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July 12th, 2013
03:36 PM ET

How do advertisers spell trouble? G-O-D

By Jeffrey Weiss, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Has any advertiser gotten into more trouble than Samuel Adams by not putting religion in an ad? Usually it goes the other way.

If you missed the recent brew-haha, in a TV commercial pegged to this year’s Fourth of July, the Boston-based beer company offered an homage to its namesake:

“Why name a beer after Samuel Adams? Because he signed the Declaration of Independence. He believed there was a better way to live. All men are created equal. They are endowed with certain unalienable rights: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Which smoothly drops a key phrase from the Declaration: “…they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights ...”

On the one hand, it’s just a beer ad and it used up its whole 30 seconds. On the other hand, why leave out some of the best-known words in American history?

The company explained it’s all about the Beer Code. No kidding: There’s a national Beer Institute that has an Advertising and Marketing Code.

Right after, and I’m not making this up, “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not contain graphic nudity,” you will find: “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not employ religion or religious themes.”

There’s no mention of why it’s OK to use the Declaration itself, perhaps the most sacred text in the national civic religion, to sell suds.

Sam Adams himself wrote a lot about God. His dad even wanted him to go into the clergy. Instead, Adams went into business and became one of the firebrands of the American Revolution.** In 1772, he penned a report called The Rights of the Colonists that was presented at a Boston town meeting.

In it he argued for religious tolerance. Except for Catholics. Because, he explained, Catholic dogma and doctrine leads “directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war, and bloodshed.”

So ol’ Sam wasn’t perfect. None of our Founding Fathers were. But he probably wouldn’t have been happy about the beer named for him eliding the creator from its ad.

Modern reaction was about what you’d expect. Howls of outrage filled the company’s Facebook page. Columnists and commentators took the company to task.

This commercial is far from the first to tangle with faith. Some other countries are less sensitive about the topic than Americans, as this collection from Buzzfeed demonstrates.

The attempt often doesn’t go so well in America. But there are some exceptions.

Here are five notable American examples:

1. For several years, Doritos and Pepsi have held a Super Bowl ad contest. Folks submit an ad, the ads get posted online and voted on, and the top vote-getter gets broadcast during the Big Game.

A couple of years ago, a temporarily popular entry was titled “Feed Your Flock.” In it, a clergyman with a dwindling flock prays for inspiration. Cut to a long line of people waiting for a chip and a sip of soda. Does it look like Catholics receiving the sacraments? Ubetcha. Cut to the sign out front: "Free Doritos and Pepsi Max Sunday."

Yes, it was funny. And yes, it was offensive to some Catholics. And yes, the folks who made the ad apologized and pulled it from the contest. But you can still watch it here.

2. Another ad aimed at the Super Bowl with a religious theme ran as planned. This one was intended to kick up a controversy but turned out to be less than expected. It was paid for by the conservative advocacy group Focus on the Family and featured football star Tim Tebow. The pregame buzz was all about how overtly religious it was going to be and how it would be all about abortion. As you can see here, it turned out to be a lot more subtle than that.

3. A third Super Bowl ad with a faith theme aired last year. (Maybe the biggest game inspires ad agencies to reach for the biggest metaphors?) Dodge pulled out a Paul Harvey speech from decades before and ran pretty pictures in front of it. The audio begins: "And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, I need a caretaker. So God made a farmer."

The nostalgic ad took two minutes – an expensive eternity for Super Bowl TV commercials. And it kicked up no significant faith-related complaints.

4. A different kind of ad that tangled with faith was a social media phenomenon two years ago.

The Facebook page for Oreos featured a photo of a six-layer “crème” cookie. Each layer was a different color of the rainbow. The text on the page said, simply: June 25/Pride. Objections from religious conservatives were predictable.

5. Finally, there’s the most successful religiously themed ad ever made for a secular product. Hebrew National makes deli fare: Salami, hot dogs, corned beef, bologna. And Hebrew National is kosher, meaning it follows traditional Jewish dietary laws.

Starting in the mid-1960s and returning occasionally in the years since, the company has run ads with a slogan that played on that unusual aspect of the business: “We answer to a higher authority.”

As with the recent Sam Adams commercial, the Creator is never actually mentioned. But as you can see here in one of the first of the “higher authority” ads, nobody who knows the product ever missed the point.

