aren't limited to electronic media. Direct mail advertising prepared by the Sunday School Board has already been sent to 140,000 Utah households, and an eight-page tabloid publication, titled "Choices," featuring the testimony of Utah Jazz player Shandon Anderson has been mailed to an additional 250,000 households along the Wasatch Front.

McEachin said the convention planners worked with local churches in generating a mailing list geared to specific ZIP codes where officials believed they would be most effective.

A sophisticed operation

The strategic nature of the media campaign and the colorful publications Utahns are seeing in the mailbox are but one indication of the sophistication the publisher represents.

Among the world's largest publishers of religious materials, the Baptist Sunday School Board publishes 180 monthly and quarterly products and 800 to 900 undated products annually, according to a press release.

Publishing facilities in Nashville, Tenn., encompass more than 1 million square feet of floor space, producing and shipping 66 million pieces of church literature during fiscal 1996-97 and making it the largest publishing house in the state.

Seventy-one Baptist Book Stores and Lifeway Christian Stores serve as retail outlets for published materials, earning revenue of $284 million last year. Materials produced cover the gamut of needs: discipleship, music, family life, multicultural ministries, pastors and church staff members, church history, Christian schools and home schooling, Bible, books, church supplies and gifts.

Because its mission has become so focused on providing the vast array of published materials, messengers at next week's convention here will vote on a proposed name change for the Sunday School Board - LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

And the effort is multilingual. Many "culturally and racially sensitive" publications focused on ministry are currently produced in Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese. Basic English resources are also produced for the deaf.

All of which looks familiar to millions of Mormons, who find glossy LDS magazines stuffed in their mailboxes each month - published in their own language and geared to specific age groups.

Scriptures and other educational resources, music, videos, artwork, clothing and gift items are distributed through LDS Distribution Centers and Deseret Book retail outlets, both owned by the church.

Even some of the jewelry worn by members of each faith has a similar purpose. For at least 30 years, many Mormons of all ages have sported "CTR" rings, pins, tie tacks and necklaces, reminding them to "Choose the Right."

More recently, Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have come out with their own line of jewelry, reminding those who see and wear it to consider "WWJD" - "What Would Jesus Do?"

Tomorrow: Similarities on moral issues.