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. bostontola

    Why do many Christians assert that atheists believe in nothing? I'm sure atheists have a diverse set of beliefs. I believe that the observable universe came into being by natural means without the aid of a conscious creator (no need to ask me how thats my belief). I believe atoms formed naturally without a creator. I believe stars formed naturally without a creator. I believe large stars and their deaths created the elements needed for planets naturally with no creator. I believe planets formed naturally without a creator. I believe this planet had the ingredients and environment where life could emerge naturally without a creator, I believe on this planet that life evolved intelligence and self awareness naturally without a creator. Lots more beliefs as well.

    The difference between my beliefs and religious beliefs is that mine are consistent with mountains of scientific data, painstakingly verified and refined over time. Religious beliefs were created by man centuries ago when what we knew was almost all made up with no verification. These religious beliefs have not stood up to the test of time either, they need to be "re-interpreted" to slowly align to accepted facts, re-interpreted through the lens of a god who works in "mysterious" ways.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • Saraswati

      It's a pretty bizarre statement some of the religious folk make. Most atheist I know not only believe a whole lot of things about the reality of science and nature but also hold ethical "beliefss" (or "principles") about which they feel very strongly.

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

      Great points, atheists beliefs are quite diverse. I don't know any that believe in nothing.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  2. tony

    The absurdities and self contractions throughout the bible are massive evidence for the absolute non-existence of the god that the Israelites thought they had. It would be hilarious, except for the particular religious folk that instead go to great lengths to make our, young enough to be impressionable, children believe in it.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Yup

      I always loved this one, because it nails it. Sorry for the ad at the start.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • Yup

      Ooops. Launched it without the video:


      July 13, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  3. ScottCA

    "they are endowed by their creator"

    No one ever said that the creator in question had to be a deity. We know now that its was not some giant man in the clouds, but rather the process of evolution that created us this way and with these traits, and the universe unfolded given the mathematical rules that dictated its evolution as well. This process is our creator, not some mythical sky fairy.

    There is absolutely no evidence to support the existence of any deity.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  4. skippy

    Samuel Adams was never a lawyer. He considered it, but went into business school at Harvard instead. Learn your history or you'll be doomed to repeat it.... He was Governor Massachusetts, signer of the Declaration of Independence, leader of the Whigs and Sons of Liberty in Boston ... But he was NEVER a lawyer....

    It seems to me to be common sense not to use religion to sell beer in the same way it's a bad idea to use cartoon characters to sell cigarettes. The fuss of this one phrase in a commercial for a beer subject is yet another absurd knee-jerk reaction to the political and anti politically correct bullies in the society.

    In other word, LIGHTEN UP PEOPLE !!!

    July 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • James

      What about Joe Camel?

      July 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • bostontola

      Probably some get confused with John Adams.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
  5. TimK

    Because of religion, we NEED beer. LOTS of beer. (Except Budweiser. friends don't let friends drink Bud.)

    July 13, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  6. Reality

    For the next Sam Adams commercial:

    Only for beer drinkers and the new members of this blog–

    The Apostles'/Agnostics’ Creed 2013: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    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.

    (references used are available upon request)

    July 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Kroth the Bunny-Hammerer, minion of Barry the Condiment Application Technician

      Does anyone else bother to read Reality or LionyLamb? I stopped looking after a few posts.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  7. Joe

    When god is mentioned, Atheists go nuts. When god is omitted, Religious folk go nuts. Am I the only one that finds both groups stupid?

    July 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      No, and you're last on a long list of people who have said the same thing. I do think you're stupid, though, if that counts.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      Because sitting in the middle of this issue is the only reasonable position:). Joe...look at where you are...a belief blog..specifically about religion...So either you are a troll...or like the rest of us here, you are trying to drive home your own take on this issue.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • JimK57

      I think the problems are with the individuals not the groups. When see people start to throw insults or talk down to others. Then I know it is best to ignore them.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  8. Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

    Take a close look (or listen) to the wording in the ad. The barkeep is quoting the Declaration of Independence where it uses the word "creator." The Declaration was written by this nation's founders who were secularists. They were men of enlightenment. The word "creator" is NOT a synonym for the god of some outdated, far-flung monotheistic religion. It in NO way invokes that because the founders were dead set on the separation of church and state. Word to the wise "creator" and "god" are not synonymous.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      The issue is that he DOESN'T say "creator" where it is in the quotation. Although he does say "created" at the proper place.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Kroth the Bunny-Hammerer, minion of Barry the Condiment Application Technician

      In all fairness, the Founding Fathers were not at all the homogenous group they are sometimes portrayed as now. They were all over the place on religion, whether to have a Bill of Rights, slavery, states versus federal power, all sort of things. The separation of church and state was every bit as much desired by religious people, who feared some other religious faction would get control. Remember that those early groups like Puritans and Quakers hated each other, and oppressed each other at every opportunity. A Quaker in a Puritan town was not safe.

      And of course the religious wars of Europe had ended less than a century before, and Oliver Cromwell's fundamentalist coup in England was still strong in their memories (heck, they STILL know and revile Cromwell in England!), so there were many reasons to keep religion out of government.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  9. TKO

    "My creator"?

