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. colonelingus

    A big brew ha ha about nothing. SA is without a doubt one of the worst tasting excuses for beer on the market. Pure Panther pyss.

    July 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • Candiano

      Having never tasted panther piss, I'll take your word that's it's worse.

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

      Agreed. I'd take a watered down Bud Light over any Sam Adams brew. But I will say Jim Koch is a very funny and personable guy. When I met him he came in, put his briefcase on the counter, opened it, pulled out a beer and offered me one. The ONLY thing in the briefcase was 4 or 5 bottles of Sam Adams. No papers, no nothing. Just beer! Then he proceeded to make jokes and let me record him riffing for promos.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  2. Publius1787

    How interesting that the author mentions that Sam Adams was anti-Catholic. and because of this he wasn't perfect. He then goes on to mention that five notable examples exists, one of which is anti-Catholic.
    It goes back to what I've mentioned before: this nation was born not only anti-indigenent and pro slavery, but also anti catholic. And while many white liberals have done their best to apologize for the first two discriminations, they continue to promote anti-Catholicism in this country claiming its part of progressive policy.
    How different would it be if the article mention how Muslims or another religion have it wrong? It wouldn't be published by CNN

    July 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • Zingo

      Thanks for sharing the butthurt right-wing Catholic perspective.

      July 13, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  3. jimmy swaggart

    Down south here, we cook up a good batch a bathtub crank! God fearin southern folk!

    July 13, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
  4. On rights and such

    What if we said our rights exist by nature of our existence? No giving of rights by either men or dieties.

    July 13, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • Bill Jamieson

      What are you taking about? "Rights" are just an abstraction. You don't even have any true "rights. You have privileges, and they all can be taken away, by others, by governments.

      Right to liberty? Ever heard of jail?

      Right to the pursuit of happiness? Ever heard of jail?

      Right to life? Ever heard of murder, or the death penalty.

      It's just an abstraction that is meant to convey a higher level of entitlement, nothing more. Only humans can grant or take them away. And since life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not at all Biblical/Christian values, then why do they care about taking the credit for them?

      July 13, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • On rights and such

      What if you were wrong. What if you had the right to land, the right to free speach..just because you exist...what if other humans were wrong in taking them away?

      July 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • On rights and such

      Let me put it to you another way. There is a bird outside, does it have the right to continue its life just because it was there or is it only permitted to be there because some powerful human was courteous enough to leave it alone..this time.

      July 13, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
    • Zingo

      If they can be taken, then they aren't inalienable, are they?

      July 13, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • On rights and such

      You can take the birds life...but did you take it's right to live?

      July 13, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • JimK57

      To start with everyone involved has to agree on the definition of "right".

      July 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • JimK57

      I meant to say "rights".

      July 13, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  5. Magical Sky Daddy

    Are the ones complaining honestly buying SA? I believe that within the so called bible belt, there are so many dry counties that buying any alcoholic beverage is nearly impossible. By the way, the last 3 prophets claiming to be the messenger of a said deity...well look up their demographic. If you claim there is a deity, which one is he(she). There are so many who happen to be born on the same exact date. It's an astrological event...get over it!

    July 13, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • jimmy swaggart

      The bible speaks of the devil!

      July 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • Bill Jamieson

      Actually, rates of alcoholism and alcohol use in the Bible Belt are very high, dry county or not.

      July 13, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • jimmy swaggart

      Here in the bible belt we drink keystone and skoal!

      July 13, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • Athy

      Heck, in the Bible Belt they just make their own. My uncle in TN figured it cost him about 50 cents a quart to make basic moonshine. He simply flavored it with extract to get scotch, gin, bourbon, rum, or whatever he needed.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
  6. Arick

    It is a beer commercial for a slightly better than mediocre beer. Get over it.

    July 13, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
    • jimmy swaggart

      Careful now. Jesus don't take kindly to sinners!

      July 13, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
  7. nevojak

    Extraordinary claims require... Oh you know the rest.

    July 13, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • jimmy swaggart

      Wicked sinners all y'all!

      July 13, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • Mack

      Jimmy: Much like you've never lost a wink of sleep worrying about whether the other 2/3 of planet Earth's religions are correct and yours is wrong, I've never lost a wink about yours. Couldn't care less. Just living my happy, healthy, wildly successful life on planet Earth for the time I'm here. It's another beautiful day and I'm around to enjoy it. Isn't that enough?

      July 13, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
  8. clubschadenfreude

    I suspect that the SA guys left out "creator" since some Christians would take the opportunity to claim that it was their god and only their god and only one narrow version of that god. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the DoI did not believe in the hateful intolerant version of the Christian god. Since Christians cannot agree on what this god is or "really meant", leaving out a mention of a "creator" makes sense. The word "creator" is essentially meaningless and only allows people to declare that their personal hatreds and desires are supported by some magic being, of course with no evidence of such a thing at all.

