Hey, Zondervan: Next time try more kitsch

Putdowndrugs_1GetReligion fell silent last week on the several stories about Rolling Stone rejecting an ad for Today’s New International Version Bible. Why?

I was stunned into silence by Rolling Stone executives’ discomfort about the words “real truth.” I found their decision beyond parody, beyond snark, beyond righteous or unrighteous indignation.

Well, thank God for Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times, who has unearthed this story’s ironies and turned them into a fine column.

These are my favorite paragraphs:

A spokeswoman for Rolling Stone told me they wouldn’t comment on the Bible brouhaha, but she stayed on the phone long enough to say that a USA Today article quoting Kent Brownridge, general manager of Wenner Media, which owns Rolling Stone, was accurate.

“It doesn’t quite feel right in the magazine,” Brownridge told USA Today. “We are not in the business of publishing advertising for religious messages.”

This from a magazine that famously and for years published notices for the Universal Life Church’s mail-order ordination in its classified ads.

. . . [Zondervan executies] asked for the magazine’s no-religious-advertising-only policy in writing. And they’re still waiting.

Maybe if the religious message is appropriately sarcastic or kitschy, it doesn’t count. This would explain the presence of a small ad for T-shirts emblazoned with a cartoon Jesus — crown of thorns, arms outstretched — and the words “Put down the drugs and come get a hug” on page 71 of Rolling Stone’s Jan. 26 issue.

Perhaps Rolling Stone honchos were worried that an ad for a Bible would somehow blow the cool.

Sadly, that ship has already sailed, having been launched (if it hadn’t been years earlier, as many argue) when “American Idol” star Clay Aiken graced its cover on July 10, 2003.

Update: The Jan. 25 USA Today brings news that Rolling Stone will accept the ad after all and has issued a standard mistakes-were-made apology. Cathy Lynn Grossman reports:

“We have addressed the internal miscommunications that led to the previous misstatement of company policy and apologize for any confusion it may have caused,” Lisa Dallos, spokeswoman for Wenner Media, Rolling Stone‘s parent company, said Monday. She declined to elaborate.

This story joins thousands of others in the “Uproar = Free Advertising” category:

“We’re frankly thrilled that Rolling Stone has decided to accept our ad,” said Paul Caminiti, Zondervan’s president of Bible publishing.

. . . Meanwhile, the controversy has driven such demand for TNIV, Caminiti said, that Zondervan will be moving it into stores ahead of schedule.

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  • Saint Dumb Ox

    The dumb ad is getting more press for not running than it would have if it did run. So what does anybody think will happen when Christianity hits full blown coverage and entry into the marketplace of available worldviews? It’s always been there sure, but it is creeping back on Secularism and I am curious to see what happens when the real thing enters main stream media life.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    I think “snarky” is a great way of describing this magazine.

    It’s always been secular (what did Zondervan expect?) but it’s also quite annoying, kind of like that restaurant or local newspaper that tries TOO hard to be “cool” and “edgy” and just ends up seeming sophomoric and childish.

    Not having seen the ad, I’m not sure if would have reached the magazine’s audience, anyway.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    {I think “snarky” is a great way of describing this magazine.}

    Thanks, Stephen, but I should clarify: I meant that Rolling Stone’s decision surpassed my ability to write a snarky post (a rare thing, that, as many of GetReligion’s critics would be happy to tell you).

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    Much of what they do – especially this latest caper – deserves as snarky of a reply as one can muster, that for sure.

    But as you point out, it’s often hard to out-snarky this snarky magazine’s antics.

  • Everett Volk

    I doubt RS was caught blind by this. These are, after all, professional advertising execs we’re talking about. Understanding, as all advertisers do, that uproars create publicity, they signed a backroom deal with the bible publisher wherein RS would deny the ad, the publisher would squeal and RS would cave. I mean, what did either party have to lose? If it works, both get publicity. If it fails, they go ahead and print the ad later. As it is, the ploy seems to have worked.

    Everett Volk

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    So even Bible publishers are brokering “back room deals” with magazines of the likes of Rolling Stone?

    If this is true, I suppose it’s a good thing that they’ve finally joined the “Big Leagues” of secular publicity antics. On the other hand, maybe Christians should pause at this point and ask whether that’s the appropriate way to hawk what is, after all, what they’re billing is God’s book in these ads.

    That said, I’m not actually convinced that Zondervan would be as cutthroat as the poster suspects they are. But it’s possible.

  • PJ

    I think that is so funny that I was apart of this bible mess. I am the owner and creater of the shirt that I put in rolling stone magazine, “put down the drugs and come get a hug”, wow people have to much time on their hands.