Scholar finds diversity yet sameness in ‘I’m a Mormon’ ads

Media • Short bios focus mainly on high-achieving members, says Zurich presenter.

Courtesy | Mormonnewsroom.com "I'm a Mormon" ads on display in New York City.

San Diego • If the LDS Church's "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign was primarily meant to showcase the faith's global reach, it succeeded.

But the two-minute video profiles also reveal a kind of sameness in their depictions of Latter-day Saints, with the brief bios focusing mainly on high-achieving members, a Swiss scholar said recently.

Marie-Therese Mader, who teaches at the University of Zurich's Center for Religion, Economics and Politics, analyzed the 174 "I'm a Mormon" videos the church has produced since 2010 to check for patterns and messages in the series. She reported her results at last month's meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Diego.

Mader's presentation was titled "Unity in Diversity: Self-Representation Strategies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Commercial Series 'I'm a Mormon.' "

Of the spots, 92 featured American Mormons — 17 of whom had non-U.S. cultural backgrounds — and 82 members in other countries.

About a third are people of color, the researcher said. "The church seems eager to show its global nature."

Indeed, that is part of the church's ad strategy, LDS spokesman Dale Jones said in a statement. "The campaign gives a glimpse into the lives of Latter-day Saints from all over the world."

But, Mader noted, the multimillion-dollar campaign presents only Mormons "who are exceptional in one way or another."

Showing images of church members as accomplished professionals and nurturing parents, she said, "is self-affirming to the Mormons who watch them."

The short two-minute videos followed a carefully constructed pattern, Mader said, with four elements:

• Family life is shown at the center of the subject's life.

• Mormon beliefs are not discussed and shots of church practices are absent.

• Individuals portrayed as representatives of the LDS Church act as a kind of product that is being sold.

• Despite highlighting cultural, economic and racial diversity, the profiles are remarkably similar. There are no examples of people who are unhappy, struggle or have problems.

What Colleen McDannell, professor of religious studies at the University of Utah, found common in the videos was that the Mormons were depicted as "nearly perfect and incredibly busy."

One European Mormon woman is shown working part time at a university and teaching music to teens, all the while rearing a gaggle of children with myriad lessons and homework.

"It's the busy-ness that really stands out," she said. "There are no slacker Mormons."

But, the U. scholar added, that is hardly a new insight.

McDannell noted that 19th-century Mormon polygamist wife Annie Clark Tanner mentioned that same quality in her autobiography, "A Mormon Mother."

"If joy, in living, can be measured by the number of interests one has in life, the Mormon people should be one of the happiest on Earth. There is always some group activity sponsored by the church," Tanner wrote. "If Mormon philosophy can be summed up in two words, it is 'Keep Busy.' "

"I'm a Mormon" ads, McDannell said, reaffirm and echo that sentiment.


Twitter: @religiongal

Courtesy | Mormonnewsroom.com "I'm a Mormon" ads on display in New York City.

Courtesy | Mormonnewsroom.com "I'm a Mormon" ads on display in New York City.

Courtesy | Mormonnewsroom.com "I'm a Mormon" ads on display in New York City.