'Open hearts' ventures into online advertising


(UMCom)  The United Methodist Church’s “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” advertising campaign enters a new realm this week with the placement of online ads targeted at reaching 22 to 44 year-olds.

From Aug. 20 until 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 the ads.

“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 administers the “Open hearts” 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, offering 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 will also 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.umc.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 from September 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 more audiences. Online advertising is undoubtedly a fast-growing medium. A report released last week 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 U.S.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Americans’ use of the Internet for faith-based reasons is growing. Their report “Faith Online,” indicated 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. 17 percent utilize the Internet to find information about where to attend religious services.

Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they had used the Internet to seek or exchange information about their own religious faith or tradition, while 26 percent sought or exchanged information about the religious faiths or traditions of others.