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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 • Money & Faith • TV • United States

soundoff (909 Responses)
  1. shots

    I have no problem with religion .... the problem I have are people using religion to enact laws forcing people to follow what they believe in , instead of using common sense......

    July 13, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • fred bowen-smith

      shots.... define common sense. I see that the world is in great lack of this common quotient

      July 13, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  2. sybaris

    Glad to see that Christians are still fervently working at making themselves look silly.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • CGAW

      True but no worse than the delusional atheists that believe they can find physical scientific answeres to a spiritual realm. And atheists claim to be logical – yep, pretty silly.

      July 13, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • sybaris

      please provide evidence of your claim

      July 13, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • ODD BALL

      HOW is it that one person such as you who believes in nothing, is allowing a group of people who believes different than you to get you all hateful? I have friends who are atheist, buddist, not sure, christian and the list goes on and on. I would never be-little them for there beliefs, that just makes me a low class peice of trash. I suggest you go back to your atheist hut and just enjoy life........stop badgering others go do something with ur trollish life 🙂

      July 13, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • sybaris

      It's ALWAYS amusing to see Christians come out and bash Atheists. No other group demonstrates hypocrisy with such flare.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • Damocles

      @odd

      Understand that most people who don't believe in a deity do not care about the belief, but what is done with that belief. I don't care what you believe, you can believe in a deity, a rock, a tree, wine-red elephants, makes no difference to me. What I have a problem with is when people use that belief to do silly, goofy, stupid, evil, hateful things.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • Tat2dbull

      Funny how the religious types have such a crazy imagination as to construe what Sybaris said as hateful. If you read his comments objectively, you'll find no such hate. Then again, religious types are, by definition, delusional.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • Bob Bales

      Tat2daabull: Then again, why should you expect anyone to use your definition?

      July 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      @CGAW "delusional atheists that believe they can find physical scientific answeres to a spiritual realm"

      Uh, no, they believe that they can find physical scientific answers to questions in the physical realm. And when they can't find answers, they keep looking, they don't declare that some unseen supernatural being must have done it.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • Johnny

      ODD ball you belittled him in the first sentence of your post when you said he believed in nothing. Nice try though.

      July 15, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  3. Bob Brown

    They left out He'brew, "the Chosen Beer." Styles include Messiah Nut Brown Ale, Genesis Ale, and Rejewvenator 13. Apparently one of my favorites, Jewbelation Sweet 16, is no longer in the lineup. (I did not make this up. Search for Shmaltz Brewing to see for yourself.)

    July 13, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  4. Tanker

    I like Sam Adam's beer more than I do religion.

    That makes me an atheist AND an alcoholic...

    July 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Sin Nombre

      It's OK as long as you respect other's liberty and you get your happiness.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  5. ODD BALL

    so what if they used a phrase that should of mentioned god.....OOOHHH BIG DEAL!!! OMG THE SKY IS FALLING!! its almost comical to see atheist come scrambeling out of the woodwork with torches in hand , fire proceeding out of there mouths over something they dont believe in ................so LOL -> atheist 🙂

    July 13, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • FalseProphet

      What story did you read? This one was about people religious people being upset about the absense of "a phrase that should of mentioned god.....OOOHHH BIG DEAL!!! OMG THE SKY IS FALLING!! its almost comical to see atheist come scrambling out of the woodwork with torches in hand , fire proceeding out of there mouths over something they don't believe in" as you so eloquently put it. You claim atheist are the ones making a big deal out of this when its the religious types I always see on the news proselytizing themselves over some non-existent persecution, like Sam Adams Beer not saying god or the supposed "War on Christmas/Easter/(insert random over commercialized holiday here)." You are the one being a goofy melodramatic queen.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  6. Vic

    Here is the thing:

    When advertising something without faith or religious references is very fine and actually seamless; however, when a historic d o c u m e n t like the Declaration Of Independence is misquoted to exclude the reference to God, that seems very offensive to believers as well as history!

    July 13, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • sybaris

      Here's the thing:

      When you pay for your own commercial you can say whatever you want.

