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Catholic Advertising

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 10, 2008

Some of the daily decisions we make about how best to serve our users involve advertising. You might be surprised at what goes into this. There are a great many different ways to earn advertising revenue and some of them have a noticeable spiritual or moral impact. Here are a few of the issues.

First, there’s the question of advertising partnerships. For example, some web sites simply subscribe to Google Ads, earning a fee for giving Google the right to put advertising on their pages based on what users look for on the site. But this kind of advertising is indiscriminate. If a user is trying to learn the Church’s teaching on “homosexuality”, ads for gay groups (and gay activities) will appear on the page right along with Catholic teaching. In our view, indiscriminate advertising is morally objectionable. We don’t engage in it on CatholicCulture.org; in fact, we prohibit it on our servers.

Second, we have the question of whether to accept mainstream secular advertisements. We don’t seek secular ads—such as those for automobiles or health care products or personal finance software—but we would probably accept such advertising, if offered, up to a point. One stopping point would be if the advertisements came from a company notorious for its support of causes which violate Catholic principles. A caution here is that it is very difficult to assess the overall moral impact of any large secular company, so an argument could be made for avoiding the problem altogether. Another stopping point would be accepting so much secular advertising that the impression given by the site would be altered. What values predominate? White teeth?

One of the most interesting recent advertising decisions involved a third point, the nature of a particular product that was subject to interpretation. The author of a novel entitled Two Weeks Since My Last Confession decided to advertise on CatholicCulture.org. Our advertising staff asked her if the book was in any way anti-Catholic, and she assured us that it was not, and that the wayward heroine returns to the Church in the end. We accepted the advertisement. But after it had run for a week or two, one of our quality control staff did follow-up research on the book. She found that the available descriptions and reviews tended to emphasize the depravity of the heroine more than her moral regeneration. What to do?

I decided to order the book and asked our QC staffer, Katherine Callaghan, to read it. She noted that the greater portion of the book was absorbed with sexual abuse, promiscuity and drug problems arising from conditions within an outwardly Catholic family, and that the eventual return of the heroine to the Church was marked by a relatively shallow grasp of Catholic spirituality. Admitting that readers could form different assessments of the novel, Katherine concluded that, at the very least, many good Catholics would find it offensive, and that any positive literary or spiritual qualities were far too weak to justify the risk.

Clearly, such decisions can be time-consuming, tricky and controversial, but at Trinity Communications they really should be all in a day's work. In this case, we removed the advertisement and refunded the fees.

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