Rolling Stone: Ad for a Bible doesn’t fit

CW BibleAd.jpg
By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY

The nation’s largest Bible publisher, rolling out its biggest marketing campaign ever to promote a new translation aimed at “spiritually intrigued 18- to 34-year-olds,” has stumbled over a little rock: Rolling Stone. The magazine rejected Zondervan’s Bible ad just weeks before its scheduled run date, citing an unwritten policy against accepting ads containing religious messages.

Zondervan executives say the entertainment magazine was key in its $1 million campaign to reach young adults who have rarely, if ever, seen Bible ads before. Surveys show that 53% of this age group read the Bible less than once a year or never, although they are huge buyers of books on spiritual and religious themes.

Today’s New International Version of the Bible (TNIV) is a modern English translation from Zondervan, publisher of the world’s best-selling English translation, the 1978 New International Version. The TNIV features updated language and scholarship.

The rejected ad shows a serious young man, apparently pondering the problems of modern life. The text touts the TNIV as a source for “real truth” in a world of “endless media noise and political spin.” A blue Bible peeks up from the corner of the ad.

The Onion, the weekly satirical magazine, will carry a similar ad next month, and the February/March issue of Modern Bride has an ad featuring a woman in bridal white promoting True Identity, the women’s study version of the TNIV. More ads are booked for Web sites, including VH1 and MTV. “God” isn’t mentioned in any of these, only in ads for Christian media such as Relevant, a Christian monthly magazine aimed at hip twentysomethings.

But every ad carries the slogan: “Timeless truth; Today’s language”

And that assertion of “truth” evidently triggered the rebuff from Rolling Stone.

Although Zondervan bought the space in July for a February ad, magazine executives first saw the actual copy only last week and concluded that “it doesn’t quite feel right in the magazine,” said Kent Brownridge, general manager of Wenner Media, parent company of Rolling Stone.

“The copy is a little more than an ad for the Bible. It’s a religious message that I personally don’t disagree with,” Brownridge said, citing “a spiritual message in the text.” But, he said, “we are not in the business of publishing advertising for religious messages.”

He did not comment on why Rolling Stone sold ad space to Zondervan in the first place or whether any Bible ad could be acceptable. “It’s hard to have a policy that covers every conceivable product,” Brownridge said.

Zondervan marketing vice president Doug Lockhart said offers to change the ad text were refused and Rolling Stone would not show them a written policy ruling out religious advertising.

“We’re really surprised and disappointed,” Lockhart said. “Our mission is more people engaging the Bible more, and Rolling Stone was a perfect fit for the group we want to reach. This rejection underscores the challenge we face.”

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