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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. kenb

    I will buy exclusively Sam Adams products from now on, and I drink quite a lot of beer.

    July 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I would, but I live in Beervana. The local product is much better.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Yep, we already drink Sam Adam's but the only reactions around here range from bewldered that anyone one cares to pro Sam Adams.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • davessworks

      @tallulah13

      Me too 🙂 I'm in Seattle area but I consider everything from Bellingham down to northern Cali to be the best beer country in the USA.

      July 13, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • davessworks

      I go out of my way to avoid Sam Adams and it has nothing to do with this topic. It's just not that good.

      July 13, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  2. tallulah13

    "Creator" does not equal "christian god". If the authors of the Declaration wanted to indicate the christian god, they would have used the word "God" instead of "creator". When one takes into account that Thomas Jefferson was the primary author, it's even more evident that the christian god was not implied.

    But all that aside, how silly is it to complain that a beer company didn't put unnecessary words in a commercial?

    July 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I think all the people complaining must live in Texas or Mississippi, and half of them probably think beer is Satan's brew anyway...not exactly the target audience.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
      • Johnny

        Wrong the average Mississippi resident starts drink Natty Light at the age of 10.

        July 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm |

  3. That's quaint.

    July 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  4. Larry of Nazareth

    Religion is always a demand for obedience. No worries about the destructive effects of alcohol, just a lot of noise because they didn't get free advertising.

    Obey obey obey. Religion is totalitarianism.

    July 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  5. bostontola

    When a corporation advertises, they have only 1 aim, sell product. If they incorporate religion, it is only to manipulate to, sell product.

    July 13, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  6. Observer

    Athiests usually don't believe in unicorns and talking animals in the Bible. Nor do they believe the science fiction tale of Noah's ark.

    July 13, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  7. e-man

    The Jebus freaks are out today. sad.

    July 13, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  8. Froppintops

    We bow to no king. I guess that is true because we are way to busy bowing to the whim of bankers and politicians, where would one find the time to bow to a king.

    July 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  9. Bootyfunk

    speaking of alcohol...

    Jesus was a drug dealer. he made water out of wine and handed it out to his disciples. alcohol is drug, classified as a depressant. getting high on alcohol is called being drunk. so why are christians so against drugs when their messiah was a drug dealer?

    July 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • Funkybooty

      He made water out of wine? I guess I am a messiah too, because that's what I do.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

      Water out of wine? I think it's the other way around, so says the fairytale.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  10. CommonSense

    >>On the other hand, why leave out some of the best-known words in American history?
    Because the words are mere poetry, which express just one idea of the 18th century Enlightenment. Do you think the idea of Human Rights is American? The ideas of human rights is as old as the Golden Age of Greece.
    Because there is no "creator" who granted any person rights. Did the almighty creator give the African slaves rights? What happened, did he forget about their "inalienable rights" ?
    Rights in a democracy are granted via the redress of grievances, not an invisible man in the sky. When enough people come together with similar grievances those grievances MAY become rights, granted by the system of law which governs that society.
    Look at the world you live in today to see that there are no inalienable rights, unless a society is civilized and grants those equal rights to it's people. Look at the people in Bangladesh who were murdered because they criticized religion. Look at how the insane and sadistic Islamic countries treat women. Where are the inalienable rights in the uncivilized places? There are none because those uncivilized societies have not granted equals rights to all citizens.

    Read REAL books

    July 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • Don Garrow

      Very well said. I do not profess to adhere to a "creator" much like most people do that practice christianity or hinduism or islam or buddahism. The only true creator are those that came before me, my Mom and Dad and their parents before them, etc. They are the only people I would follow. I and my children are created equally, not so with most people that believe in "their god," who are many and follow "their book." which are several.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • michaelfriedland

      Very well stated, CommonSense.

      What is odd to me, is that the bartender in this ad is a black man, when one third of those who signed the Declaration of Independence and two of the three who wrote it, were slave owners—and there was NO consideration for the 'pursuit of happiness' for those people...

      I was a bit surprised that the article made no mention of this...

