Update: After the jump, we’ll show you the church e-mail that confirms just about everything we were told by Jefferson Hawkins about this sudden ad campaign.
The Church of Scientology bought network TV ad time in a big way this weekend. On Saturday, we started noticing Twitter users complaining that they were running into Scientology ads on Hulu — a place where the church’s ads have been pretty common in the past. But then that night, a lengthy ad showed up during the Miss America pageant, prompting a burst of mocking tweets. Then, Sunday, things really got interesting.
Twitter users seemed shocked when the lengthy ads showed up during Sunday afternoon’s football playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans. (I didn’t catch the commercial myself, but judging from the way Twitter users described it, the ad was a version of the 2-minute film that pops up when you first visit the church’s official site, Scientology.org.)
Easily the biggest reaction we saw on Twitter came Sunday evening when the Golden Globes broadcast started out with the same Scientology advert.
The church’s ads are common on the Internet, but not so much on broadcast television. Then, this weekend, Scientology suddenly made big buys during at least three expensive examples of event broadcasting — Miss America, NFL playoffs, and the Golden Globes.
What was going on?
We had a feeling Scientology was hitting back after the devastating negative publicity it received after Debbie Cook’s now infamous New Year’s Eve e-mail calling for a rebellion within the church. But could it have pulled together a major ad campaign so quickly?
Yesterday, I fired off an e-mail to church spokeswoman Karin Pouw, asking her to comment on whether the weekend salvo of ads was long planned or something that came up quickly. Like all of my other requests for comment in recent months, however, I got no reply from Scientology’s media office. [Go here for our primer, “What is Scientology?“]
But that’s all right. I knew who to turn to for some real talk about Scientology and advertising.
It was Hawkins who ran the church’s marketing then, and who came up with its television advertising that for years was a staple on TV and sold millions of books. I tracked down a copy of his famous “volcano” Dianetics commercial, but the quality of the recording is poor…
Anyway, I called Hawkins yesterday and told him about the sudden weekend advertising onslaught by the church. Wouldn’t something like that need to be planned well ahead of time? He explained that, at least in his experience, there’s a way to buy major placements like that very quickly by outbidding and bumping someone else who had purchased the time.
“I don’t think there’s any question that they’re reacting to Debbie Cook, because that was a major blow,” Hawkins says.
Judging by how it has operated in the past, Hawkins says, he predicts that the church’s major donors were hit up for the sudden advertising campaign.
“The IAS [International Association of Scientologists] would contact all of their major donors and tell them, ‘The church is under attack, we need to make a big ad buy.’ Then all the heavy hitters would pony up and they’d get a couple of million dollars,” he says.
“I can see how they would reg it: we’re going to be on the playoffs, we’re going to be on the Golden Globes,” he adds, using Scientology’s word for fundraising, reg, short for registrar, the church officials who constantly hit up members for donations.
“Chances are, after this weekend’s ads, they’ll drop it. It’s an immediate reaction, and it’s something they can do to get some money. And secondly, it’s something they can use at a later event. ‘We all banded together and the IAS was on Miss America, and we were viewed by so many billion people,’ they’ll say.”
I pointed out, however, that the ads seemed to be met with a lot of derision by viewers, at least judging by the harsh reaction at Twitter. But Hawkins says attracting new members really isn’t the point.
With the dwindling numbers of active Scientologists and more longtime members breaking away all the time, the drumbeat to get more money out of who’s left becomes frantic.
“It doesn’t really do anything for them. I mean, it might get a little pip on their website, but really, what they do these days is just try to excite the existing members,” he says.
Update: Further proof that Jeff Hawkins knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Scientology and its marketing attempts, former Scientologist “Plain Old Thetan” published an e-mail that was sent to church members about the weekend ad campaign. At his blog, “Possibly Helpful Advice,” Plain Old Thetan published an e-mail which makes it quite explicit that the burst of marketing is being used a fundraising tool for the IAS. It also lists some prime time shows where you might catch the ad, so be prepared:
American Idol, Parenthood, Glee, Castle, Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, Blue Bloods
And more ads tonight!…
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications.