      July 13, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Kevin

      There is no reference to god in the Declaration of Independence. its mentions by their creator which could easily mean their parents, Allah, Vishnu, Thor, or any other made up deity.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  7. Othellus

    I think Sam Adams made the right choice. I remember readings something in the Bible about Jesus throwing all those who bought and sold in the temple.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  8. My Left Foot

    "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.”"

    It all makes sense now. All religions were hated on at one point or another. Maybe Catholicism and Islam are not so different.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  9. CodyV

    Creator doesnt have to mean God...atheists can just take that to mean parents...problem solved

    July 13, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • John

      It is sad that the core values, of what this country has stood for and was founded under, has to be stripped away to make sure everyone isn't butt hurt

      July 13, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • sybaris

      Christians don't have to stick their noses in other peoples business. Anyone should be able to make a commercial and not get harassed by religious freaks just because it doesn't represent their interests.

      July 13, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • John

      What is the harm in referencing the God portion of the history they were mentioning? Why do people, who have non religious views, get so butt hurt upon the mention of the word God? I do not bash anyone for their non religious views but when this country was founded under God I do not see a problem in referencing it or being ashamed in actually wanting to speak about it.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • sybaris

      There may be some individual references to the U.S. being founded under Christianity however what would that truly mean? What "power" does that invoke? What credibility does that garner? How is that different from a non-Christian country?

      It's actually kind of silly and akin to a 7 year old throwing a tantrum and invoking his favorite Marvel superhero when they don't get what they want.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  10. us_1776

    Sam Adams got it right.

    They were telling us about the rights that were bestowed.

    And it was men who bestowed those rights.

    Not some mythical being.

    .

    July 13, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • Invisible Swordsman

      But Thomas Jefferson wrote it that way, so it should be cited that way. You can't just pluck words out of the Declaration to fit your needs.

      July 13, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • John

      The country was founded "one nation under God"

      July 13, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • shots

      john the under god was added in the fifties just like in god we trust was added in the last century
      on the money because of the red scare...

      July 13, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • John

      There were still references to God and "Creator" in the declaration. My biggest gripe with all of this is why are non religious people so bent out of shape if the word God is mentioned? The problem with this country is it no longer stands for anything other then "make sure everyone doesn't feel bad". And then people wonder why this country keeps heading for disaster because no one has principles to stand for. What about the bible, the 10 commandments are so horribly wrong?

      July 13, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Hear This

      John,
      " What about the bible, the 10 commandments are so horribly wrong?"

      If you **really** want to know the answers to that, read:

      http://www.evilbible.com/

      July 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      The problemS with the bible are too many to list. I'll provide just a few of them.

      1. It's wrong. If either of the two genesis accounts were even slightly close to being right, we might could at least look at the story as a strong allegory. But on "creation" as in other places where it tries to be scientific, it's wrong. No flood occurred; there's no record of "Israelites" in Egypt, and on and on and on.

      2. The god is a petty, childish, vindictive azzhole-terrorist. He tells you to love your enemies while he slaughters his and then fries them forever and ever in a never-ending torture pit that he could just as easily destroy as allow. We cannot imagine a more horrific being than one who would allow that "option" at all.

      3. Other holy books have just as much "claim" to the truth as the bible because god provides no method by which to differentiate which has more truth or more accurate methods to pleasing/serving god.

      4. It teaches that god is separate from the universe and people and "works" on the universe and us as a craftsman or tradesman; it teaches ownership and subjugation and kingship/slave status. In short, it expresses tyranny as the best option in government whether it be tyranny of a man over his family or his congregation or his fellow human.