    God? Allah? Shiva? Wakantanka? Pachamama? Me? My parents? The Cosmos? The State? No one?

    You get the picture.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  10. jboh

    The talibangelicals are getting way too full of themselves. No folks, you don't speak for all of America, or ever most of it. Failing to praise Jesus at the beginning of an ad is not an infringement on "freedom" of religion.

    July 13, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
  11. Hypatia

    What a non story!

    July 13, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Larry of Nazareth

      Well, the reality is that there is never going to be any true religious news. I mean, you just aren't going to read "Jesus returned today, apologizes for being late, begins his loving slaughter," "Oh crud, Thor's here! Time to convert to Norse Myth!"

      All that is left is the atrocities religious people do in the name of their particular invisible friend, or the really absurd things religious people do in the name of their invisible friend, like getting their knickers in a twist because a beer company didn't kiss their ass.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
      • l33ter

        Absurd things religious people do? Like start soup kitchens, drug intervention programs, civil rights movements, and orphanages. Like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Francis Willard?

        January 3, 2014 at 9:47 am |
    • tallulah13

      No kidding!

      July 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  12. Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

    Obviously, you've never met an atheist. Word of advice: don't get into a debate with an atheist where knowledge of the facts is required. You're the one who believes in talking snakes and religion-condoned genocide and infanticide. Yep, your "completely moral and infallible" book of fairytales says so much.

    July 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  13. tallulah13

    Interesting. A major chunk of commentary just disappeared, between one comment and the next. Either CNN has some sort of virus, or they are simply editing blindly.

    July 13, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Nope. My bad. It just got moved to a different page.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  14. bustermanley

    Astoundingly bad journalism. Sam Adams was never considering the clergy. Sam Adams was never a lawyer. Both of these are accurate descriptions of his cousin, John Adams. The latter was also the President of the United States. Seems like the author needs to go back to high school, and study a bit of American History.

    July 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Badda Bing

      And they totally left out his years as star of "Get Smart."

      July 13, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Jeffrey Weiss

      Appleton's Encyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 1: "It was the wish of the elder Samuel that his son should become a clergyman; but the son had no taste for theology and preferred the law."

      July 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  15. Belinda

    Horus frowns down upon you!! Repent! or burn in ....... hee hee...sorry got carried away, meant to say that all religions are very very VERY dumb 🙂

    July 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  16. Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

    A bit paranoid and misinformed there, are ya?

    July 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  17. So bored...

    So bored with christians.

    July 13, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • ODD BALL

      so lemme get this straight...your bored with a group of people who believe differently than you? Im lost here, are you purposly spending time with them? why would you be bored with something u dont believe in and on the same token, why would you waste one moment of your life on something u dont believe in .....perhaps u can clarify what u really mean

      July 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Dippy

      You're, not your.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  18. Tom, Tom, the Hopeful One

    I agree with Atheism is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things. Why? Well, we can't really PROVE the existance of nonexistance of a supreme being. It would be "healthy" to then have the HOPE that this life here is not all there is and something better awaits. It is also healthy to cling to hope of a higher power who loves and cares about us (according to the teachings of Jesus), especially in this chaotic world and when all hell breaks loose for us personally (which happens to most of us at some point in our lives, if not more often). It also is healthy to believe in love, selflessness and forgiveness, To believe in NOTHING–that this is it, is pretty sad. People naturally like to believe that this is not the end of it all, as it is depressing just reading the World News. Nice to believe that there is a God who loves us, promises to be with us throughout THIS world, and then offers us an eternity so wonderful it is beyond human imagination. Personally, I choose to opt for that route. Gives me a sense of peace in the midst of this evil and chaotic world.

    July 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • Sammy G.

      Your post sums up why it is better to be godless. You seem like an unthinking dolt hoping without reason for something better, lol. No gods, just Earth, thanks 🙂

      July 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      You realize that you're lying when you claim not to be the poster whose message you claim to agree with? Are you going to pray and ask forgiveness and make everything ok, again?

      July 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So basically, you're saying that you would rather believe in a pretty lie than to accept the truth.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Hopeful One

      @ Talullah–As we cannot PROVE the existance or nonexistance of a God, I am saying that for the reasons I mentioned above, I would rather be willing to take a "leap of faith", rather than accept that this life is the end of it all. Can't really prove if one is a lie or the truth. Just expressing my personal opinion.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Saraswati

      It turns out that "Hope" in the squishy naive sense Americans use that term isn't always all it's cracked up to be. Recent research suggest that the false "hope" culture surrounding many terminally ell has actually made things much worse for people who would otherwise have come to terms with reality. I'm not saying there isn't a place for hope, but in our culture it has become a religion unto itself.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • tallulah13

      As there is no evidence to support the existence of any god, it is logical to conclude that no god exists. Therefore, your hope is nothing more than you choosing to believe in something for which there is not a shred of proof, rather than to accept that life is finite. It is certainly your choice, but as far as I can tell, it is believing in a pretty lie rather than accepting reality.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      That's a very good argument, TTtHO, for why people should continue to believe in imaginary friends, Santa, and Bigfoot. Do you think people should believe in imaginary friends because they can't be disproven and because it makes them happy?