Jeffrey Weiss is an award-winning religion writer in Dallas. 

** An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that Adams was a lawyer.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Business • Culture wars • Entertainment • Faith Now • Money & Faith • TV • United States

soundoff (908 Responses)
  1. thatinthebible

    Interesting topic...

    I'm actually currently blogging about what the Bible has to say about wine and drinking in general.

    Join me... I blog at http://isthatinthebible.com

    I really like the idea of taking any random current local, national, or international news event and just seeing what the Bible has to say about that particular subject; if anything.

    April 20, 2014 at 8:52 pm |
  2. nels1967

    #4 doesn't really belong in this list as it doesn't reference religion.

    April 17, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
  3. joy

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    January 16, 2014 at 4:24 am |
  4. TYRANNASAUR

    Which smoothly drops a key phrase from the Declaration:.........DUH..... “..Which smoothly drops a key phrase from the Declaration: “…they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights ...”....

    Good that they drop that since it means NOTHING.....human kind developed over 25 million years ago from Proconsul which was a primate and what that would have to selling beer has no meaning.

    December 27, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • l33ter

      Sam Adams himself acknowledged a creator:

      "I firmly believe that the benevolent *Creator* designed the republican Form of Government for Man."
      The Writings of Samuel Adams (1904)

      Sam Adams brewing has discredited their namesake.

      January 4, 2014 at 2:26 pm |
  5. Kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
    And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
    The, looking in, I saw upon the floor
    Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
    “How many anvils have you had,” said I,
    “To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
    “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye,
    “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
    And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
    For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
    Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
    The anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.

    Truth is..exclusive

    October 17, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • mulehead

      I stopped reading after "I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour." ....same story different day.

      February 7, 2014 at 3:28 pm |
    • sirhuxley

      Well, I accepted Jesus too and ....

      WOW! Does he ever do a good job on my lawn! HE and His brother Jose (Pronounced Hose-A) are awesome!

      Now, my lawn looks like a million bucks, praise be to Jesus!

      March 5, 2014 at 5:45 pm |
  6. Tryme

    Atheist have their noses everywhere that has discussions about God. For unbelievers i would say that they are the biggest God followers.

    September 11, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • So true

      Nobody talks about God more than an atheist

      September 23, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
      • Pole dancing for Jesus

        If the deluded would keep it to their homes and churches, atheists wouldn't need to defend the constitution against those poor downtrodden chrissies.

        September 23, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
      • silverbuttons

        Actually, God hardly ever comes up as a subject of conversation among atheists. We have better things to talk about than the invisible man in the sky that nobody has ever seen, touched, talked to, or taken a photograph of.

        January 9, 2014 at 5:19 pm |
        • joshtheapologist

          Does that explain why you are on a religious post?

          February 12, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
    • TYRANNASAUR

      HAHAHAHAHAHHAHA... TOTAL CRAP....

      December 27, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • sirhuxley

      Yep! You got that right!

      And we are here to stay, we are the Omniscient bringers of light!

      March 5, 2014 at 5:46 pm |
  7. Emil Evens

    I have been browsing on-line greater than three hours today, yet I by no means found any attention-grabbing article like yours. It’s lovely price sufficient for me. Personally, if all site owners and bloggers made just right content as you probably did, the web might be a lot more helpful than ever before.

    August 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  8. Angry Agnostic

    I haven't the time to read all 900 comments, but has someone stated the obvious yet? Whatever silly Christian think-tank filed that complaint is apparently oblivious to the Biblical prohibitions against the very subject of the commercial. If anything they should be content that their "God" isn't being affiliated with alcohol.

    I submit a much more fitting venue for these people to project their theology: on toilet paper.

    August 5, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  9. Meg

    What do you mean by "fight so hard"? I'm an athiest and I'm not fighting against anything. I just ignore religion because its a waste of time. I ACTUALLY spend my free time volunteering and helping those less fortunate versus standing around in judgment of others. To each their own.

    August 1, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • No You Don't

      I ACTUALLY spend my free time volunteering and helping those less fortunate versus standing around in judgment of others.