    July 13, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • jimmy swaggart

      You best be ready for hellfire and damnation! That'd be devil talk your a speakin!

      July 13, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Dippy

      You're, not your, Jimmy.

      July 13, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • jimmy swaggart

      Dippy devil do wrong!

      July 13, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  9. jimmy swaggart

    Satan uses alcohol to get us to commit wickedness!

    July 13, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
  10. jimmy swaggart

    Samuel Adams beer is a tool of Satan!

    July 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Mack

      Some Muslims will blow themselves up because they're so sure their religion is right. If you had been given up for adoption and taken in by Muslims you could conceivably be one of them. The truth shouldn't be about the environment in which you were raised. 1 + 1 = 2 regardless. Think about it and make up your own mind. #lemming

      July 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  11. Scott

    “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.”

    The beer ad folks are confusing "creator" with religion and the two are not synonymous but of course I can hear the old men say, "it doesn't matter, duh!" as their low IQ strains to find a meaning in all this.

    July 13, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
  12. lol??

    DOI or DUI, that is the question.

    July 13, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  13. Mark Negie

    Since it is becoming increasingly easier for our national nose to be put out of joint I propose that we form a review board of a couple of hundred thousand folks to review anything that is to be published or aired. And to make sure that the review board is functional I recommend that only a fifty one percent majority will be needed to pass approval. Come on people, it's only a beer commercial.

    July 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  14. realbuckyball

    The United States is a signatory of the UN Declaration on Human Rights.
    All cultures advance or change.
    The Declaration on Human Rights says our rights arise from our being human.
    No gods needed or mentioned.

    July 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • lol??

      We R da Wurld.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      All of that is just to say that our society endows us with rights because we are human, but it could as well be because we enjoy contriving rights for each other, or because we are cute, or whatever.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
    • On rights and such

      The thought processess is if man can give rights man can take them away. If man agrees that some supernatural event or diety gives rights then nobody can take them away they just "are".

      July 13, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      Problem is if there is no god, you're left with nothing. Unbelief is growing worldwide. Better to have rights acknowledged by men, which could only be taken away by consent of the governed, than an invisible fantom. l

      July 13, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  15. firebrand49

    "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."

    Oh please. Trying to suggest that the Declaration is somehow a "religious" text just because it's important just makes you look silly.

    July 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I don't think they maintain a list of what *can* be used...that would be fairly silly.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  16. Clint

    Yeah....because "their creator" has been legally defined as....oh wait, that's why they wrote "their creator", because there is no mention of the word "god" in the Declaration.

    Plenty of people would like it to be there, but the fact is, it's not.

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


      July 13, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • Semantics

      Since this seems to be a new word for atleast three of you on here..

      [si-man-tiks] Show IPA

      noun ( used with a singular verb )
      Linguistics .
      the study of meaning.

      the study of linguistic development by classifying and examining changes in meaning and form.

      Also called significs. the branch of semiotics dealing with the relations between signs and what they denote.

      the meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc.: Let's not argue about semantics.

      general semantics.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  17. Julio Montez

    Seriously country is in the tanker. essentially a Corporatocracy...bailed out the banksters, they'll probably tank the economy again..People going broke from health care expenses and this is an issue!! Give me a break, I need to find an island away from the morons...!

    July 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Akira

      @lol??: what?

      July 13, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • lol??

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      look up the governor of FL on wiki and see his heath care escapades. no wonder he buckled to the Big O when it came to the Zimmerman case. Don't need no stinkin' NSA on my tail!!

      July 14, 2013 at 5:40 am |
  18. Kevin

    It's interesting that the author of this article turned "their creator" into "the creator.' The first is more tolerant and leaves open the door for multiple creators or beliefs... even to believe that one's creator is their mother and father. But the author clearly sees it as "the creator" singular and only one.

    July 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • Semantics

      Is that why they say "the devil" is in the details?

      July 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • FugginMorons

      Who gives a F? Seriously, you commenters are absurd.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Semantics

      Not as absurd as your comprehension of vocabulary, responder but thank you for enforcing my original point.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  19. Anne

    Mr. Weiss; it's Inalienable rights! We're talking about the Declaration for crying out loud! Get your facts right!

    July 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • ME II

      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 6:57 pm |
    • ME II

      Interesting... while technically the final draft used UN there were versions with IN and apparently the meaning is the same, at least according to this:

      July 13, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Unalienable rights cannot be separated from whoever has them. Inalienable rights can be. Both are intrinsic to whoever has them. I don't see that either exists.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  20. Thought Purification

    if you see a problem in that commercial........I say you're a narrow-minded person.

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

      So much ado about nothing at all.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • ME II

      I see an issue with using the DOI to sell beer. Don't get me wrong I love beer, but it's like using the flag in advertising, cheap and gimmicky.Of course, one shouldn't expect much from the Samual Adams brewing company, I suppose.

      July 13, 2013 at 7:16 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.