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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. Fritz Hohenheim

    “We answer to a higher authority.” – That's exactly why I dont buy Hebrew National hotdogs. Because I don't trust a food company that puts Bronze Age food rules over FDA rules

    July 14, 2013 at 3:52 am |
    • Felix the Catapult

      They were accused of being phonies, that their products actually weren't kosher. They were sued, but the judge dropped it because it was an entirely religious matter.

      Apparently they are not worried about that higher authority much.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:57 am |
    • Simon Hershon

      If you only knew that Kosher standards ARE the higher standard; and yes, they are Kosher.

      July 14, 2013 at 5:48 am |
      • Johnny

        If you only knew that you wouldn't know very much at all.

        July 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  2. randoms

    IMO – any sort of religion is a cure for those who need direction – Sheep need sheep herders, and hey... thou shalt not kill or convent thy neighbour? Gimme a break, you hypocrites, stay out of government with a separation. Have your influence but don't judge decisions based on faith – but FACT.

    July 14, 2013 at 2:36 am |
    • lol??

      Tell us the facts on randoms condoms.

      July 14, 2013 at 5:44 am |
  3. HotAirAce

    Why is drinking American beer like making love in a canoe?

    It's fucking near water!

    July 14, 2013 at 2:17 am |
    • Athy

      You've never tried American craft beer, Ace? Not all American beer is fucking Budweiser!

      July 14, 2013 at 2:24 am |
    • BowlOfStupid

      That's an Olympia beer joke.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:26 am |
    • Athy

      But your joke was cute. I'll try to remember it.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:26 am |
    • HotAirAce

      In fact, I lived near Boston for one year and drank many good brews. Sorry for a too broad brush joke.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:26 am |
    • ScubaGolfJim

      I like to F_ck near water. Except for the sand. Oh wait... you meant... never mind.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:46 am |
    • Bruce

      Yes Socrates himself is particularly missed,
      A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he's pissed.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:41 am |
    • EnjaySea

      I think when people complain about American beer, they actually are referring to Coors and Bud, which, as John Cleese so elegantly noted, taste like llama piss.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  4. Dan

    What a poorly written, useless article. They did not want to segregate any one group of people and lose sales by putting a specific name to the deity...That is all, stop reading too much into things that do not require it. Take some pride in your journalism man. Did you really work your ass off to work for CNN just to write an article like this?

    July 14, 2013 at 1:34 am |
    • BowlOfStupid

      One can keep one's ass neatly, when working for mass-media. All one must do is conjure up something explicitly divisive against people of faith or color, and/or glorify the unimportant. See? Ass neatly in place, barely a sweat.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:40 am |
  5. faith

    the person in the greatest danger spiritually is the one who knows she is too good for god, she doesn't sin, never has, oh, maybe a harmless white lie, but nothing deserving of joining the filthy, clamoring masses who have earned hell! (if there is one!) either way, i'm protected (leaving her underpants with someone she can trust?) not her. she lives on a special plane. she looks down on and observes from afar the madding crowd.

    July 14, 2013 at 1:19 am |
  6. faith

    those precious
    beautiful gospel singers
    shining black as night
    unable not to be rejoicing
    on stage in an empty park
    105 degrees
    swayin and clapping and screaming and crying and praising him
    in front of no one they saw
    long into the dark hours
    sweet sounds of healed hearts
    breakin thru into the drunkin soul of hellbound feces
    a glimmer of hope

    never know who be listenin

    July 14, 2013 at 12:51 am |
  7. lionlylamb2013

    Socially immoral are the civil perceptions revolving around the servitudes of bottled "alcoholic" beverages that wane of alcohol breweries instilling miseries upon the unsuspecting younglings of teenaged youths while the more elderly crowds having yet to partition themselves are ever belying their better reasoning skills.

    While the imbibing elders may still not willingly want to disengage from their bottled spiritual habits except upon waking up with a hangover, their disengagement will be short lived. For the imbibers of breweries sweet nectars' flavorings seems to make the grades more or less as appealing emotional notions for many a drinkers love potions leaving many to become alcohols' slaves of spirited brews despite their social embarrassments from become way too drunk.

    To drink but little thereof is of a high minded priority among civilized drinkers whose moral obligations far outstrip the bottles innately amorous undertones. Alcohol and its physically addicting pluralisms dare entices many potential alcoholics addictive musing bouts becoming the ensnarement of the unforeseen and unknowable alcoholics physical benediction needs for wants of continual bottle sipping.

    Thus with an immoral yearning the drinker soon becomes a deplorable drunkard and others eyeing said drunkard's ways while they drink to extremes will seldom offer their drunken social beneficiaries any useful toll for one's augmentative cessation before the physical addiction takes hold. I know these issues very well because I was mentally addicted to alcohol while my brother is yet addicted but his addiction is not only mental but is also physical.

    July 14, 2013 at 12:50 am |
  8. Kandace

    I'm a believing Christian but I think to make any flap of this, other than just not providing the correct historical quote, is beyond stupid. I mean, do we REALLY want a company to invoke the divine in order to sell beer? Find something else to be outraged about. There's plenty out there...

