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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. Sam Yaza

    atheist don't believe in a creator like the rest of us, regardless of who you believe is the creator. dose this mean Atheist are not worthy of equal rights? no.. no it does not, do i care if a company uses their ideal god to sell shit or not ,.. nope free speech.

    July 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • On rights and such

      Again atheists just like everyone deserve equal rights. That's why I advocate any ideology that will support those rights not being taken away such as rights exist because we exist. If a creator gave them then let a creator take them away (if we can proove there is one...) if a man gave them to man then what?

      July 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  2. JimK57

    Exactly Oh bill...NOOOOoo, we also would not have stuff like this.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHKjq_btiL4&w=640&h=390]

    The point is we all need to stop being so serious.

    July 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • JimK57

      oops. Supposed to be posted under Bill below. Sorry.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • Oh bill...NOOOOoo

      Family guy is a riot, always has been. 😀

      July 13, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  3. Anne

    My last comment was to Vic's comment about Samuel Adams having been a protestant; this is relevant HOW exactly?

    July 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • Vic

      And this is relevant because Samuel Adams as well as the rest of the Founding Fathers believed that the Rights come from God. That's what "Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" means!

      July 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Observer

      Vic,

      Many Christians pretend that this means they were all Christians, which isn't true.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • Akira

      Vic. They didn't read all of the DOI. You are starting to sound a bit hysterical. Calm down.
      Fortunately, you have the unalienable right to overreact as much as you please.

      And, nope, it isn't relevant. Sorry.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • Akira

      "And this is relevant because Samuel Adams as well as the rest of the Founding Fathers believed that the Rights come from God."
      That's what it means TO YOU...but...

      No. If that is what the meant, they would have written GOD instead of "Creator". Why do you think they didn't?

      July 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • Vic

      Well Observer,

      It is a controversy that they were a mix of Christians and Deists but all believed in God.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • Observer

      Vic

      "It is a controversy that they were a mix of Christians and Deists but all believed in God."

      Not exactly. The God that was depicted in the Bible impregnated a woman and had a son named Jesus.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  4. Ideology

    Okay I get it..it's because if there is no God than man gives man rights and is free to take those rights away. Look at it this way, men have always had the ability to take rights away or refer to them as "temporary priviliages" as Carlin would say. If a person wants to support equal rights they are able to do so with or without a diety. It's just a matter of if people will still choose that option. Again the ability has always been there.

    July 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  5. Sean

    How is this news? I was watching the FOX clip and some commentator declared that the terrorists have won because of this beer ad omission! How often do the terrorists win in their hyper-dramatic little world?! Another commentator said he "can't believe the beer code has more authority than the Declaration of Independence", he of course doesn't realize that the Declaration of Independence has NO authority whatsoever! It was a statement of obligation from the American Colonies that wasn't recognized for years and it served a purpose ONCE and now it has no governmental authority whatsoever! This is such a non-story.

    July 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  6. Rupert

    It would be one thing if he was quoting verbatim from the Declaration. He's talking about Sam Adams and what he believed in. Talk about first world problems getting your panties in a bunch about this. It's pretty ironic though, undoubtedly a bunch of conservatives who rarely drink getting mad God isn't mentioned in a beer ad.

    July 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  7. Spuds Mackenzie

    Who's to say that "..the Creator" was this Christian God. I don't think it could have been more secularly written and you people need to realize that. I personally think my creator were my parents. The Hindus, Sikhs, Scientologists and any others you can think of probably think the creator is someone different than this Christian God. Jews and Muslims I did not include because they worship the same God. Many Christians will refuse this, but it's true. All 3 worship the God of Abraham. It's just that many Christians also think God impregnated Mary to give birth to Himself so that he could have himself tortured and killed in order to be resurrected to sit at the right hand of himself.

    July 13, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • edmundburkeson

      Who's to say? Hopefully someone who is not as misguided as you are Spuds or Suds ... whatever. Even though the Qoran says Allah is the God of Abraham ... there are significant differences. The Qoran does not describe who Allah is, there is not "mighty acts" of Allah as you see with the God of Abraham in the Bible. In all the God of the Koran is very mysterious. This why there will be no clear direction for Islam from either the Koran or from the life of Muhammed. There is no clear definition of justice, no prohibition against lawlessness, and plenty to justify killing and destruction in the name of Allah.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • Observer

      edmundburkeson

      "There is no clear definition of justice, no prohibition against lawlessness, and plenty to justify killing and destruction in the name of Allah."

      Speaking of "plenty to justify killing", the Bible is full of commands from God to kill people, including the humorously ridiculous command to "kill anyone who kills anyone".

      July 13, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  8. Mike Scott

    #4 didn't tangle with faith. It tangled with hate.

    July 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • Jeremy

      How so?

      July 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  9. D

    Samuel Adams looks stoned on the label. He's had enough to drink.

    July 13, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  10. bill

    Religion belongs in private homes and should stay there. There is no place on television or in advertising for religion. If you want freedom of religion you must also respect my desire for freedom from it.

    July 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • JimK57

      Are you saying all public print, radio, television and internet should not be allowed to mention anything about religion?

      July 13, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • Amy

      Then I also have a right to be free from hearing your whining.......... 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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–

      July 13, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Observer

      Amy,

      Do you quote the original Pledge of Allegiance or do you change the original words?

