The United Methodist Church is testing out a mobile ad campaign this month that will incorporate a two-fold strategy of text messaging along with outdoor advertising.
"Open hearts. Open minds. Open Doors" campaign was launched in the Pittsburgh area last week and will run until Christmas Eve with the aim of reaching thousands of commuters and pedestrians with more than 40 billboards and transit shelter ads.
Ads simply stating messages of hope will prompt the public to text a keyword such as "believe" to a designated number. Those who text will receive a longer message inviting them to attend a United Methodist church for Christmas and offering them the opportunity to reply with their zip code to find a nearby church or to get more information at the denomination's Web site.
"Christmas has been one of our peak advertising times since the beginning of the campaign - and in these dim economic times, it is especially important to give people hope and invite them to be part of our faith family," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. "Now with new media, we can be more interactive and actually provide addresses of churches in their area."
The United Methodist Church, the second largest Protestant denomination in the country, began its welcoming and advertising campaign in 2001, and says it has been successful in increasing attendance and raising awareness of the denomination.
Up until this time, the national campaigns have been primarily focused on cable television commercials aired around the Lent, Advent, and back-to-school seasons.
In 2006, a large-scale outdoor advertising strategy was incorporated in 15 test markets. In 2007, the denomination started to experiment with online advertising with interactive ads incorporating poll questions and videos.
This year's Christmas campaign, which involves transit shelter ads and text messages, is being tested in Pittsburgh in partnership with the Western Pennsylvania regional conference of The United Methodist Church.
"We especially hope to bring more young people into our churches, and that means reaching out in new and innovative ways that are relevant to our target audience," said Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who leads the United Methodist Church's Pittsburgh area and is president of the church's Commission on Communication. "We are pleased that the Pittsburgh area was chosen to test this new strategy."
Another denominational goal for the "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors" campaign for next year is to redefine the traditional church experience from one that goes beyond the church doors and that seeks to transform the world. The target audience will also shift to a younger demographic – audiences between the ages of 18 and 34, rather than 25 to 54-year-olds.
To achieve their goal of reaching younger people, UMC plans to use more contemporary and less traditional advertising channels such as iTunes, YouTube, and other digital media.