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[All recent stories] | [What is Scientology?] | [Top 25 People Crippling Scientology]
[Commenters of the Week] | [Thursday 2pm Stats!] | [Scientology vs. South Park]
[This Week Aboard the Apollo] | [Sunday Funnies]
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing “disconnection”]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]
[Scientology hates clean ice: The “Fair Game” operation that should turn your stomach]
[Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon]
[Paulette Cooper, Scientology’s original and worst nightmare: a Thanksgiving tribute]
THE TOP 25 PEOPLE CRIPPLING SCIENTOLOGY
1. L. Ron Hubbard | 2. David Miscavige | 3. Marty Rathbun | 4. Tom Cruise | 5. Joe Childs and Tom Tobin | 6. Anonymous | 7. Mark Bunker | 8. Mike Rinder | 9. Jason Beghe | 10. Lisa McPherson | 11. Nick Xenophon | 12. Tommy Davis | 13. Janet Reitman | 14. Tory Christman | 15. Andreas Heldal-Lund | 16. Marc and Claire Headley | 17. Jefferson Hawkins | 18. Amy Scobee | 19. The Squirrel Busters | 20. Trey Parker and Matt Stone | 21. Kendrick Moxon | 22. Jamie DeWolf | 23. Ken Dandar | 24. Dave Touretzky | 25. Xenu
HELD ABOARD THE FREEWINDS: TALES OF THE SEA ORG
[Valeska Paris, held against her will from 1996 to 2007 on Scientology’s cruise ship]
[Ramana Dienes-Browning, marriage at 16, sexual interrogation, life in the engine room]
[Melissa Paris, Valeska’s sister: forced to marry at 16]
SCIENTOLOGY VS. SOUTH PARK: INVESTIGATION AS RETALIATION
[Scientology targeted South Park‘s Parker and Stone in an investigation]
[More documents in the South Park probe: instructions to send in a young mole]
[Scientology responds in typical fashion] | [Lloyd Kaufman confirms the probe]
[Mark Ebner also investigated after South Park involvement]
[Mark Chauppetta, private eye, explains what Scientology operatives look for]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun’s open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun’s cause] | [Squirrel Buster’s claim to be making a “documentary”] | [VIDEO: “On a Boat”] | [“Anna” sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology’s highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND “FAIR GAME”
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology’s West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology’s enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard’s remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to “handle” the Voice]
[Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: “No one’s going to take my eternity away”]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
[Hey, Scientology Celebrity, Here’s Your Media Training Checksheet!]
[Tom Cruise and X Factor‘s Stacy Francis singing together on the Freewinds]
[X Factor’s Stacy Francis: Her first husband, Michael Sandlofer, answers abuse claims]
[Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay]
[“Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | [“Tom Cruise not a kook!”] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his “suppressive person” declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology’s retaliation is “scary and pathetic”]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo’s “Turnaround King”: [Doing Scientology’s dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone’s smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]
[Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips “the business that is Scientology”]
JANET REITMAN’S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman’s first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn’t like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman’s print reviews, and why isn’t she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN’S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
[“The Money Machine”: another blockbuster St. Pete Times investigation]
[Marc Headley: “Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman’s Story] | [Jeff Hawkins’ Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology in Israel: Arson, attempted murder, paranoia — and a visit by the Voice!]
[Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested]
[All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots]
[Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige “toxic” and “violent”]
[Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails]
[Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]
ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS
[Scientology chillin’ with hip hop!] | [The curious career of Scientology rapper Chill EB]
[Chill EB and me: the Voice interviews Scientology’s in-house rapper]
[Scientology singalong, “We Stand Tall”] | [Captain Bill Robertson and “Galactic Patrol”]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The “Ideal” dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York “org”]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist’s letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth]
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]
[Desperate Scientology fundraising caught on video]