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Be Honest With Yourself: The Background

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 01, 2010

In October conference, 1956, Apostle Mark E. Petersen reported a conversation with another Church member:

He said, “My little five year old girl was watching television and was watching the Lucky Strike program. When the program was over, she turned to Dad, and said, ‘Daddy, when I grow up I am going to smoke Lucky Strikes.’” It turned this man pale as he thought about the effect of the advertising upon his little girl.

That anecdote supported a project Elder Petersen had been working on for a year or more, under the direction of Elder Harold B. Lee: How to counteract negative influences the Brethren saw occurring in the lives of the Church’s youth.

We are endeavoring to develop among the Latter-day Saints what Peter spoke of as a “royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people called out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And yet, as we do so in this modern age, it seems that the very gates of hell at times seem open to invite our young people in. With alluring advertisements on radio, on TV, and in the newspapers and magazines, men of the world attempt to make evil appear to be good and desirable. They attempt to make temptation glitter like gold. In the face of it our children must make a great decision.

What if, the Brethren wondered, they were to turn the techniques of the world against the world, and use the world’s techniques to promote clean living and moral conduct instead of corruption and sin?

As we studied the matter over, and as we considered the allurements of the advertising, we felt that we could use advertising methods to good advantage in our program. By using the skill and the devices that are available through advertising and through the work of wonderful Latter-day Saint men in advertising, we hoped to be of some assistance in helping our young people, just at a glance at times, to catch a new view of the beauties of the standards of the Church.

The committee drew on the talents of David W. Evans (1894-1982), whose advertising agency had begun with an office in Salt Lake City in 1942 and whose business had succeeded until, according to his New York Times obituary, his was “one of the nation’s largest advertising and public relations concerns. (Keepa readers will appreciate at least one of his campaigns – his agency handled the U&I Sugar account, and he is responsible for all those ads we love to laugh about the health benefits of sugary between-meals snacks.) He also played a significant role in the Church’s pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, where he modified the theme from “Man’s Search for Truth” to “Man’s Search for Happiness” – and how often have we heard that idea in the nearly 50 years since? He and his wife Beatrice Cannon Evans are the couple memorialized by Utah State University’s Evans Biography and Handcart Awards.

Evans suggested to Elder Petersen that they bring in Dale Kilburn, an artist working for Evans’ agency. (I have been unable to find out anything at all about Dale Kilburn, and welcome input from readers. Oh, Juuuuustiiiin …)

The committee decided on an ongoing advertising campaign targeting young people. It would be entirely positive – rather than saying “Don’t do this” and “Stay away from the world in this way,” their advertisements would simply portray the beauties and blessings of clean living. Every ward in the English-speaking Church would be asked to display in a prominent place in their meeting places a poster-size version of each advertisement, and smaller cards (they ended up being about 4 inches by 5-1/2 inches) would be distributed to every Latter-day Saint between the ages of 12 and 26. A new advertisement would be distributed every two months (although it appears that in practice that they came out at 3- to 4-month intervals over most of the campaign.) All the Church magazines and the Church News would be asked to publish the advertisements, and the Deseret News Press would produce small albums with plastic pockets just the right size for the cards, encouraging youth to collect and preserve the cards.

Favorable displays of the posters was important to the program.

Unless they are properly displayed they will lose much of their value, and we are asking, therefore, that a proper display be made in each one of the ward meeting houses. These posters may best be displayed in a glass covered case that might be placed upon the wall in the foyer of a meeting house.

We realize that you do not have such a case, but as we talked with Brother Lee about it, Brother Lee suggested that here would be an excellent priesthood project. … Brother Lee suggests that a project be given to each Church service committee of each elders’ quorum to provide a case such as we speak of for each ward in the stake – a glass front, a wooden frame, a proper back to which may be attached these posters.

Six months into the program, Elder Petersen chastised bishops who had neglected the proper display of the posters:

I have been in some buildings where I actually have had to search for them. In one dark corner, behind the door, I found one of these display cases, and because the people come in and out when the door is opened, the door effectively hid the display case. Nobody ever got to see the poster except the janitor who looked at it when he locked the door after everyone had gone out.

Do you suppose that Lucky Strike cigarettes would ever put an advertisement in a place like that? Ask yourself now. You are opposing them in trying to obtain the interest of that boy or girl, are you not? You are in competition with them in a very real sense. The boy or the girl is going to look at the attractive ads of the cigarette or will look at the attractive ads of the Church. Lucky Strike, Camel, Old Gold, will never hide their ads away where you cannot see them. They are on the most prominent billboards and they use the best radio programs you can find anywhere. Why should we hide our light under a bushel?

Equally as important as proper display of posters was placing the smaller cards in the hands of every youth.

Brethren, souls are too precious to allow our successful devices to be unused.

Do you have some kind of a check up system to insure full distribution of these cards? A list of names might well be kept by both M.I.A. and Aaronic Priesthood workers, including all of the young people of the ages mentioned, whether they come out to the meetings or not, whether they are on your roll books or not. If they are members of the Church they should receive the cards, no matter how inactive these boys or girls might be. if a list of these young people’s names is maintained, the names could easily be checked off as a card is delivered to each boy or girl personally.

We hope that you will not merely distribute the cards to the young people who come to the meetings and believe that the job is done. If necessary, have your committee deliver the cards to the young people in their very homes. Those who do not attend our meetings may well be in the greatest need of the message we have for them.

The slogan adopted for the campaign was “Be Honest With Yourself.” Although that theme was never explained in so many words, the posters make the meaning clear: You have been taught the truth. You have a glorious future if you are loyal to that truth. Be true to what you know. Be honest with yourself.”

