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. The Reverend

    Since there are no gods, we shouldn't be respecting them as anything more than myths created by fearful, bronze-age simpletons.

    July 14, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Bob

      Atheists continue to live without belief that anything but a bunch of rocks colliding and tadpoles growing legs formed everything we are and have now. It's sad that your naivete and hate overwhelm concept of truth. Go ahead and continue with your rants and desire to secularize the world and inevitably destroy it. Believers will have a home afterwards, unfortunately you all will have hell.

      July 14, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Your god is the most evil being ever imagined for allowing hell to exist as a possibility at all for anyone. You worship an evil and disgusting terrorist azzhole. You should be ashamed to use such threats and your god should be the only being sentenced to such an unimaginable torture.

      July 14, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • tom LI

      To Bob, too bad you have create an absurd scenario and a lie to defend your faith. Everything you said about atheists is a lie. Everything you said about Evolution is a Lie.

      Its sad that Believers like you always resort to lies, while also showing your ignorance of the scientific facts of Evolution. So sad, xtians really do miss the point of their Religion and faith and more importantly the messages of a MAN named Jesus.

      July 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      Why should 'we' behave as if 'your' belief is the truth?

      July 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • dlws

      Bob: It is clear you do not believe in the principles established in your religion's bible, so why should anyone believe that you truly believe in your religion's god?

      July 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Baal

      Hi Bob... as an atheist who has heard it all from so-called loving Christians such as yourself, I have a question for you.

      Why is there no record in the Bible of Jesus curing Gay people from being Gay?

      He cured Lepers, the crippled, the blind..... WHY no Gay Folk?

      He couldn't find any Gay people to cure?

      Gay People didn't want to be cured?

      or the obvious, Jesus didn't CARE about Gay people being Gay, because he knew his Father in Heaven created them just as they are.....

      July 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      dlws: (Assuming this was addressed to me) Just what makes it clear?

      July 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      Baal: Jesus cured diseases - things a person cannot help. Being gay is not a disease. It manifests itself as behavior - under the control of the person.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Observer

      Bob Bales,

      Gays were born that way. However, ignorance and bigotry is under the control of the individual.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • justice for all

      Actually no one is born ho mose xual. Sin is present in all mankind but is only revealed by action. The sin of ho mose xuality is a learned, unnatural act.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • 1HiFlyer

      In response to all of the atheist in here why do you waste so much time talking about God if he doesn't exist? People don't waste time going to court, writing articles getting on TV to say and to prove that fire breathing dragons and mermaids don't exist but you are constantly trying to force people to believe that God doesn't exist. If He doesn't exist, stop talking about Him then if He doesn't then the idea will pass away and just be a fairy tale you tell kids. Now in response to Baal, just imagine you were an aircraft designer and you designed a jet and sent the plans to manufacturing but you told them to build the jet so that it won't fly. Now you present the jet to the airlines and they won't buy it because it won't fly, can you get mad and fire the manufacturing department, no. That short story would make you out to be very stupid. So now why would the God and Creator of the universe and all of us (if He exist) make us and COMMAND us to BE fruitful AND MULTIPLY, and then make us desire to marry into a union that WILL NOT produce children and then be angry at us and punish us for it? Seems like He would be real unfair and unjust and a liar for telling us we could do something and design us to not complete that task. And from what I have always heard, God (if He exist) is incapable of lying or being unjust or unfair because everything He says with His mouth comes to pass. God nor Jesus hates gay people and that is where people get it wrong but God (if He exist) would see all things past, present and future. So if God (if He exist) sees that we are dying by the millions for various reasons at the hand of the devil (who does exist) and going back to the previous story of designing us to be in a relationship that will make us unable to reproduce, how long will it take for people to disappear from the earth? REALLY STUPID CONCEPT on God's part especially since He sent His Son to die in our place so that we could live only to watch us all die AND He punished us in the process because we failed to reproduce as commanded. So you will all know Jesus (if He exist) did not leave anyone out of the provision to be saved. Anyone willing to come to Him can but, you have to live by the guidelines He set. That is if He and Jesus exist. Again if They don't shut up and let the idea pass away, just like fire breathing dragons and mermaids.
      Just a thought.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • snowboarder

      @hiflyer, you did an awful lot of typing to say nothing. why?