      August 2, 2013 at 12:40 am |
      • Angry Agnostic

        Wouldn't it be better to do it for it's own sake, like the humanist organizations of UNICEF and Doctors without Borders? Isn't there the hidden agenda that lies belief?

        Is it really necessary to insist of the children in South Sudan that they must be told, incessantly, that "Jesus is the way, the hope, the only path to redemption" before being given their food? How charitable is it to condemn their ancient, long-held traditional Animist beliefs by asserting that they will take them to Hell? Why aren't you at the very least taking the time to tell them that "we don't really adhere to the witchcraft thing anymore", especially in the face of now commonly occurring witch trials? Worst of all, with regard to a specific tenant held by a specific church, how good of an idea was it really to tell them that contraception is forbidden even in the face of AIDS?

        Faith-based charities are NEVER in a position where they CANNOT be accused of doing these deeds in the hopes of more converts or some prize after death. These organizations, by the way, have the advantages of their billions of sheepish adherents pumping money into their cause, often by instilling them with guilt and making threats of punishment after death.

        August 2, 2013 at 11:06 am |
        • virgillionaire

          I agree that practice gets in the way and can be counterproductive, like the contraception issue. But believers try to convert others because their faith has brought them a beautiful peace and a bright light of truth.
          It's ironic, i guess, but I think Jesus would agree with you that they should focus on just helping others and not trying so hard to change them.
          Maybe it's different in the south, but any perusing of the internet will find a parade of athiests attacking 'Xtians' as fairy tale believiers, etc, etc. That is just ignorant. It's ok to not believe, but not to belittle others faith, it's classless, even if, in your infinite wisdom, you know they are wrong.

          December 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  10. mslvt11

    I can't believe that there are people who objected to this commercial advertisement. He was not directly quoting the declaration of independence, therefore had no need to use the identical words in the identical order or context. And for those who continue to insist that the US is a Christian nation, you can't claim that the Founding Fathers intended that to be so when they clearly chose to keep church and state separate many times over.

    July 31, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  11. Amateur Christologist

    A Pride reference is a religious reference? Oh, wait, it PO'ed the Evangelicals. Wait, I go to an Evangelical church, and I'm gay, and we celebrated Pride. Oh, wait, it PO'ed *some* really loud obnoxious right-wingers. There, THAT made sense. Wait, now, how was the Oreo thing a religious ad?

    July 29, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
  12. TLORop

    Good for Sam Adams. Its the United States of America Not the United States of Christianity.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • Amateur Christologist

      Not according to Justice Roberts.

      July 29, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • avenger

      u will be conquered if not by the cross then by the sword of Islam, u choose?

      July 30, 2013 at 5:21 am |
      • DaGuest

        Get in line for your kool-aid.

        August 1, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • Steve

      We could care less what your religious view are buddy. Fact is The United States is Christianity, or any other religion that people feel the need to have.

      I see no reason to destroy a very historical set of words just to appease some people that are never happy anyway.

      July 30, 2013 at 8:55 am |
      • ransomstoddard1

        Just as we also could not care less what your views are.

        July 30, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
      • lol

        The hypocrisy of this argument is that religious people pick and choose which words of the bible to follow and omit the ones that don't suit them. So arguing that Sam Adams can't just pick and choose words is the same as arguing that religious Christians should be stoning women and killing off everyone who wears two different fabrics because it says so in the bible and thus cannot be omitted.

        July 30, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
      • Doug Wilson

        Funny, atheists tend to be friendlier, happier and more compassionate than Christians. Seems your "people that are never happy" is just a bunch of made up nonsense...like Christianity.

        July 30, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
        • Nancy

          Funny how can some one be so happy when they fight so hard against something they don't believe in?

          July 30, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
        • DaGuest

          Amen to that ;-)

          August 1, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
        • Horse Hockey

          You atheists are far from it. Had group of atheists at high school that were duller than watching paint dry and were also put on suicide watch because of the way they complained about evangelicals and life so much. They also hanged out with skinheads "saying that they were interesting".

          August 2, 2013 at 12:44 am |
        • Angry Agnostic

          Well you got us there, Christians can certainly be more interesting! Especially when squirming frantically to disown some very unsavory parts of the bible, and trying to crush the emergence of exciting new scientific discoveries with their pathetic bronze-age myths. Their arbitrary and often hilarious justifications made in asserting that the KJV 1611 is the only version that will keep you out of Hell...

