hile most people visit Times Square in New York City as a tourist, Parry Merkley and Adrian Pulfer stepped into that international icon one spring day in 2012 with an eye for advertising. Yes, they confirmed, this is where it should launch.
Merkley and Pulfer, friends since college, were the two creative thinkers behind the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. Pulfer had directed the first two advertising campaigns funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and seeing that paid advertising could be effective, the LDS Church decided to invest in a bigger, broader campaign.
Bonneville Communications, under the direction of the LDS Church’s missionary department conducted research and focus groups to see what the general public thought of the church. They learned two main things from that research.
First, rather than shy away from using the word “Mormon,” the church needed to own it.
“People weren’t going to stop using [Mormon] when referring to the church,” Merkley says. “So we needed to take it back, make it ours.”
Second, people had great misconceptions about the church and its members.
“People thought we aren’t like them, even though they didn’t know what we really are,” he explains. “So our first job is to just make friends.”
Knowing that people would be wary of a campaign funded by the church, Merkley and Pulfer recommended removing all church logos and apparent endorsement, other than mormon.org, from the campaign materials. At first, this suggestion made the missionary department uncomfortable, but they acquiesced.
“Any major brand who wants to make a splash in this country, they launch in Times Square,” Pulfer says, “It launched the very week of the Tony Awards when the Book of Mormon musical won 7 Tonys. The timing was inspired. The church looked like a genius.”
On top of taxicabs, in bus shelters, on billboards and inside an entire subway car, “I’m a Mormon” introduced new faces to the world. The LDS call centers were quickly overwhelmed as people responded to the positive message.
“It was one of the more gratifying campaigns I’ve worked on,” Pulfer says. “Such immediate results. And it was somewhat historic. To be able to work on something like that, that has the effect of changing someone’s life, that’s probably the best thing I could ask for.”