      July 14, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • sam stone

      people do not come in talking about how fire breathing dragons, et al do not exist because no one is attempting to codify their beliefs in fire breathing dragons to dragons to deny others their civil rights. how is that so hard to see?
      we do not believe in god, but we do believe in the divisive power of those who do believe

      July 14, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
      • 1HiFlyer

        I hear a lot of people say that they don't believe in God and the same people when they get hurt or feel some element of fear the first thing they will yell is Oh God!! why is that? If you don't believe in The God why not say Oh Buddha!!, Oh Allah!! or even better for an atheist OH Satan!!! But usually it's Oh God!!! Also many people say that they don't believe in the Bible because it was written by men who made it up. What BOOK isn't?? Our history books, law books, technical books and magazines are all written by men but you will read something out of them and believe it. Like Darwins Theory of Evolution, it even says it is a THEORY yet people teach it as fact. Yet nobody has seen any monkey turn into a man either in a zoo or the wild. To me this take a lot more blind faith to believe than a Bible and there are artifacts and old historical records that prove incidents in the Bible.

        July 14, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
        • Johnny

          Most people learned what a scientific theory is by about the 5th grade, did you drop out of school before then?

          July 15, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
      • Bob Bales

        The divisive power of those who believe is no different than those who don't believe. You may say that Christians are trying to force their beliefs on others. But *every* law forces the beliefs of its authors on others.

        July 15, 2013 at 4:13 am |
      • fintastic

        @Bob, yea, except the laws of the bible are based on mythology and supersti-tion.

        July 15, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  2. tony

    Prayer is inaction.

    July 14, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • P. R.

      Quite so. Wasted time and effort.

      July 14, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Saraswati

      As long as people do it in the car or when they're falling asleep at night it hardly hurts. It's only when a belief goes along with it that suggests inaction that we have trouble.

      July 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  3. Naamah

    So let me guess this straight, the Christian flock is mad because they are NOT associated with a beer in advertising? Aren't they just digging deep to be offended.

    July 14, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  4. JJ

    This is what I call a classic, textbook, pure, unadulterated, weapons-grade example of a total waste of bandwidth.

    July 14, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Your post changed all that, for me, anyway.

      July 14, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  5. Garrick Greathouse

    And Samuel Adam's second cousin, President John Adams, submitted the "Treaty of Tripoli" to the Senate in 1797. The treaty clearly states...

    "..the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.."

    It's called recorded history, and people really should educate themselves.

    July 14, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • DM158

      I've pointed this to a bunch of people, and they usually tend to ignore it. They only believe or pay attention to what suits their needs.

      July 14, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Saraswati

      I agree with DM158. Pointing out the reality that this was founded as a secular nation rarely helps. And I'd even question why it should. If it had been founded as a Christian nation (which it wasn't) I wouldn't find that a particularly good argument for keeping it so. We've changed a lot since then and I'd hardly want to base all our laws on the intent of the founding fathers. They weren't gods.

      July 14, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  6. P. R.

    Xtians are always trying to force their Skyfather into entertainment, legislation, holidays, etc etc etc...why NOT beer, too? Sure, get your "God" ALL up in EVERYthing. I am positive that Sam Adams will taste so much better with healthy dose of a mythical, petty, hateful, childish, cruel, and apathetic deity inside...

    July 14, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  7. Jim

    My simple argument would be this - if you feel you need to quote the Declaration of Independence in your ad, then quote it the way it's written. Otherwise, you're taking it out of context.

    July 14, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • P. R.

      What, you've never paraphrased anything?

      July 14, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Jim, Do you feel the same way about reciting the Pledge of Allegiance?

      July 14, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • P. R.

      Yeah, all the McCarthyists can keep that "...under 'God'" garbage to themselves. I pledge to NO deity, Xtian or otherwise.

      July 14, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Dan

      It's a beer commercial. LIghten-up, people. Those that complain about this inoccuous commercial have no life or just want to start trouble.

      July 14, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • Baal

      So Jim, then we can recite the Pledge of Allegiance as it was originally written?

      There was NO mention of "under gawd" in it @ all.

      Cant have it both ways Skippy....

      July 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  8. Lila

    Creator means creator not God. If the intention was God, the founders would have wrote the word God. They purposely chose that word to be inclusive of all and for people to interpret as they fit. SA advertisement was fine as is.

