The "Knowledge" spot, which ran in several markets during the
Super Bowl, including New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and San
Francisco, is part of the church's longer-term media strategy, said
Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw via email. "The church's general
media strategy is to effectively use as many communication
platforms as possible to disseminate the fact that the answers to
life's questions may be found in Scientology," she said. "This
media strategy has been effective as reflected in our enormous
growth over the past five years."
The ad, created in-house, will continue to be shown on the
organization's website and during prime-time TV over the next
several months. The richly produced commercial features young
people holding books and in libraries as a voice-over narrates: "To
the curious, the inquisitive, the seekers of knowledge ... to the
rebels, the artists, the free thinkers and the innovators who care
less about labels and more about truth, who believe nonconformity
is more than a bumper sticker." The ad has been compared to
Apple's 1997 "Think
Different" campaign, which included a similar soliloquy that began:
"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels."
The spot first ran on the organization's website in November and
in December was played 16 times an hour on a Times Square
billboard, including on New Year's Eve. It also aired during the
AFC Championship game Jan. 20. Ms. Pouw said the church is looking
for a "significant audience in prime time and during such events as
the Rose Parade, NFL playoff games and others in the last few
years," as well as using online ads, websites and a YouTube
"With more than 30 new Ideal Scientology Churches recently
opened in major metropolitan areas and more opening in the near
future," Ms. Pouw said it is "a perfect time" to get the group's
One buy that got a lot of attention was a sponsored ad on The
Atlantic's website, which was pulled in mid-January after the
advertorial was mistaken for editorial content.
The recent buys follow several tell-all books about the church.
They include a memoir from Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of the
organization's leader, David Miscavige, and "Going Clear:
Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief," from New Yorker
reporter Lawrence Wright.
Former church member Jefferson Hawkins, who once ran marketing
for the organization and is best known for his 1980s TV ad that
featured an exploding volcano, said the church's strategy when it
comes to TV advertising is mostly reactive. "Their solution when
negative stuff happens is to get high-profile ads out there."
Steve Hall, a former senior writer for the organization, who
since leaving in 2004 has also been vocal against the church
through his site, Scientology-Cult, said he believes "Knowledge" is
a direct response to these firestorms. "This is an old tactic used
by the church to offset negative PR," he said.
Shortly after former Scientology executive Debbie Cook sent an
email on New Year's Day 2012 to church members that challenged Mr.
Miscavige's leadership and the money raised through the
International Association of Scientologists, ads promoting the
church started popping up in shows like "American Idol" and "Glee,"
said Tony Ortega, former Village Voice editor who runs the blog The
Similarly, in February 2011, the church began running two-minute
commercials highlighting its social programs, such as mental-health
reform, drug education and criminal reform, days after The New
Yorker published a profile on former member Paul Haggis, the film
director. The article alleged the church was involved in slave
labor and human trafficking.
Mr. Hawkins, who has been a regular critic of the church since
he left in 2005, believes the ads are vanity TV buys aimed more at
retention than recruitment. "From my experience, they don't have a
real interest in getting new members," he said. "It costs money to
train new members. There's no immediate profit. They are more
interested in keeping current members and encouraging them to
All said, Scientology spends relatively little on advertising.
From January through November 2012, the church spent $3.6 million
in advertising, with about $3 million of that allocated to spot TV,
according to Kantar Media.