      July 13, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • Kevin

      Tom, your whole basis for your belief is a just in case belief? i doubt your god would appreciate that. I would also ask why you say we can not prove the nonexistence of god? can you prove the nonexistence of leprechauns? Allah? Thor? Horus? Vishnu? you better start believing in them as well, otherwise your in for a world of hurt after you die.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

      And if there is no life after this one or, if there is and it's less than you expected, you're setting yourself up for complete disappointment. You're using the word "hope" but you're defining "expect". Not a wise choice.

      July 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • Larry of Nazareth

      So how do you choose which of the evidence-free gods you choose? If you get that wrong too, then you are no better off than an atheist.

      And how, in the face of a total lack of evidence for what you believe, do you just believe it anyway? That's like believing in leprechauns and werewolves, just in case. Do you not sail on ships because there might be sea monsters, or not fly because there might be gremlins sabotaging the plane?

      And what kind of god demands obedience and is perfectly fine with your greed for an afterlife, but horrifically punishes people are very generous and good and helpful to those here in the real world, but doesn't believe in god, or the correct god? Is such a being even worth worship or respect?

      July 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      the Hopeful One is not the first to suggest that a sufficient reason for belief in something, even something with the extraordinary baggage that comes along with belief in God, is that it makes the believer a nicer and happier person. Truth is no longer relative. It is irrelevant.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • The Holy Ghost of Sam Adams

      Too bad much of organized religion is based on fear and not love. Accept the love of God and act as you should, or face an eternity of suffering in hell. To evoke fear in a child is certainly not healthy for them. Teaching children to behave for the purpose of receiving their "eternal reward" is also not healthy. Loving others should be its own reward.

      So suppose one does not believe in an afterlife. Then they believe that this life is all there is. Teaching children to live in the here and now, to love one's self and others, and to get as much out of this life as possible, is a very positive message.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      Hopeful One,

      Saying we cant prove god doesn't exist is simply playing a lawyer's game.....

      worldwide religion is starting to crumble....you can only morph ancient dogmas so much before they start sounding completely absurd....with the Christians they are attempting ID. with muslims, they are trying to sale draconian enough real world consequences to prevent deviation. Hinduism and Buddhism both are fluid enough to exist alongside the modern world but they were never really about micromanaging their adherents like the desert dogmas.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      +1 Larry of Nazareth

      July 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

      Hopeful One, please use spellcheck. Even if the points you're attempting to make are still without reason and logic, at least you will appear to be a little more literate.

      July 13, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • me

      There is proof that no god exists, man created all gods.

      July 13, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Now Godless One

      I stand corrected. You all have convinced me. If there is no proof, then I must conclude there is no god. Thank you for opening my eyes.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Now Godless One

      Reflecting further upon my newfound perspective, I have been doubting that my wife and children truly love and appreciate me. I am going to demand concrete proof that they do, as I am sick and tired of busting my butt providing for them if my efforts are unappreciated. If they cannot provide this concrete proof, I will therefore assume that they do not, and move on to greener pastures. After all, we only go around once in this life.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Don't leap to the conclusion that there is no God. Perhaps there is, but it doesn't give you anything to work with. You might as well move on and focus on things that are more accessible, like your family and friends.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @TTTOO! agreed that's best for a lot of us.

      @TTTNGO, I don't care if you choose to believe in a god, so long as you pick/invent one (or more) that's consistent with all the modern sciences and the greatest wellbeing here on earth. That can be done, but in reality most gods and their ideologies lag behind more recent discoveries.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  19. The Holy Ghost of Sam Adams

    It's so ridiculous that people get offended by the littlest things. I thought this was a great commercial, certainly much better than those featuring Jim Koch or his brewer workers.

    Get a clue, people! Atheist and God-worshipers will never agree on the existence of God. Those of different religions will never agree on the nature of God. Christians and scientists will never agree about creation. Democrats and Republicans will never agree on anything.

    You can spout your points of view all you want on CNN's comment sections, but you will never convince those with an opposite position. This is why there are so many trolls – they're just playing you all because they know they can get a reaction. A word of advice – step away from the keyboard, and go out and enjoy your life.

    July 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Hopeful One

      I agree with you 100% that noone is going to convince another to change their beliefs by posting here. I was just expressing MY viewpoint. Sadly, I get attacked for it by being called an " unthinking dolt" for doing so. I refuse to resort to namecalling with people who do not agree with me, as they have their right to express THEIR viewpoint!

      July 13, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  20. Larry of Nazareth

    As I walked down a large street in a major city yesterday, I once again came across a group of Jesus freaks with their bullhorn and signs and handouts, and the thing that struck we was not just that absolutely no one stopped to pay them any attention, but that when the intersection was almost totally empty, bullhorn guy kept on braying despite the lack of any audience.

    Religion is nuts.

    July 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Nicodemus Grumpschmidt

      But then you must remember, common sense has never been a hallmark of the religious "mind". Great post, Larry! Good stuff!

      July 13, 2013 at 2:46 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.