      5. It's "cosmology" isn't. Not only did biblegod screw up the description of the earth which is only .0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of the universe (if that), but it gets the 99.9999999999999999999999999% of it wrong when it talks about stars and what is beyond the earth itself.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • spiritus

      I am not religious. If an advertisement wants to use religion or "God" in their advertising, all the power to you, because you must do what you think will sell the product. In the Sam Adams advertisement, they left it out, because they want to sell a product and they felt that would be the best way to sell this product.(maybe they did some research and found that their target audience is less religious, who knows?) I don't think they were doing it as a way to not offend anyone, they simply left it out as THEIR perrogative, they are a private company they can add or drop anything they want in their paid for advertisement. This is completely different than some government agency trying to be politically correct. This is a private company who can promote or bash any thing they want in order do what they think will best sell a product. If anyone has a problem with "creator" being removed because of the Sam Adams company's PERSONAL opinion, you need to move to another country.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:06 am |
  11. nepawoods

    I agree with keeping religion out of advertising, but these are essential words in the Declaration of Independence, especially as a historical backdrop to the Bill of Rights: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". People need to take the stand that they have rights independent of what any law or government recognizes or grants.

    Maybe better to not use the Declaration in beer commercials too.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  12. Daisy Cutter

    Isnt "G-o-d" spelled these day " O-b-a-m-a " ?

    July 13, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • lol??

      He's still a street agitator and sent DOJ ops to FL to stir up trouble in the manor of Charles Manson. The masters paid and the wanna be cop had a change of heart after this bullyin'.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • Andrew

      No, but I'm sure he'd be happy to know that you think so highly of him.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Observer

      Daisy,

      If you say so.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  13. Invisible Swordsman

    It's funny when people/companies pick and choose the history they want to disseminate and leave out the parts they simply don't want to use. If you're going to cite the Declaration of Independence, cite it correctly; it has nothing to do with promoting religion.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Andrew

      It's also funny when people expect a beer commercial to be historically accurate.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  14. Bob Burke

    Nice to read after all the mayhem and deaths in much of the news...

    July 13, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  15. snowboarder

    i remember a worldcup commercial that had a church of soccer. i think they ended up pulling that one, too.

    personally, i don't care, but advertising a secular product with religious references seems like a crass marketing ploy. then again, so is wrapping it in the American flag and pretending your product is patriotic.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • lol??

      Matriots pretending they're patriots is disgusting.

      "Sung to the tune of "America the Beautiful"

      1. Oh beautiful diversity, third planet from the sun
      A spinning ball of land and sea
      Embracing every one.

      Chorus One

      Oh Planet Earth, Oh Planet Earth
      Creator blesses you.
      On every shore and land of birth
      We're Muslim, Christian, Jew
      (Second time: We're Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu
      (alternate: Confucian, Taoist, too
      (alternate 2: Earth, pagan, wiccan too.
      (alternate 3: All Spirit paths are true.
      (alternate 4: A matriotic crew.

      2. Oh wonderful, this common Life
      All creatures great and small
      We breathe the same united air
      From birdsong to wolf call.

      http://www.planetpatriot.net/matriot_anthem_lyrics.html

      July 13, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  16. stevie68a

    The "higher authority" they answer to, is imaginary. What sanctimonious bull.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • lol??

      I take it you're not chosen or sanctified. Well, just keep lookin' fer yer god and stop complainin'. You don't wanna end up an old maid.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  17. Frank Heron

    Some people just have too much time on their hands.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:27 am |
  18. Fred Phred

    I can't believe I just wasted 2 minutes of my life reading this dribble... Life is precious.. what did I just do?!!

    July 13, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  19. o

    Give God the profit from his name

    July 13, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • snowboarder

      and to what address exactly would the proceeds be mailed? if god was interested in the profit he could certainly come and collect it.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • o

      The profit should magnify his name in a reverant way, and multiply the fruit he wants

      July 13, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Kevin

      why would an all powerful god want for anything? it makes no sense.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  20. Colin

    Good to see. The less religion we see in public (or private) life the better. Let's be honest with ourselves, the idea of a god (Christian, Hindu, Muslim or otherwise) is childish and is fast going away. The number of atheists and agnostics continues to rise in the USA at a rapid pace and the superst.itions of Christianity continue their decline.

    The sooner we reach the point as a species where we realize that there is no Hindu, Christian, Jewish or Native American god looking down on us, reading our minds (or "hearing our prayers" as we call it) and looking out for us, the better.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • JimK57

      I disagree. If it is written well it can be very entertaining.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Yoder

      Get over yourself. Unless you can provide proof of your claims you're just spouting the same nonsense the religious zealots preach. People can believe or not believe as they like. There will always be ideological and philosophic differences regardless of religion. To think otherwise is just naive.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • Invisible Swordsman

      I'm not religious, but people who are so sure that there is no higher spirit/energy/force/etc. and spout the folly of religion are just comical.

