About two-and-a-half years ago, the Missionary Department of the Church began planning a public relations campaign titled "Truth Restored" to reach more people. Its focus is to answer standard questions about the Church's doctrines and beliefs. In this way, the campaign hopes to bring a new level of understanding about "Mormons" to the public. Some reporters have noted that this campaign is being run in test markets such as Kansas City at the same time Mitt Romney is campaigning for the presidency. To allay suspicions that the Church is supporting Romney's campaign, Church officials stated that the plans for "Truth Restored" were in the works long before Romney's campaign began. They also restated the politically neutral position of the Church. It is not only Romney's campaign that has put the Church in the media spotlight. Other events that have been highlighted recently include the release of a Hollywood film released this summer titled "September Dawn" discussing the events of the Mountain Meadows Massacre; the showing of a four-hour PBS documentary "The Mormons"; and a new calendar with bare-chested return LDS missionaries called "Men on a Mission." The calendar's producer sees the calendar as an opportunity to open public discussion about Mormonism. He said in a Religion News Service article that the purpose of the calendar is also to show a new side of Mormons, "it's OK to be sexy and spiritual at the same time." He intends some of the proceeds to be contributed to charity. Regardless of which event is driving the public's heightened curiosity and awareness, the bottom line is that people are responding to this media attention--in the Kansas City-Wichita area, hits on the web site (mormon.org) are up 300 percent from last year. The increase in traffic to the website is a celebrated achievement for the "Truth Restored" campaign because it specifically guides viewers to the website. This is different from advertising tactics the Church has used in the past, and officials believe the private experience the website encourages is helping people to feel more open to explore. In the past, advertising has mainly been in the form of public service announcements about the importance of the family. And in the last 15 years, it has added invitations for people to call in for free copies of the Book of Mormon, videos, Bibles, or to invite the missionaries to come by and teach them. This campaign is different because it takes a realistic, down-to-earth, and less intrusive aim, encouraging people to explore on their own. Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, recently said in an article for the Kansas City Star that the Church has always produced ads that have been effective at moving people emotionally. "In 30 seconds or 60 seconds, they really completely pull you in," Thompson said. "They hit you with this incredibly intense emotional experience, and while you are still feeling it, you can go to the website." The first wave of the campaign that was released in the three test market sites included television ads of street interviews of several men and women. They are asked simple questions like, "Where did I come from?" and "Does God care about my suffering?" The people filmed in the ads are paid actors and actresses and are not members of the church. However, they were not given scripts and were told to give honest and heartfelt answers to the questions. The second wave shows recent converts to the Church giving their testimonies and telling how they have found answers. These are also all completely unscripted. The test runs for the campaign will conclude in December, and effectiveness of the ads will be determined before Church officials decide whether the campaign will be broadened and used in cities across the country. Visit Mormon.org to get a feel for the campaign.
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