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. M. Luhman

    I am glad to see that Samuel Adams has the good taste (pun intended) to leave religion where it belongs and not on our TV's now if only our schools and courts would also show some class so that religion is not to be shoved down everyone's throats I would be a lot happier.

    July 13, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
    • Dippy

      Ever hear of punctuation, Luhman? It really helps.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
  2. Leigh Anne

    Well that was boring

    July 13, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
    • Akira

      One of the sillier opinion pieces I've read. And this guy won awards for his writing? When? Does third grade gold stars count?

      July 13, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  3. The Dead Critic

    C-N-N.......Certainly Not News.

    July 13, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • sybaris

      and yet you are here

      July 14, 2013 at 12:01 am |
    • Saraswati

      You realize this is a blog, right, and that that is different from a news story?

      July 14, 2013 at 6:50 am |
  4. G_Edwards

    Were you born? Then you got a "creator" – even if that's your mother.


    July 13, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
    • wjmknight

      Yes, but my mother really exists....

      July 13, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
    • lol??

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Did your daddy claim ya??

      July 14, 2013 at 6:48 am |
  5. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    John Adams

    “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”

    July 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • Bible Bob, Knight of Infallibillibabbity

      Now now, don't go running around inflicting your reality issues onto us.

      July 13, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I'm no fan of most religion, nor do I think John Adams relevant to the discussion, but quote in context:

      "Twenty times, in the course of my late Reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible Worlds, if there were no Religion in it"!!! But in this exclamati[on] I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly [Adams' boyhood parish priest and Latin school master]. Without Religion this World would be Something not fit to be mentioned in polite Company, I mean Hell."

      As it turns out, he was wrong.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:54 am |
  6. MrCrewel Dude

    C'mon CNN, this is crap!

    July 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  7. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    Or what about James Madison:

    "Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together"

    July 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  8. G. Zeus Kreiszchte


    You mean like these quotes from Thomas Jefferson?

    "I have examined all the known superstítions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstítion of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology."

    “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

    “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

    “To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise…without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence.”

    “Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”

    1823 April 11. (Jefferson to John Adams). "The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors."

    July 13, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • wjmknight

      Thomas Jefferson also said, ' Hey, that black chick is hot!"

      July 13, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  9. Van

    Atheists are starting to become pests.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
    • ooo

      everyone's an atheist

      July 13, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • Devout Atheist

      I wasn't aware that us not believing in the adult equivalent of the tooth fairy made us pests. I always thought it made us logical.

      Learn something new everyday...

      July 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • Danny-Boy

      Great point. Atheists should just sit back and let Christians impose their views on everyone without challenge.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • Van

      I get so butt-hurt when people don't agree with me.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      The rise of atheiŝm (or agnosticiŝm or spiritual-but-not-religious, etc.) is a direct result of self-righteous asshōles saying "THERE IS A GOD AND I KNOW WHAT HIS NAME IS AND HOW HE WANTS US TO LIVE OUR LIVES AND WHAT TO EAT AND BLAH BLAH BLAH!"

      July 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • Observer


      Do you believe every word of the Bible (unicorns, talking nonhuman animals, etc.) or just hypocritically pick-and-choose?

      July 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
    • The Huge Mølars of Horst Nordfink

      Oh I love those Euro-letter thingies! I want to do it too!

      A Møøsë øncë bit my sister

      møøse bites Kan be pretti nasti

      July 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      I don't need no fucking Euro-letters and shit!

      July 13, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
  10. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    A word to all the Christo-Fascists:

    The U.S.A. was NOT founded on Christianity! Please observe the following quote from some of our founding fathers:

    “As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

    Treaty with Tripoli, drafted in 1796 under George Washington and signed by John Adams in 1797

    July 13, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
    • Van

      You can't just go quoting stuff, there are plenty of quotes by the founding fathers that contradict that.

      Stop pretending you know what you're talking about.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • wjmknight

      The treaty was broken.

      July 13, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • Tim

      Uh, van,

      YOU can't just pick and choose which quotes are valid and which aren't.

      HIS quotes actually contradict YOURS.

      July 13, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
  11. scientificpoetry

    Leave God out of it... In fact... leave God out of everything... we'll all be better off...

