Church of Scientology's new local ad campaign includes the St. Petersburg Times
After a recent string of stories in the St. Petersburg Times featuring former staffers at the Church of Scientology alleging abusive tactics and erratic leadership, some readers were surprised to see ads touting the church's Web site pop up on the newspaper's Web site, Tampabay.com.
I've got a story in the newspaper today explaining how it happened, along with a look at the church's sleek new TV ads, which debuted on TV stations across the Tampa Bay area Monday. The TV commercials may have been scheduled in a technique known as "roadblocking," where they play at about the same time across lots of stations to ensure channel flippers keep stumbling on the spots.
Its was hard to learn details about the campaign, because officials from the Church of Scientology and the Tampa area advertising firm that placed the ads locally, Wilson Media and Advertising, would not return telephone calls.
And why is the St. Petersburg Times running their online ad? Paul Tash, editor, chairman and CEO of Times Publishing Co., said the company doesn’t take Scientology recruitment advertising. But the current online ad, which speaks more to Scientology’s overall image, doesn’t meet that definition.
“We tried to construe our (advertising) policies as widely as possible to make sure they had every opportunity to respond (to the newspaper’s reporting),” said Tash. “I articulated some principles for the decision which was made by the appropriate people, and I support it.”
Most local stations also said they had no qualms about airing the ads, because they were well-produced and low-key, with no controversial images or language. Church spokesman Pat Harney told a reporter for WTSP-Ch. 10 that the TV and online ads were not a response to the St. Petersburg Times series.
“The last thing anybody wants in this country is me . . . acting as a censor,” said Rich Pegram, general manager at Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28, which is airing the ads for several months. “I’m going to always err on the side of not being a censor.”
Last month, the Los Angeles Times reviewed the church’s commercials, which began airing there in May. Also featured on YouTube, the three ads – titled “You,” “The Search” and “Life” – eschew specifics to talk about general issues people face in life.
"I kind of love these ads, or at least their perfect cynicism,” wrote advertising columnist Dan Neil in the Los Angeles Times, who said the commercials co-opt the language of Christianity without referring to specific Scientology tenets or controversies. “These are virtuoso pieces, tremendously appealing and remarkably shrewd.”
Judge for yourself below.