Gospel Lessons In Marketing From "The Book Of Mormon"

I recently saw The Book of Mormon and, like most every person who has gone through the shock-awe-amazement-happiness process of what it is to sit through the most irreverent Broadway musical ever staged, I am still reveling in its genius, its brazenness, its (almost) universal appeal, the joy in its simplicity, and, believe it or not, the extremism of its respect. My face still hurts from three hours of ear-to-ear grins and face-distorting guffaws.

The Book of Mormon has taken Broadway by storm. With this one irreverent, but irrefutable success, the creators have rewritten how a Broadway musical can win the hearts and minds of its audiences. Surely there are lessons to be learned for marketers as well.

Broadway is not typically the first place I turn to for leading-edge marketing insight-- despite the fact that musical theater is the basis of our company's experiential design process, and theater is often a compelling gauge of zeitgeist. But, a musical about Mormonism, created by the minds behind South Park, that takes on the AIDS plight in Africa, homosexuality, religious beliefs, and then takes down Orlando is not to be ignored.

But between peals of laughter I couldn't help but imagine a new marketing gospel. Call it A Book of Marketing by way of The Book of Mormon (the musical, not the actual book...). Here are its primary tenets.

Taboos Shall Set You Free: A friend of mine who is one of the producers of The Book of Mormon told me that on first reading the musical, he was horrified. In fact, he was afraid of the damage to his reputation on Broadway that even having the book in hand might do. But, at that very moment, he signed on. "Leaning into this would mean I would be the first to know what the next level of entertainment on Broadway would be," he explained.

As a marketer, I don't ever ask myself what the taboos of any particular brand and company might be. But the answers are bound to be extremely valuable. How far will our consumers let us go, and how much farther can we take them? What must we create to take ourselves and our consumers to the other side of that edge?

As on Broadway, Madison Avenue, and in Hollywood, experiences that afford us new behaviors and engender new beliefs are the ones we remember. So, rather than preach the gospel, let's preach the forbidden.

Let the Philistines Past the Gate: I firmly believe that only an outsider would have been able to pull off The Book of Mormon on Broadway, and I'm not talking an off-off-off-Broadway outsider. I am talking foul-mouthed animators who crossed the line from the small and large screen to immeasurable success and relevance. Frankly, I can't imagine Matt Parker, Trey Stone, and Robert Lopez bouncing lyrics off of each other while swapping tales from the boards at Joe Allen's or Sardi's.

Marketers should ask themselves, "Who is our company's Matt, Trey, or Robert?" Who is the person most antithetical to corporate culture or leadership? What is the industry, company, or competitor that you most want to be like or different from? What is the least likely demographic you'd identify as your brand's target? Having identified them, what initiative are you going to hand over to them to help light the path to our promised land?

In today's day and age, it is the unorthodox who will lead us to new promised lands.

The Gospel According to Anyone: As much as we read about values-based corporate and brand cultures, it's shocking how slow enterprises have been to define and live by their own gospels. No matter where or what, people want to believe.

The real surprise in The Book of Mormon comes when it steps well away from all of its extremes to ask the audience to simply believe. Whether that belief is Mormonism or some amalgam of the teachings of Star Trek or Lord of the Rings, the show reminds us of the supreme importance of believing in and behaving against defined tenets or even truths. The show goes a step further and gives us permission to take from all books when defining a "religion" that is relevant to life today. But the imperative is that we have a book--call it corporate culture values, brand guidelines, etc.--so we have a touchstone should our sins take us too far beyond our gospel.

Without describing your product or service, how would people--customers and employees-- describe your enterprise? What human truth and need does your enterprise help make possible? What behaviors should people have to make your principles matter? Is your belief system relevant today?

As consumerism grows, we'd better be sure that the commandments on which it stands are meaningful enough to lead us away from meaningless consumption to meaningful contributions to our lives. So, my marketing brothers and sisters, indulge in temptation: Go with heathens and rewrite your credo. The Book of Mormon told you to.

[Image: Joan Marcus via Broadway.com]

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5 Comments

  • TobinVance

    All politics aside, the play is very funny! I was able to get some discount Book of Mormon tickets and the last thing I thought about was whether or not the president being a Mormon would be a problem. I was too busy laughing. Go see it.

  • Marc de Schweinitz

    I am a mormon, who is very honored to be part of this religion. I was also a mormon missionary in France (1997-1999). When you mock a religion for entertainment, you are essentially declaring to the world that you do not fear God and that you do not have reverence for what millions of people believe to be sacred. I could easily get a lot of attention by making a mockery of others' religions, but would then have a hard time believing I was making a positive impact in this world.

    Forty percent of people in this country would prefer to vote for a President that believes in God, based on a recent political census. Being able to create a smash a broadway hit that respected, or at least didn't mock, religion and God, would be much more impressive.

    That's a challenge to the minds behind South Park, and the creators of this musical. Try making something of moral value to society that we would want want our children to watch.

  • Doug

    I think it's great that Broadway shows are beginning to tap into "non traditional" demographics. I recently read a great blog post on this topic by Broadway Producer, Ken Davenport who offers a great insider's point of view.

    http://www.theproducersperspec...

  • Chris Reich

    Wonderful insight. I operate pretty irreverently and it's not hurt me though I have to refrain from responding to whacky posts on Facebook.

    I see a weird stiffness permeating American business that is causing atrophy to the creative muscles. Fear of being different is making every business the same. Turn off the lights and they're all sisters.

    Still, it's very hard to convince C-level, which probably corresponds to grade level, management to embrace difference.

    If they would try 'different', amazing growth is possible.

    Chris Reich
    TeachU.com