    July 13, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
    • Wondering

      But how will the Jesustanis get by in life without their super invisobuddy illusion?

      July 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Athy

      Since there is no god, leaving god out of everything should be sorta automatic. Maybe it'll happen when the religies wake up to the truth.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  12. Greg

    Now Christians want to indoctrinate beer drinkers. They're the first ones screaming about gays, liberals trying to indoctrinate our children but they're the worse. It's basically job one for Christians to convert/indoctrinate non believers.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
    • sam stone

      yep. it seriously bothers them when others do not believe the same as they do. they begin bloviating empty proxy threats

      July 13, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • Danny-Boy

      Very true. They try to take credit for everything else, why not exploit the opportunity to take credit for beer drinking? Next thing you know, once pot becomes the norm and no longer taboo, they'll try to hijack credit for that too.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • sam stone

      since gay marriage and pot are looking like they are destined for legalization, the jesuskneelers will claim that prophesy said that if a man lies with a man as a woman, he should be stoned at the gates of the city

      July 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • On rights and such

      Why is the idea of "God" a Christian concept in your mind?

      July 13, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
  13. Stevie

    Its just beer, who gives a crap! God Damn!

    July 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
  14. Gorsh

    I don't mind secular humanists as long as they don't try to pass laws based on their secular humanist philosophy.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • billcorey58@gmail.com

      So you'd rather go with god's law (e.g., "“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.")

      July 13, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • Intergalactic Pimp

      I was just thinking I don't mind religious folk as long as they don't try to pass laws based on their religious folk philosophy.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
  15. Danny-Boy

    Much ado about nothing. Sam Adams' gimmick is all about the patriot spirit, nothing to do with a god. On another note, if they skipped the "creator" part, they are no different than the Christians who ignore all the horrific stuff in the Bible and cherry-pick what they want to believe.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Hello there Danny my boy,,,

      You wrote, "Sam Adams' gimmick is all about the patriot spirit, nothing to do with a god."

      So,,, the spirits of brewskies are patriotic? What's so patriotic about alcoholism?

      July 13, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • sam stone

      who mentioned alcoholism, liony.....are you a friend of bill's?

      July 13, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • Danny-Boy

      Nice strawman. It's safe to say that vast majority of people who drink beer are not alcoholics. It's ignorant views like yours that are destroying this country.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
    • Intergalactic Pimp

      I tell ya, one can spot those friends of Bill's a mile away.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Danny Boy,,,

      I'd say alcoholism plays a major deterrent within younger crowds with one or more parents who imbibe the spirits. People who "drink" may well do so for their love in what they perceive to be a feeling of a false sense of social security whenever they are with their inebriated friends. Back in the 1970's alcohol consumptions were thru the roof and the crowds of young 18 year olds flocked to the local ABC lounges cavorting and getting drunk for the sake of partying while looking for an easy squeeze. Nowadays, these lounges are nearly ghost bars and even the beer bars have lost many clientele.

      My father was an alcoholic who did finally curb his beer drinking ways. My brother though drinks for the sole purpose easing his social pains. I quit drinking completely almost 4 years ago. I know of many folks who drink at home due their paranoia and fears of driving while drunk. Alcoholism woes are the USA's hidden disease in that little is truly known about the percentages of citizens who drunk in excess,,,

      July 13, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  16. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    Creator? You mean your parents?!

    July 13, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
  17. BostonBruinsFan02125

    And I thought "little white rye" was exceptional! Even more reason to love Sam Adams!

    July 13, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  18. nuclear mike

    Those thea profit by the media die by the media...choosing to use American national heroes' names and then taking every liberty with quotes that are self serving for your owqn profits has now crossed the line of sensibility for all of us.
    Your products are off our menu's and our tables!!!

    July 13, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
    • Athy

      It's "menus," Mike, not "menu's."

      July 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  19. Dan

    Common christians upset someone isnt kissing their ass. Film at 11.

    July 13, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  20. On rights and such

    In the commercial the man says, "We bow before no kings". Tell me, is it better to bow to something that probably isn't there or to bow to something that definately is there?

    July 13, 2013 at 8:42 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.