      July 13, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Athy

      Amy probably doesn't know what you're talking about.

      July 13, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Oh bill...NOOOOoo

      There goes every advertizement for horror movies, fairies, ghost hunters, Christmas specials and Sabrina the teenage witch.

      You can argue that religion is fantasy but if fantasy has no place in TV where are we?

      July 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  11. BlisteringFeet

    I don't always drink beer. But when I do, I drink Sam Adams.

    July 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
  12. Butters

    I remember the good old days when you had to burn a cross of rip up a picture of the pope to cause controversy.

    July 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
    • Akira

      Right??

      July 13, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • Beery

      I honestly didn't see anything religious about that commercial unless you wanted to interpret it that way. I saw a political reference to the seventeen hundreds.

      July 13, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • Jeremy

      or*

      July 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • Akira

      Beery, because the commercial didn't say "…they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights …”

      Some people took offense because "by their creator" was omitted.

      So silly.

      July 13, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
  13. bostontola

    Hello, an ad is not a public service announcement. It is to sell a product. If you choose your beer based on the text of an ad, you'll miss out on some good beer, Sam Adams is tasty.

    July 13, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • SkepticalOne

      Exactly. Have a cold one and get over yourselves.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Amy

      I say false advertising if your going to quote something then quote it correctly

      July 13, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Dippy's Aide

      Amy,

      If ****you're**** going to speak English, then speak / write it correctly.

      July 13, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Athy

      And, Amy, I say use some punctuation so we can understand you.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Athy

      And learn the difference between "your" and "you're".

      July 13, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Al

      Yeah, they do make good beers, not my favorite, but I do like their Noble Pils.

      When I ran a business I made sure politics or religion were kept at arms length. I ran the business to earn a living, not advance an agenda. Those PO'd at Sam Adams are the theocrats.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Akira

      It was a 30 second spot. Are you suggesting the whole DOI should have been quoted? And how, exactly, is it "false advertising?" They were advertising the BEER. Yeesh.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  14. Bill W.

    Wow we've become way too sensitive! Remember people it's an ADVERTISEMENT. Nothing more. Don't get your panties in a bunch over a few missing words.

    July 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  15. Auntie

    G-O-D is not the problem. The problem is P-E-O-P-L-E.

    July 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • Observer

      The problem is that too many people have actually read the Bible and that makes G-O-D look bad.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • bostontola

      I agree, people created god(s) so how could god(s) be the problem.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • Saraswati

      The gods people create are probably at least as advantageous as not when they originate. The problem I see is that since we began writing things down we have essentially stagnated the god concepts so they can't easily change as needed with the times.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Perhaps advantageous, perhaps not. But are they real? Should people believe in what it is advantageous for them to believe in without regard to whether it is true?

      July 13, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Saraswati

      TTTOO, I'm pretty sure we are all wrong on so many counts about reality as to make the whole god issue kind of trivial. What is the point of life? We only live once and are not going to ever understand more than a tiny sliver of reality, and half of that will be wrong. The happy consciousness of ouselves and those around us is a much more realistically attainable social goal.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  16. Herewe Goagain

    They got in trouble bc they followed the pc way and occasionally it does bite to do that.

    July 13, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Re you guys even bothering to read the article?

      July 13, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • Saraswati

      And I doubt they are in much trouble since anyone who cares probably belongs to demographics that either don't drink or generally don't follow the current events

      July 13, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • tallulah13

      No one is in trouble. It's just some believer whining about an imagined slight.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • SkepticalOne

      @Saraswati Probably not a valid assumption. Here in Arizona we say, "If you are going to invite a Mormon to go fishing with you, always invite two because if you only invite one they will drink all your beer"

      July 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Saraswati

      lol...like other groups, I imagine Mormons are less rigidly conservative in areas where they are less of a minority.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  17. Saraswati

    To anyone sensitive about having the original words always cited exactly as written: Do you feel the same way about always citing the Pledge of Allegiance in its original form?

    July 13, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • Roger that

      Nice.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • Akira

      People tend to (conveniently) forget that.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Wonderful point.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  18. jdoggggg81

    News Flash Black Guy in the ad! Samuel adams didnt even consider you to be a human being. Inalienable rights he was talking about was for the white man. All of the founding fathers preached about god and equallity while at the same time hanging, enslaving and linching blacks.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Sam Adams opposed slavery.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  19. James Cheatham

    Wouldn't it be easier and perhaps a little more civilized if we were to stop making mountains out of molehills and just not worry about these things one way or another? I wonder if they left it out because they didn't want to offend someone or because it would've taken up a few more costly seconds in the commercial? In the end it doesn't really matter as to the message, which is to drink beer and celebrate our country and you're more patriotic if you do it with OUR product.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  20. William Miller

    Well, one thing's for sure, Americans no longer have the same easy sense of humor they did 30-40 years ago. You only have to watch some of the older comedies to see how much things have changed. For some reason, many Americans seem to derive more satisfaction being "outraged" than they do actually enjoying a good laugh, a cultural change for the worse.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Harvey D. Rabbit

      Nonsense. There were always humorless nincompoops.

      Did you know that in the Bible, God only laughs once, and that is out of maniacal glee when he is about to slaughter some opponents in Revelation?

      July 13, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • JimK57

      I think it is the medium. People will post things they would never say face to face. I try to post only what I would say in a face to face discussion.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
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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.