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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. tony

    Wasn't "Sam Adams" a "little craft brewing company" taken over by "big chemistry brewing company" a few years back.

    July 13, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • sadf

      No. It's the same company. It's also now the largest american owned beer company.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  2. How about

    You just discovered the Bible is fiction? Congratulations. Celebrate like the founding fathers with an ice cold Sam Adams Boston lager.

    July 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  3. Nathan

    Why not just go with his real sentiment? "...that all men, except for the Catholic sc.um who do nothing but cause anarchy and social decay, are endowed by their creator..."

    Problem solved and historical note corrected!

    July 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Auntie

      IDIOT.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  4. TheObserver

    In it he argued for religious tolerance (OH WELL, CAN'T WIN THEM ALL). Except for Catholics. Because, he explained, Catholic dogma and doctrine leads “directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war, and bloodshed.”

    - This is true (see Crusades 1-3, see Conquistadores, see east Africa) however if he'd lived in our era I'm sure he'd of tacked on a few more to the list, like mega-church evangelicals, or Islamic extremists, which are basically 2 sides of the same coin.

    Try this: Without religion the world would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things, but for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

    – Stephen Weinburg

    July 13, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • lol??

      Catholics claim a chunk of land and so do the so-called Jews. Muslims HAD to get into the act.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • fred bowen-smith

      TheObserver and Stephen ... you both miss the point of religion.
      second question, without religion how would you define good.... then only the bad with might would define whats right!

      You need to look at religion vs. a relationship with God. Once you define that you get the focus back on track and define right form wrong.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • JimK57

      Try this;

      We are all tolerant enough of those who do not agree with us, provided only they are sufficiently miserable.

      ~ David Grayson

      July 13, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • tony

      Religion vastly increases the bad things caused by people because it deliberately sets out to overide peoples' consciences with the religious leaders intentions.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • Damocles

      @fred

      Using religion to define good is a bit dangerous.

      A child abused in a religious household might very well define religion as evil.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Bob Bales

      How are those than love and do good to those that oppose them and those who kill those who oppose them "2 sides of the same coin?"

      July 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  5. Anon

    Good for them!!! People should keep their religion to themselves.

    July 13, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  6. David

    " But he probably wouldn’t have been happy about the beer named for him eliding the creator from its ad." The author makes a big assumption here, unless he can somehow communicate with Sam Adams after his death.

    Authoritarians tend to assume that everyone agrees with them. This author is no different. He assumes that since he is a patriot and Sam Adams was a patriot, then Sam Adams must think the same way.

    The declaration of independence was not written by Sam Adams anyway. It was written by Thomas Jefferson, who was a deist, not a committed Christian. That's why he wrote "creator" and "Nature's God" in the declaration.

    July 13, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • l33ter

      I think Sam would give him a beat down.

      "Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty."

      Samuel Adams

      January 2, 2014 at 10:50 pm |
  7. George

    Are people serious about this? It sounds so extreme. And why do we fight the Taliban. I get so confused.

    July 13, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  8. Bad Beer Men

    They also left out "that among these are". What a horrible company this is. I'm never buying a Samuel Adams again!!!

    July 13, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • tbkbab

      Good. More for me!

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

      Seriously, man! You are hilarious!! Thank you for the laugh.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Invisible Swordsman

      Sam Adams isn't as good as it was years ago anyway. Now they try to cater to everyone so a lot of their beers have become lighter and a bit watered-down. Saranac and Brooklyn Brewery are both better Northeast breweries now.

      July 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Jeff

      Was authoring a lengthy response, then read yours. Nough said.
      “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”
      ― Mark Twain

      July 14, 2013 at 2:14 am |
  9. Jade

    "Catholic dogma and doctrine leads “directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war, and bloodshed.” Brilliant.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Scott

      If you think any war has been started in the name of religion, you're a fool. If it wasn't for this foothold, they would find other cultural differences to breed hate in otherwise good people.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I think that a person who is "guaranteed" eternal life with untold pleasures after death will be willing to fight to the death a lot quicker for a "cause" than someone who believes that there is no benefit to dying. Religion IS a cultural difference over which nations fight and kill.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @Obvious, I think you are refering to very specific religions. Many religions are quite strickly opposed to fighting, including most forms of Buddhism and many variants of Christianity. Religion isn't synonymous with right wing US Christianity and militant Islam.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:06 am |
  10. BJ

    John Adams was a lawyer–Samuel Adams went into business. The phrase in the Declaration of Independence is indicative of a worldview not a particular religious dogma.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  11. JDV

    Beer and God don't exactly go together anyway – God says you shouldnt get drunk – beer companies could care less if you do.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • John

      When did God say that you shouldn't get drunk. I must have missed that part.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:03 am |
  12. JimK57

    I can't figure out why the edited it. Who were they going to offend by leaving it in?