    July 14, 2013 at 12:49 am |
    • BowlOfStupid

      Every sentence we speak invokes either good or evil. Take your pick before you speak.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:42 am |
    • Saraswati

      I mentioned this to a couple of theists (most people haven't heard about the issue) and they thought it was a pretty stupid issue to even care about.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:42 am |
    • Question for you

      The wording of a commercial is only a useful surface issue for the media because it brings up a larger underlying debate.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:21 am |
  9. Positivist Nulifidian

    Mr. Weiss forgot to mention the Joe Montana Miracle Stain, one of the funniest religious parody ads ever!

    July 14, 2013 at 12:49 am |
  10. Dan

    I believe my creator was my mom and dad, not sure why they left that part out, I certainly would not have been offended by it....

    July 14, 2013 at 12:32 am |
    • BowlOfStupid

      Dan, apparently you are the last to know: IT WAS THE MAILMAN!

      July 14, 2013 at 2:43 am |
    • Joe

      Why did they make your appendix? I was always curious about that.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:56 am |
  11. TigerMan

    CNN really doesn't know that it is "inalienable" rights?

    July 14, 2013 at 12:22 am |
    • Observer

      TigerMan,

      CNN knows that it is UNALIENABLE rights.

      You're the one who didn't know.

      July 14, 2013 at 12:26 am |
    • Craig

      And, for the record, the two words have vastly different meanings. Unalienable was chosen for its very specific meaning.

      July 14, 2013 at 12:52 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Craig, it is my understanding they were simply variant spellings. Some of the earlier drafts had "inalienable".

      July 14, 2013 at 6:44 am |
    • FYI

      "The final version of the Declaration uses the word "unalienable." Some earlier drafts used the word "inalienable," which is the term our modern dictionaries prefer. The two words mean precisely the same thing.

      According to The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style from Houghton Mifflin Company:

      The unalienable rights that are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence could just as well have been inalienable, which means the same thing. Inalienable or unalienable refers to that which cannot be given away or taken away."

      http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/unalienable.htm

      July 14, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  12. Mark Leiens

    I loved that Doritos Feed Your Flock ad. Very funny and creative. Don't know why it caused controversy.

    July 14, 2013 at 12:19 am |
  13. Something I've always wondered

    Ultimately if I wanted society to be a certain way I can justify it with religion, I can justify it with creativity, I can justify it with politics and statistics...and so on. People find some way or another to get things the way they want to see them. Eliminating religion is not some magic button that will suddenly make the world okay, switch it off and everything is equitable between all people. It's just not that simple.

    July 14, 2013 at 12:16 am |
    • Pseudotriton

      But if you can eliminate at least one thing that divides people, then why not?

      July 14, 2013 at 12:57 am |
    • Question for you

      It divides some people and unites some people in the end people will divide and unite of their own accord. If there is no god than what are you putting an end too exactly?

      July 14, 2013 at 7:04 am |
    • Saraswati

      "But if you can eliminate at least one thing that divides people, then why not?"

      You could use the same argument for eliminating different languages or variants in salary or borders...or sports teams. But all serve a purpose. You want to be very sure religions still serve none before taking them out of the mix.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:10 am |
    • Question for you

      Trying to end religion seems like trying to end imagination.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  14. Susan

    Religion poisons everything!

    July 14, 2013 at 12:10 am |
    • Something I've always wondered

      That's exactly the point I've been making for a while on another thread. You think it does but you seem to forget that people make decisons (good and bad) for reasons that are not religious.

      July 14, 2013 at 12:12 am |
    • cjr

      A bad batch of beer would do that too.

      July 14, 2013 at 12:32 am |
  15. Something I've always wondered

    What I am trying to explain to you is that a persons rationale for their decisions may have nothing to do with their religion..even if they have a religion.

    July 14, 2013 at 12:08 am |
    • Something I've always wondered

      Continued from another thread but still a point I wondered about.

      July 14, 2013 at 12:09 am |
  16. Willyboy

    Way to go Sam Adams! Go get stuffed, Christofascists...

    July 14, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  17. Reality

    For the next Sam Adam's ad:

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

    July 13, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
    • Akira

      They want to sell beer, not put people to sleep.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
    • Reality

      For the reading-challenged:

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      July 14, 2013 at 12:02 am |
    • Something I've always wondered

      Look, reality let me save you alot of time with all that history and ledgend stuff. There are as many different interpretations of religion and religious themed holidays as there are humans. Just go with this, there is no proof that you are conscious of anything after you die. That should be cut and dry enough.

      July 14, 2013 at 12:22 am |
    • Reality

      Putting the "cut and dry" to all religions:

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

      • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

      • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

      • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

      • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

      Added details available upon written request.

      A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

      e.g. Taoism

      "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

      Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

      July 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  18. Blessing of awesome

    When did CNN writers get so biased? This was a very stupid piece. Just because Sam Adams believed in god you HAVE to speak about god in your ad about a beer named after the man? What?! Thats like naming a beer after Johnny Cash and people being offended a commercial promoting it didn't contain heroin marketing. Newswriters suck sometimes and this is one of those times.

    July 13, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I don't know what article you're commenting on, but it's not this one.

      July 13, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
  19. atomD21

    Zzzzzzzzz..Huh? What? Is the article done already? Not a long enough nap... On a completely unrelated note, did anyone see the thing about how Christians are the most easily offended group? It got a large portion of the Christian community very upset and offended and proved the claim true...

    July 13, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  20. Frank Czine

    Stupidest reason ever to write an article. Jeffrey Weiss, you are a tool.

    July 13, 2013 at 11:21 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.