      July 13, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • OCCUPY WALLSTREET FOR CONGRESS

      You spelled Colon wrong.

      July 13, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      Invisible Swordsman,

      Are they? so far everything in science makes sense, even the 'mistakes' in science are important stepping stones that that usually open up new avenues to explore.

      Telepathy and psionic abilities..two of the base foundations you would need to create or manipulate something with your mind have NEVER -EVER been found in the natural world...not once. Now revisit your post...think about what you said...it should become clear that a being wishing the cosmos into being is the comical view..not atheism.

      please give even one example that shows or supports there being a spirit, magic or god. We may not yet know the exact cause for the universe, but id trust the wildest scientific theories – and we have some good ones already ,before id buy in the the mystical bull.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      Let's be honest: That belief in God is childish is simply what you believe and is not fact. Millions of people believe that God is not childish. Because of this, would you agree that society should accept that, and behave as if, God exists? I don't think so. Therefore, you should be consistent and apply the same logic to your own beliefs. You should not expect society to accept that, and behave as if, God doesn't exist simply because you don't believe.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      R.M. Goodswell: Let's think about what you said. Why would make the idea of God's creating the universe comical? It would have to be that the idea of God Himself was comical. But what would make this so? That we haven't discovered Him? Suppose I said that the idea of a bacterium was comical because the Hubble telescope has not seen one. You would no doubt say that, since the Hubble telescope was not designed to see a bacterium, the failure is meaningless. So which of our tools is designed for or is capable of seeing God? None. Then the failure to discover God does not indicate He doesn't exist.

      You are free to believe whatever you want, but be aware that it is only what you choose to believe.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      God is invisible and undetectable. Failure to find evidence of god means that belief is founded in faith (belief without evidence), and there is no reason to expect anyone else to believe as you do because there is no way to tell the difference between a non-existence being and an undetectable being.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      Well Gosh Bob, Science is built on evidence. theres a hell of a lot of it...coming from several fields that says there is a natural order to everything.

      Because billions of ignorant people believe in their perspective spirits, gods, and/or magic does not make it acceptable or right.The very fact that there is thousands of such beliefs should be a huge sign that there is something wrong with that whole concept.

      In science, because it is our exploration of the existing elements and forces in operation around us – everyone starts with a solid base – evidence.

      History itself has shown the exact nature of religion....its a crude, but effective tool to control large groups of people. A man might not kill another because some guy tells him to...but with the right amount of indoctrination and the proper otherworldly threats – that same man will kill, maim and slaughter without a second thought.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      Bob ....do you have the slightest idea of kind of being your god would be? I don't think you do....you are talking about a being that exists free of time..crossing multiple dimensions..meaning he can sit in one dimension and will matter into existence in another... The frightening power of a collapsed star...gravity and energy on a truly unimaginable scale..nothing to this being....a non issue... such a being would be beyond awe inspiring.....and the Bible (name your holy book) is...his book..... really?

      that kind of power – and animal sacrifice is important to this ent ity? take your pick of the religions of the world you run into the same problems – their rituals and traditions do not square with the abilities of a cosmic being. why would this ent ity even mess around with this whole concept?

      July 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Invisible Swordsman

      R.M., you entirely missed my point. I'm not talking about what science has proven; I'm saying that we know almost nothing about the universe. We don't know what makes up over 98% of the universe, therefore, yes, it's comical for someone to say for certain that there's no higher "energy".

      July 14, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Saraswati

      I've got to agree with Invisible. To think that we know enough about the universe to judge whether other being exist who have powers we can't imagine is arrogance at its height. It is the same arrogance that lead people at every earlier point in history to think they knew what was going on. Certainly we can say some particular beliefs, such as most of Christianity, are incompatible with what little we have figured out, but that's all we can say. Any more is just the same instinct toward having certainty that drives the religious zealot.

      July 14, 2013 at 10:33 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.