Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Baptize your Buds

A Blessing or a Curse? Irreverent Beer Ads Brew Plenty of Both
Sunday, March 4, 2001


If you are among the Utahns -- including some legislators and beer
distributors -- offended by Wasatch Beer's "Baptize your taste buds"
advertising campaign, take comfort in knowing it could have been worse. Much
Wasatch's irreligious radio ads and billboards lampooning what the
brewery refers to as "Utah's prevailing culture" have outraged the pious.
In radio spots, the irreverent jabs include a tired pioneer responding
to Brigham Young's "This is the place . . ." statement with, "So who's ready
for a cold beer?"
But the most ire results from the send-ups of The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints' missionary program. In a radio ad, Elders "Rulon" and
"Heber" endure door after door slammed in their faces. Finally, Heber blurts
out "Beer!" and reveals they are on a "different kind of mission."
"We're here to spread the word about good beer . . ." Heber says. "We're
on a mission, sir."
Wasatch Brewing managing partner Greg Schirf and the creative staff at
Park City's Kirwin Communications ad agency brainstormed -- but rejected --
even cheekier goofs on what LDS Church founder Joseph Smith called the
"peculiar people" who today make up 70 percent of Utah's population.
Considered were slogans like, "No Brewery Recommend Necessary," or "No
Funny Underwear Required," references, respectively, to the formal
permission slips required to enter LDS temples and the sacred undergarments
of devout Mormons.
One would-be marketing genius proposed introducing Wasatch's new "Party
in a Box" 12-pack as the "Quorum of Twelve," which happens to be the name of
the apostles who advise the LDS president, considered by the faithful to be
their prophet.
But sober heads, so to speak, prevailed. The ideas were killed.
"We decided it was not kind," says Kirwin creative director Lesley
A billboard that was to be part of the "different kind of mission" push
was refused by Reagan Outdoor Advertising, a major billboard purveyor. "I t
was the 'M' word," says Kirwin.
Instead, coming soon to a highway near you will be "Serving the local
faithful. Wasatch Beers. Baptize your taste buds."
"The campaign really isn't intended to give offense to the prevailing
culture," Schirf says. "We just want to sell beer and have fun doing it."
Many Mormons probably would take no offense. A call-in poll by KSL-TV
(owned by the LDS Church) found that 48 percent of the callers wanted the
billboard taken down, while 52 percent thought it should stay.
LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said Saturday the church had no comment
on the ad campaign.
Laurie Dipadova, a University of Utah political science professor, is
not offended by such humor. "Frankly, it's not a good idea to be easily
offended by these things. I would be very surprised if LDS Church leaders
gave it a second thought."
Dipadova, a former Baptist and LDS convert who likes to joke that North
Carolina's dominant religion is basketball, adds, "There are too many
important things to be concerned about. People who are bothered by this kind
of humor don't have enough real concerns."
But not everyone is laughing.
Schirf, a Catholic who moved to Utah 25 years ago from Wisconsin, says
he relied on an informal focus group of practicing Mormon friends to walk
the line between humor and insult.
Still, during the first weeks of the campaign he received more than a
dozen calls daily, two out of three demanding he take down the billboard at
I-15's 600 South exit.
"I suggest to them that they do what I do when I don't like an
advertisement -- don't support the product. Don't buy Wasatch beer," Schirf
says. "Then, there's a dead silence at the other end of the line."
Drinking alcohol is against LDS Church tenets.
The campaign also angered some in the Legislature, whose membership is
more than 90 percent Mormon, and those vexed lawmakers took their complaints
to the Utah Beer Wholesale Association.
Trouble is, Wasatch Brewing Co. isn't even a member of the association.
"This is a private business," says Bill Christofferson, president of the
wholesalers' group. "This is something we can't control. But in Utah, you're
in a different land."
However, the complaints do resonate with Christofferson and other
"We want to be a good neighbor," he says. " It gives a black eye to the
whole industry."
Paul Kirwin says he knew the campaign would be risky, but adds, "How can
you lose a customer you'll never have?"
He argues there's a difference in spoofing Utah's "culture" and
attacking the Mormon faith. "Our goal is to sell beer, not irritate everyone
in the state of Utah."
Schirf, a self-described iconoclast, did lay down a dictum for poking
fun at Utah's culture: "I don't want to go from being a smart ass to being a
dumb ass," he told the creative team.
"Let's be real. Who's in charge here [in Utah]?" Schirf says. "This
campaign is not a political act."
On the other hand, in a city where non-practicing Mormon Mayor Rocky
Anderson caused an uproar when he called for a relaxation of the state's
somewhat baroque drinking laws before the 2002 Olympic Games, Wasatch's ads
may indeed seem a political act to many.
One delighted commuter profusely thanked Kirwin for the campaign. "He
said every time he passes the sign he has a big grin on his face. He rolls
down his window and holds a fist up."
The bottom line, though, is selling beer.
"We are pleased to have opened a secret issue. It's very healthy for the
issue to be discussed as the Olympics approach," Kirwin says. "In a year we
will 'welcome the world.' It's time we loosened up."

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