      There is one more thing. They made a very unfortunate typo in the Declaration. It was supposed to say, "Life, Liberty and the Fur Hat of Soupiness." It's true...and we'd all be a lot better off if it had...

      July 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Saraswati

      There was an industry policy and only a 30 second slot. The decision made business sense – this really isn't rocket science.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

      Kudos! Love the comments, CommonSense!

      July 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  11. Candiano

    How do you spell racist?
    S-i-m-o-n P-r-e-s-t-o-n N-o-b-l-e-w-i-t-h I-I-I.

    July 13, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  12. Colin

    No matter what else you think of it, religion does tend to be for the less intelligent, less educated in society. In poll after poll, if questions such as "Do you believe in a god that hears your prayers" or "Do you believe Jesus was the son of God" are asked, the percentage of people who respond "yes" goes down with education.

    July 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      The distance between people and idea of God is set by knowledge of what is likely to be true vs what is wishful thinking. You can measure it with a micrometer in some believers. In others it falls below the Planck length.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • Ryan

      That may be true, but it's also true that throughout recorded history, it's the religious people who have usually led the way in education. For example, almost all the early universities founded in America were founded by Christians with a Christian purpose. Most of the classical texts we have today are thanks to the efforts of monks in the Middle Ages who made handwritten copies. With the dawn of Protestantism, people learned to read so that they could read the Bible. The printing press was invented by Gutenberg for the main purpose of printing Bibles.

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

      Ryan, There weren't many people who weren't religious until recently because we didn't yet have the scientific methods needed to slow the false claims of miracles, call religious origin stories into question, and offer alternate well evidenced theories. Today, however, scientific discoveries and new technology are far disproportionately guided by people from the secular world not reliant on theistic beliefs.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
      • Johnny

        Not to mention that calling religion into question was enough to get you executed for much of human history.

        July 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  13. Alias

    For those of you who are slow, let me point out that this is the reason many athiests feel the need to speak out against religion.
    I don't care if you want to worship, but this crosses a line and pushes religion onto other people. They shouldn't have to put your god into their advertisement if they don't want to.

    July 13, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Don Garrow

      I'll drink to that!

      July 13, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  14. Pander Bear

    More faux persecution outrage from the small "c" christians.

    July 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  15. dzerres

    Now Christians want God mentioned in beer ads? Will this nonsense EVER stop? Its been 2,000 years, Jesus ain't coming back and there has never, ever been any evidence of a God. The tooth fairy has more street cred.

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

      So you believe in the tooth fairy?

      July 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
      • Pipey61

        You can't deny the dimes under the pillow!

        August 5, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • Saraswati

      These folks really have to be looking for something to gripe about. Mostly the same folks who don't mine inserting the words "Under God" into the Pledge altering it from the original.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  16. ranlo

    Oh, GOD!

    July 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  17. TheyNotHim

    Jesus did not exist. There are no Gods. Maybe some extraterrestrials is all, y'all. Get a grip and take a sip. Sam Adams Boston Lager. YUM!!!

    July 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • Malefique

      Experts actually agree that Jesus did exist. The debate is really who people believe he was.

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

      Yep. Like if he was divine or not.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • richardecredico

      @ Malefiq: No the experts do not agree. Only those people inculcated in religious dogma agree he existed as there is ZERO historical proof he ever existed.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Typical christian double speak

      Malefique "Experts actually agree that Jesus did exist. The debate is really who people believe he was."
      Experts also agree that the earth is flat; but, not many of them

      July 13, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • davessworks

      @richardecredico

      going by your standards, there's no evidence that many historical figures exist.

      July 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
  18. Malefique

    Better to do that, then do what Chick Fil A did.

    July 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  19. Akira

    What??

    July 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  20. Sane Person

    If god was worried about it, im sure he'd say something.

    July 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • sybaris

      *it* would say something. The gender of the Christian god is inferred in the Bible because of the male oriented culture in which their god was created.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • davessworks

      Well Sybaris – since you don't believe in a god why do you care about his/her gender?

      July 13, 2013 at 5:06 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.