After a year in which full-page advertisements for Unitarian Universalism appeared in six different issues of Time magazine, the coming year will have a lower ad profile, says the Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s director of Congregational Services.
For 2009 think “Google AdWords” rather than full-page magazine spreads. Google AdWords are phrases that pop up as brief advertisements when Internet users search for those particular words or phrases on the Google search engine.
“The Time ads worked well,” said Robinson-Harris. “We managed to break through the noise of the marketplace and get some attention. The ads increased the number of people who visited our website, UUA.org, and the number who requested information about Unitarian Universalism.”
All six Time ads had a specific website address: UUA.org/Welcome. Over the course of the campaign—from October 2007 to May 2008—18,000 people went directly to that page. In addition, the UUA main page saw a significant increase in traffic compared to a year earlier, according to Valerie Holton, UUA marketing outreach director. While the UUA has been experiencing a steady increase in web traffic, it’s believed that some of that increase was a result of the Time advertising. In the spring of 2008 the UUA added a free offer of the popular DVD “Voices of a Liberal Faith.” These ads doubled the visits to UUA.org/welcome and nearly 700 people requested a copy of the DVD.
But, Robinson-Harris said, the UUA’s advertising emphasis in 2009 would be on Google AdWords.
“Before the election we recognized that there were certain topics that people would be searching for [online],” she said. “With the same-sex marriage ballot issue in California (Proposition 8) and similar measures on the ballot in several other states, we knew there would be people seeking information on gay marriage. Before the election we chose three Google ads related to that topic.”
One ad read, “Marriage equality and faith: a church dedicated to gay rights, get the UU view.” That ad might pop up if people searched for links related to the terms ‘gay marriage’ or ‘marriage equality’ or ‘Proposition 8.’”
The ads went live on Election Day, November 4 and will run until November 26. From November 7–14 the ads popped up more than 3 million times. About 6,800 of those people clicked on the ads, taking them to a specially developed page on UUA.org with information about equal marriage and information designed for newcomers to the UUA and Unitarian Universalism.
Right after the Republican Convention when there was buzz about sexuality education in connection with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the UUA ran an ad on “comprehensive sexuality education.” That ad resulted in 5,000 visits to UUA.org.
Other Google ads ran in conjunction with the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church’s appearance on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program, where he discussed his book Love and Death, and upon the death of Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture and a Unitarian Universalist. Forrest Church's book was published by Beacon Press, which is affiliated with the UUA. Randy Pausch's book was published by Hyperion Press. The Church ad earned about 1,300 visits to the website and the Pausch ad returned more than 5,000 hits to UUA.org.
The UUA pays Google every time someone clicks on a Google ad, taking them to UUA.org. The cost has ranged from 22 to 78 cents per “click,” depending on the ad. The cost is based partly on how “popular” that word is in the media at the time, said Robinson-Harris.
Since July the UUA has spent almost $10,000 on Google AdWords. “In 2009 we will continue to look for opportunities to use them when there is an issue or an event in the news media that would provide us an opportunity to share a UU perspective,” said Robinson-Harris.
Elsewhere, an ad campaign in Tampa was completed in April. Results immediately following that campaign indicated more than 5,500 visits to the regional website uutba.org and more than 560 visitors during an 11-week period at the eight participating congregations. Another regional campaign, in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area, is in the planning stages and is anticipated for August of 2009.
Correction 11.25.08: In an earlier version of this article we mistakenly said that Randy Pausch's book The Last Lecture was published by Beacon Press. It was published by Hyperion Press.