Mormons Launch Billboard Campaign, White House Halts Billboard Boondoggle

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Capitalizing on the high profile of two Mormon GOP hopefuls, Mitt Romney and John Huntsman, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints is launching a new publicity campaign centered on billboards, with the goal of softening public perceptions of the Mormon church.

The new campaign features attractive billboard images of young adults with the tagline "I'm a Mormon," including digital out-of-home video consisting of brief video portraits of these approachable, respectable subjects.

After testing in nine markets last summer, the ad campaign will run in at least 24 (and as many as 29) major media markets this summer. One of the first DO spots is running on an electronic billboard in New York City's Times Square.

While the United States ostensibly protects freedom of religion, the Mormon church met with fear and persecution for much of its early existence, and some Americans remain suspicious of its doctrines, which diverge from mainstream Christianity.

In 2008, the Mormon leadership commissioned a focus group study, which found that regular Americans viewed the church as "pushy," "cultish," "secretive," "controlling," "sexist," "antigay" and "polygamist."

Recently, much of the criticism of the Mormon church has come from evangelical Christians, an important part of the Republican base who have been distinctly lukewarm to Mormon politicians in the past.

Billboard-related issues were also in the news. With public spending under scrutiny, the White House is halting a multimillion-dollar program that sent regulators on junkets abroad to study foreign road systems, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who announced that the boondoggle would be cut earlier this week.

The decision came after ABC News reported on a global tour by 12 state and Federal officials to study foreign billboard policies, including stops in Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Great Britain, at a total cost of $300,000. Travel by the three Federal Highway Administration officials on the trip cost about $40,000.

Over the last decade the foreign study program has cost about $12 million. The foreign billboard junket sparked criticism when it was revealed that officials enjoyed five-star meals and luxury hotel accommodations during their sojourn overseas. Explaining the decision to cut the foreign boondoggles, LaHood stated: "The president has been clear. We must get rid of stupid spending and pointless waste. Each taxpayer dollar is precious, and there is no excuse for wasting a single one. That's why ... I have suspended this program."

However, a USDOT foreign study group that is already abroad (studying pavement) will continue as planned, with members scheduled to return to the U.S. on June 26.

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