New Scientology Ads

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Well the Scientologists are back again.

Over the last several days, new commercials for Scientology are appearing on the major broadcast networks. That “the church” is advertising is not new. They ran a series of ads two years ago. I’ve written about them here and in Social Compass in an article called “The Evolution of Religious Branding.”

What is new is that they are airing on some of the most popular–and most expensive–programming on network television. Not least of which was last night’s premiere of American Idol. Not only that, the commercials are not being distributed on the Internet. In fact, the old advertising no longer exists on the Scientology web site.

So why now?


A number of reasons: 1) Janet Reitman’s book Inside Scientology, an in-depth history of the church appeared on a number of best book lists of 2011. I’m about half way through the book and for those who know Scientology it is a bit long winded for my taste. For anyone who is interested in thorough histories, it will be a good read. 2) A new very high profile defection has occurred in the church. A few years ago it was Oscar-winning writer-director, Paul Haggis. Now it is Debbie Cook, who was an enforcer for the organization but is now a whistle blower, according to the Village Voice. Below is a story about her on Good Morning America.

Having only seen the commercial fleetingly, I can say this much about it. From a communications standpoint, Scientology is trying to communicate they are big. The copy in the spot was all about how the church is big and growing–obviously meant to combat the notion that people are fleeing a sinking ship. That idea is further communicated by the media placement. You simply don’t get much bigger than American Idol–TV’s highest rated show.

2 Responses to “New Scientology Ads”

  1. John P. Says:

    Based on an article in AdAge detailing the cost of a 30-second spot, I’m going to guess that the two-minute spot they purchased cost them at least $2.5 million, on the assumption that it was a last-minute buy and was well above the standard “upfront” rate of $500,000 per 30-second spot. They’re buying time on other top shows as well, and apparently doing only one insertion on each of a couple big shows rather than a lot of repetition.

    That suggests they’re focused on “proving” to existing members how great they are, rather than on recruiting new ones. So their overall campaign may have cost $10 million or more. Assuming, based on the Pew Religion survey that there are 25,000 Scientologists in the US and maybe double that worldwide, they’re spending at least $400 per head to keep the US-based “faithful” from leaving. That’s a remarkable amount of money to spend to combat one e-mail from one former leader.

    Incidentally, monitoring a couple hours worth of Twitter articles mentioning the word “Scientology” shows almost zero positive comments about the ad campaign and almost no positive text about Scientology in general. I think mistrust, loathing or contempt for Scientology is so thoroughly established in the world right now that there is not much chance that the Church will be able to recruit effectively, even with an infinite advertising budget.

  2. Mara Says:

    Thanks for your post.

    I’m not sure I completely agree. I continue to see the ads running on top broadcast, prime time programming. (I believe I just saw it again on Idol.) If they aren’t repeating, however, it means they are using a reach strategy–trying to reach and then hopefully persuade–large numbers of people.

    I do agree with you about the negative comments. When it has come to these campaigns in the past, they have at least drawn interesting (the “Your Life” campaign was visually stunning) and even driven people to their web site. It has not done anything to increase “church” membership.

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