    July 13, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Saraswati

      Most people in New England, where most of this been sells, would find mention of God in an ad irritating.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Saraswati

      beer

      July 13, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Keith

      ME and millions of atheists who have the right NOT to have god rammed down our throats at every opportunity.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • JimK57

      I live in New England. From a business point of view it makes little sense.
      All of the athiets I know base their decisions on logic. Is the beer good? I drink it. Is it bad I will not.
      But by taking it out they could not only risk offending religious people but also patriotic one. I just think it was a bad call overall.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • JimK57

      Keith,
      They are a private company it is not like this is a goverment building. We cannot start censoring private companies.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • lol??

      Too many XX editors. They don't even bother going covert and joining the WCTU anymore. Socies won the war.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Damocles

      @jim

      Right, private company that chose to go by whatever rules they have to follow according to the advertising code.

      On a side note, it's a freakin beer commercial!

      July 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • lol??

      Any editors on board?? Does my last post sound right?? join or joining??

      July 13, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • JimK57

      Damocles
      True on both comments. If the code is internal I understand. I just think it would be wrong if such a code was enforced by the FCC.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Damocles

      @jim

      While there is extremely little that the FCC and I would agree on, I can understand their posistion in that they have to do all they can to avoid being mobbed by stupid people.

      As we see with a simple beer commercial, people get all in a tizzy like they have nothing better to do. So if the FCC wants to limit references to religion, I can understand it even while thinking it's more than a tad bit goofy. Can't offend this group, or that group, or that person over there. If a commercial is going to send you off the deep end, you have issues. When I say 'you' I mean a general purpose 'you' not you personally.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Invisible Swordsman

      Keith, where is this "right" written down?

      July 13, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Saraswati

      JimK57, I don't know any religious New Englanders who would give a cr@p. Just like the atheists they tend to believe in separation of Church and state. Any rare New Englander who is that religious probably isn't drinking beer.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • tallulah13

      When you only have a few seconds to sell your product, you don't need extra words that aren't important to the message. This was a commercial about beer, not religion. I suspect few people actually noticed that the words were left out. Besides, 'creator' is not the same thing as 'christian god', The primary author of the Declaration was Thomas Jefferson, and his views on the subject are well documented.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • lol??

      tutifruiti13 speaketh of what he knoweth not,
      "..............'creator' is not the same thing as 'christian god',................."
      Col 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

      Col 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

      July 14, 2013 at 7:21 am |
  13. Luiz Penalva

    The red necks that are complaining about this ad, please continuing drinking your Bud Light.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • lol??

      Colt 45 drinkers are arrogant but get more for their money.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  14. lol??

    I have no problem with Alfred E. Neuman.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  15. Vic

    I can not resist this one:

    Is the beer as watered down as the quote?!

    Oh, and BTW, Budweiser is my favorite beer!

    July 13, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Keith

      Correction, Budweiser certainly is NOT beer, I am not sure what it is but it isn't BEER.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • tallulah13

      I think real beer is too powerful for you Vic. It seems you prefer things that are popular, flavorless and mass-produced.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Jeff Boucke

      Trust me Vick, we would have figured that out on our one.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:05 am |
  16. Patriot

    I'm gunna go git me some more Sam Adams. The beer tastes so much better now.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  17. mike

    I'm glad they left out "by their creator". Religion destroys lives.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • Keith

      Agreed.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • fred bowen-smith

      lol... is the denial that destroys lives.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  18. childress

    Thank gawd at least one American company still stand up for freedom and isn't afraid of the Taliban freaks who are trying to ruin everything.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • Keith

      Agreed

      July 13, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • richunix

      Yea, but using a fake deity....I would have prefer a unicorn!

      July 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  19. John

    Here's a fun line of brews from a company that didn't get the Advertizing and MarketingCode memo, I guess.
    He'Brew – The Chosen Beer http://www.shmaltzbrewing.com/HEBREW/
    They have many good brews (and clever names) in their lineup. Let's face it – a good beer is a good beer, regardless of any of the other nonsense.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • Leonard Washington

      He'brew: Don't pass out, pass over!!!!

      July 13, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  20. Gorsh

    I have no problem with secular humanism .... 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 10:39 am |
    • Bob Bales

      Every law fores people to follow what the authors of the law believe in.

      July 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      Every law *forces* people to follow what the authors of the law believe in.

      July 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
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About this blog

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.