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'Open Hearts' ventures into online advertising

By Diane Denton*
Aug. 14, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The United Methodist "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors." advertising campaign is entering a new realm through online ads targeting people ages 22 to 44.

From Aug. 20 through mid-October, the ads will appear on Beliefnet, eHarmony, Yahoo, CitySearch, About.com and other sites. More than 21 million people are expected to see them.

"We're seeking to reach people who feel like something is missing from their life and are looking for meaning or purpose," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications, which coordinates the campaign. "Many of those people are searching online. We've chosen sites where they may be looking for something to fill a void in their lives-whether it's travel, relationships or something more spiritual."

The interactive ads will ask users questions about their desires and beliefs and offer a choice of answers. After they submit a response, they will see a summary of the poll results, along with information and links to explore more about The United Methodist Church. The ads also will feature streaming video of television spots from the campaign and offer a free MP3 download of the theme music. Users can follow the links to www.UnitedMethodist.org  to learn more about the denomination or find a local church, or they can request a brochure.

The focus of the national campaign, started in 2001 to raise awareness of The United Methodist Church, has primarily been cable television commercials aired each year around Lent, Advent and the back-to-school season. This year's back-to-school campaign runs Sept. 3-16 on 18 networks at a cost of $1.8 million. The commercial will air about 1,200 times, creating more than 276 million impressions, and is expected to reach 65 million adults.

New strategies are being tested to see which can best complement the TV commercials and reach a wider audience. In 2006, a large-scale outdoor advertising strategy placed 450 billboards in 15 media markets to reach commuters and travelers. 

Online growth

Online advertising is a fast-growing medium. A report released Aug. 7 by private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson predicts that Internet advertising will surpass broadcast television and newspapers in the next four years to become the largest advertising medium in the United States.

“We're seeking to reach people who feel like something is missing from their life and are looking for meaning or purpose. Many of those people are searching online.”–The Rev. Larry Hollon

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Americans' use of the Internet for faith-based reasons is growing. Its "Faith Online" report indicates that 64 percent of Internet users surveyed in late 2003 use the Web for spiritual and religious activities-compared to only 25 percent of those surveyed in 2001. 

Participants in the most recent survey were asked about the types of things they do online in matters related to religion and spirituality. Seventeen percent use the Internet to find information about where to attend religious services, 28 percent said they had used the Internet to seek or exchange information about their own religious faith or tradition, and 26 percent sought or exchanged information about the religious faiths or traditions of others.

*Denton is director of public relations for The United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

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*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

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