Hoppin’ Down the Religious (and Not-So-Religious) Web Ad Trail

Whether you’re celebrating a religious holiday this spring or railing against one, there’s bound to be a Web ad running right about now that aims to appeal to folks of your creed. From the one featuring a harmless little bunny in the crosshairs of an assault weapon, to the one demanding, “Don’t Passover this Comedy,” to the one capturing the morning light as it breaks above the mountaintops, ’tis the season for spiritual ads.

Among the more off-beat campaigns running is the “War on Easter” campaign promoting the anti-Christian documentary film, “The God Who Wasn’t There,” produced by Beyond Belief Media. Starting last Sunday, Beyond Belief ran tongue-in-cheek ads featuring a photo of a rabbit caught in the crosshairs of a hunting rifle on blogs including Talking Points Memo, Eschaton, Jesus General and BAGNewsNotes. The ad creative changed yesterday to present a still image from the movie, linking to a video clip from the film which argues that Christ never existed.

Brian Flemming, director of the atheist flick and Beyond Belief Media president, is a big proponent of blog ads, specifically those he places in the Blogads network, which he said usually garner click-through rates of between 1 and 5 percent. The company, which formed in March of last year, also runs Google AdWords image ads on specific sites such Salon.com, liberal commentary sites like Air America and The Huffington Post and news site BreitBart.com.

Rather than achieving ROI in the form of revenues, the main goal of the current push is to publicize Beyond Belief’s guerrilla-style effort soliciting volunteer crusaders. The organization intends to surreptitiously distribute copies of the movie DVD and anti-Christian flyers around places of worship. So far, over 450 people have signed up to slip the DVD behind bushes on church grounds (mostly atheist activists, some as young as 14, according to Flemming).

Flemming believes that stark images and spare text make for the best blog ads, adding with a hint of irony, “I’m really kind of evangelizing for people [ to do] blog ads right.” Later this year, Beyond Belief plans a “War on Christmas” campaign that Flemming promises will rival last year’s anti-Christmas push to promote his film.

Jews are not left out in the ad department this time of year. A Blogad network spot and banner ad for “When Do We Eat?,” a film about a Passover Seder gone wrong, is running on ShaBot 6000, a site dedicated to a Jewish-themed comic strip, and JewSchool, a Jewish cultural site.

Search on keyword “Passover” on Google, and AdWords text ads promoting FreshDirect’s kosher groceries and an array of Seder-related sites and services spring up. A “Passover” search on Ask.com brings up a FreshDirect sponsored link, as well as links to 30MinuteSeder.com and Taglit-birthright Israel, a site offering educational trips to Israel for young Jewish adults.

Searches for Mawlid al-Nabi, this Tuesday’s Islamic holiday celebrating Mohammed’s birthday, yielded no holiday-related ads.

There are, however, a good deal of ads targeting Christians this year. “Easter” keyword searches prompt sponsored links for “fuss-free” Easter dinners from FreshDirect, paid links to Nestle Easter cookie recipes and free Easter e-cards from AmericanCatholic.org. Text ads for other e-card and flower sites also abound.

To promote an Easter gospel show called “Songs of Praise,” DirectTV has purchased display ads on the Salem Web Network. The Christian site network is also promoting its own Crosscards.com Easter e-cards site throughout its network. According to Chad Nykamp, director of marketing for Salem Web Network, the publisher is sending close to 2 million e-cards to its subscribers wishing them a Happy Easter and a thanking them for being subscribers. “From an internal perspective [Easter is] a good time for us to truly connect with our audience on the most religious holiday of the year,” explained Nykamp.

Easter often brings with it religious-themed films and books. Sony Pictures is running ads on Salem Web Network for book-turned-film “The Da Vinci Code,” set to hit theaters in May. To promote its own book about the theological concerns related to the book and movie, Campus Crusade for Christ International has also purchased ads on Salem sites.

Another Da Vinci Code-inspired campaign launched today, Good Friday. The Westminster Theological Seminary intends to spark debate around the biblical issues raised by the novel and film through a Web site, a USA Today full page ad and the tagline, “There is truth. There is fiction. You decide. You don’t need faith…Just a computer.”

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