Global highlight: United Church of Canada

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Ads featuring a bobble-headed Jesus on a dashboard and a squirrel that answers questions on a website are all part of a cheeky three-year campaign by the United Church of Canada.

Designed to connect with Canadians ages 30-45 years, the irreverent $9 million campaign, including print ads, an interactive website (WonderCafe.ca) and a grass-roots program, is the largest ever in Canada by a church. Constantly declining congregations spurred the campaign.

"People are put off by organized religion, seeing the church as biased and old-fashioned, so a recruitment campaign would be rejected," said Malcolm Roberts, partner, at Smith Roberts & Co., Toronto. "We formulated a strategy to get people to explore spirituality on their own terms. We want to stimulate and get them talking."

Anyone is welcome at WonderCafe.ca to voice an opinion on anything: global issues, personal problems, hot-button topics, moral dilemmas and spiritual questions. Print ads provoke discussion, challenge conventional thinking and build awareness of WonderCafe.ca. In one ad, a can of whipped cream in the fridge is next to the headline "How much fun can sex be before it's a sin?" Another asks if the bobble-head Jesus is "Funny" or a "Ticket to hell."

"Our aim is not to offend," said Rev. Keith Howard, executive director of the project, "but rather to invite conversation. We recognize the diversity of views in Canadian society. "

WonderCafe.ca is also home to the EZ Answer Squirrel-a viral-video ad designed to make people pause, ponder and laugh at a squirrel who answers complex questions by simply heading to acorns marked "Yes" and "No."

WonderCafe.ca is monitored to remove racist, homophobic or hate-inspired messages. While the campaign has critics, "the church knew it would have to ride the wave," Mr. Roberts said.
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