          You just can't compare Noah's Ark with the Hubble Telescope, technological advancement, etc... The mad and hysterical violence recommended in the Pentateuch, and the inane and contradictory preachings of Jesus, not to mention his condoning of slavery (as alleged by Paul thru his Gospel account), are utter garbage when you compare it to the beautiful and compassionate insight reflected in the earlier works of Socrates.

          If you went back in time 350 years, even the most conservative, fundamentalist, "snake-handlingest" Xtians running around today would be accused of blasphemy, and justifiably so, in the context of 100% (or even slightly lesser) Biblical literalism. Also, most skin-heads have been known to be either Baptist or Orthodox Catholic. I also cannot wait to crush the inevitable and FALSE claim that "the mass-slaughterings of the 20th Century were committed by secular humanists"

          August 2, 2013 at 11:35 am |
        • Angry Agnostic

          ..."You Atheists" ?

          There's your explanation. The way the Xtian majority in this country denounces and mercilessly stigmatizes atheists makes it nearly impossible for non-believers to have meaningful friendships with "humble and compassionate" believers. In the "enlightened" South, where many states agree that Interracial marriages should be made illegal, let alone Gay marriage, coming out as an atheist can get you hate mail, loss of your job and unprovoked physical assaults instigated by those who believe that Jesus instructed them to "love their enemy". Given these things, I can certainly see how a tiny collection of atheists can be rendered into depression in the face of a cruel Xtian majority.

          August 2, 2013 at 11:51 am |
      • DaGuest

        No, Steve, the U.S. is not Christianity nor any other religion. People are free to believe or not believe anything they choose, but there is supposed to be separation of church and state. Not everyone believes in some form of religious nonsense,

        August 1, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • MoveToChina

      Taliban said same. Went around blowing up statues in Afghanistan to erase other religions.

      January 2, 2014 at 10:08 pm |
  13. Basil

    A benevolent dictatorship can put the forces of political correctness in their place.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • MoveToChina

      China doesn't tolerate religion. You could move there.

      January 2, 2014 at 10:11 pm |
  14. drDave

    The "God Made A Farmer" ad was *highly offensive. It spent two minutes extolling how God created a special class of humans. These people, from the photo-montage, mostly white and Midwestern, had wonderful qualities were given to them directly by their Creator.

    Presumably everyone else was created as an afterthought, without those qualities.

    I've never seen a commercial before that would cause me to actually boycott a product, but I found it so offensive that I would never buy anything from Dodge (the sponsor, if I recall correctly).

    July 29, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • apply-some-thought(give it a shot)

      Let's set aside the rest of your argument for now (we can address it after you correct your first mistake, and then we will move on). American farmers were portrayed as, "mostly white and midwestern."? Please, tell me, how is that an inaccuracy? What types of people, and what types of places have you traditionally viewed American farmers as coming from? Would it have been an accurate assessment to portray them as mostly being minorities that are based in urban NewYork?
      Are you serious?

      July 29, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  15. Dylan Rainwalker

    So, how does what an advertisement says have anything to do with whether or not someone believes those rights are endowed by their creator, nature, or something else (or nothing else)?

    July 28, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • Thomas

      Well, a right has no meaning unless it is a favoured state of things as opposed to something else. For something to be favoured, it needs to be favoured by a consciousness, or something like a consciousness. For freedom to be favoured before tyranny, for example, it needs to be favoured by something. If it is only favoured by individuals, then the right-ness of it is not universal and absolute, but only subjective and limited to those who favour it.
      That's how I understand it...

      July 29, 2013 at 5:01 am |
      • Religion is NOT healthy for children and other living things

        Interestingly circular "reasoning" with no apparent purpose nor point.
        ???

        July 30, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
        • Thomas

          Excuse me, but where exactly do you suspect circularity?

          July 30, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  16. Sarah H.

    This ad is just another attempt to sway a historical fact, which is so sad. It's like watered down beer. no thanks. If you can't take the truth than stay ignorant.

    July 27, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
    • Steve

      What truth? I don't see how this ad did anything other than sell beer. What truth are you talking about? Belief? Because last I checked something has to be confirmed before it's fact.

      July 29, 2013 at 9:23 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.