    July 14, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Saraswati

      They wrote "Nature's God" which was a deist/naturalist concept. But anyway, this isn't a legal docu.ment so there's no reason to care.

      July 14, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Garrick Greathouse

      The founding fathers also wrote the "Treaty of Tripoli" in 1797. The treaty clearly states...

      "..the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.."

      Please give us a response to this tidbit of history.

      July 14, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Saraswati

      Garrick, from whom are you looking for a response? I don't think the OP disagrees with you and I certainly don't????

      July 14, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  9. y5258162

    Seriously who nit picks this stuff. I am assuming it is some Evangelical group, that is just looking for signs of Armageddon.

    July 14, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  10. BostonBruinsFan02125

    And I thought "little white rye" was exceptional!

    Even more reason to love Sam Adams!

    July 14, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  11. Yeah

    Everyone get over yourself.

    July 14, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  12. Move_on

    I'd bet the biggest upset is from people who do not even drink Sam Adams..

    July 14, 2013 at 7:26 am |
    • Thezel

      Jesus would drink Sam Adams Lager. Who wouldn't? I guess just those protestants who don't drink. good thing the Catholics drink beer. Gotcha Sam!

      July 14, 2013 at 7:48 am |
    • mark

      I love beer . And would love sam adams beer if that is what it was . SORRY Back wash

      July 14, 2013 at 8:05 am |
    • Bob

      I'm an atheist. I don't drink Sam Adams. I only drink Guinness. Real Beer.

      July 14, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  13. FloydZepp

    You'd think the Jesus nutags would be happy that God wasn't used to sell the Devils brew beer.

    July 14, 2013 at 7:14 am |
    • bajadelmar

      Nope as always they want it both ways. At their core, they're all about control.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • mjbrin

      yeah, he liked wine.....

      July 14, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  14. bajadelmar

    NEVER underestimate the ruthlessness of xians in damning everyone that dares to speak out contrary to their absurd beliefs in this a supposedly "free" country. In their small minds the hate these hypocrites spew is their demented rationalization of justice.

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

      Daming= the sending of people to a miserable imaginary eternity.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:27 am |
    • Willie Wonka

      They should learn from your example and say kind and loving things about others the way you do.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:36 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Question, the OED gives two definitions of "damn". See #2.

      [with object]
      1 (be damned) (in Christian belief) be condemned by God to suffer eternal punishment in hell:
      be forever damned with Lucifer
      be doomed to misfortune or failure:
      the enterprise was damned

      2condemn, especially by the public expression of disapproval:
      intellectuals whom he damns as rigid doctrinaire idealists
      curse (someone or something):
      she cleared her throat, damning it for its huskiness
      damn him for making this sound trivial

      July 14, 2013 at 8:06 am |
    • lol??

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      free spenders like drunken servants, alright.

      July 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  15. ZellenleiterX

    I'd say the weak minded people are those who object to any authority beyond their own selfish, amoral, animalist, materialistic desires. God is just a scapegoat.

    July 14, 2013 at 6:26 am |
    • William

      Your god is precisely a mental creation of the amoralistic, animalistic, egoistical sort.

      July 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      That is your god, not my God.

      July 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  16. MrCrewel Dude

    More boring god stuff.

    July 14, 2013 at 6:25 am |
    • Question for you

      On a belief blog no less, imagine that.

      July 14, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  17. jong

    Another Religion CNN article, another day with zero f's given.

    July 14, 2013 at 5:43 am |
  18. lol??

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    The A&A's don't want beer. They want blood!! They are whipping themselves into a frenzy. If they only had a leader, preferably a se*xually challenged one they say!!! Legion is bbbbaaaaaaaaaaccckkk!!!

    July 14, 2013 at 5:41 am |
  19. Arf Arf Arf, I am a Cow

    Certainly took a long time to make your pointless.

    July 14, 2013 at 5:16 am |
  20. a slozomby

    everyone knows jesus prefered wine.

    July 14, 2013 at 4:43 am |
    • Saraswati

      It would actually be a great advertising scheme to have a wine brand simply named Jesus. If that were your own name, could the industry object? Every time someone google "jesus wine" you'd show up.

      July 14, 2013 at 6:40 am |
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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.