I know of no study to measure the effectiveness of these advertisements. I do know that church publications cooperated in promoting these advertisements. “Be Honest With Yourself” was incorporated into the seminary program. Recordings of athletes, law enforcement officers, and other prominent people narrating their stories of succeeding not despite their commitment to clean living but because of that devotion were played in MIA gatherings. A song was written, with the opening lines,

BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.
There’s joy in living, so
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
This life’s worth living if you strive to do
The things you know you should,
Then you’ll feel the thrill of doing good.
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.

His love will Guide you, so
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.
He’ll stand beside you, he’ll be always near you,
To bless and cheer you, so just
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.

And the campaign was long remembered by some very prominent Church leaders:

President Howard W. Hunter, in the February 1978 New Era:

Several years ago there were posters in the foyers and entries of our chapels that were entitled “Be Honest with Yourself.” Most of them pertained to the little, ordinary things of life. This is where the principle of honesty is cultivated.”

President N. Eldon Tanner, in the May 1978 Ensign:

A few years ago the Church distributed to our young people a series of small cards with a picture on one side and a message on the other. The series was called “Be Honest with Yourself.” I quote from one of these with a heading, “Can You Pass This Test?” …

William H. Bennet, a member of the Seventy, in the November 1978 Ensign:

Do you remember the “Be Honest with Yourself” program sponsored by the MIA some years ago, in which inspirational recordings from outstanding athletes and others were made available for use throughout the Church? One of those records featured Robert Richards, an outstanding U.S. pole vaulter.

And President Thomas S. Monson, in the October 1993 Ensign:

Years ago the Church brought help to young men and young women with a program featuring posters and wallet-size cards which contained specific messages of truth and encouragement. The series carried the heading “Be Honest with Yourself!” One message featured was the provocative and penetrating truth “Virtue is its own reward.”

The campaign ran from 1956 to 1962. Along with this background, Keepa is posting the first of the “Be Honest With Yourself” advertisements. From time to time I’ll publish others – including some from 1962 when the theme had morphed to “Know the Truth / Keep the Faith” – until the entire series is posted.

It would be easy, I suppose, to laugh at the earnestness and simplicity of these posters and wonder how they would strike the sophisticated teens of today. Good humor is always welcome along with more serious comments, within the bounds of Keepa’s established tone. Memories of readers who may recall this campaign from their own youth, or who have seen these cards in their parents’ belongings, are especially welcome.



28 Comments »

  1. I don’t remember posters with this slogan–maybe the memory of things one sees before turning eight are erased at baptism. But I remember (I think) some posters of similar design with the slogan “Dare to be Different.”

    I’m counting on you, Ardis, to find the documents to support my vague recollection.

    There was a rumor that the slogan “Dare to be Different” was abandoned when the 1960s brought different images to mind as young people wanted to prove they were different. (How about that, Ardis? Any basis for that rumor?)

    Comment by Mark B. — March 1, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  2. Dunno about about the last couple of lines, but “Dare to Be Different” *is* the theme of one of the posters — one of the last, in fact, from 1962. I can substantiate your memory to that extent.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 1, 2010 @ 9:00 am

  3. Dale Kilbourn was an artist whose work was often used in the Church magazines in the 70s, and possibly in things such as Seminary materials as well, if my memory serves me correctly. His paintings of the major events of the Restoration such as the First Vision and the restoration of the Priesthood were well used – see for instance his rendering of young Joseph Smith reading the Epistle of James: http://www.lds.org/images/Magazines/Ensign/Archive/ensignlp.nfo:o:49.jpg

    Comment by Alison — March 1, 2010 @ 9:33 am

  4. Thanks, Alison. The linked image is very much in the style of these cards, and one of them that depicts Joseph shows a young man who is the twin of yours. Dale Kilbourn was consistent!

    And having just typed his name, I realize that the Conference Report misspelled it (Kilburn) which easily explains why I haven’t been able to find out anything about him. I’ll probably have to do an entire post now to make amends.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 1, 2010 @ 9:37 am

  5. Fascinating post, Ardis! Just a further note on the artist: Dale Kilbourn (actually Harold T.) was a non-Mormon Salt Lake City artist who worked for Evans Advertising for most of his career. Through Evans, he was commissioned to do numerous illustrations for Church magazines and for exhibits. He is well known in Church art circles for Joseph Smith Seeks Wisdom from the Bible (1975), linked in a previous post, at least two different versions of Joseph Smith Translating the Gold Plates (1970, 1978) (see here for both), Joseph Smith Writing, and Organization of the Church, among others.

    He is also an accomplished portrait artist in pencil–a business he has pursued on the side. (I have two portraits he did of me, one as a child and one as a wedding gift.)

    Dale married a Mormon girl and their children were raised in the Church. About fifteen years ago, he was baptized a member of the Church. He still lives in Salt Lake City.

    Comment by blueagleranch — March 1, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  6. “[W]e felt that we could use advertising methods to good advantage in our program.”

    I loved that. Instead of rejecting effective technologies and media, the Church used them. And I think the Church has continued to do this to this day (i.e., Mormon Messages on Youtube, complimentary DVD mailings, the Newsroom blog, and the LDS internet radio channel).

    I look forward to this series. If the messages or artwork seem a little cheesy today, so be it.

    Comment by Hunter — March 1, 2010 @ 10:24 am

  7. There — you see? Further evidence of my claim that Keepa’s readers are the best in the bloggernacle! Thanks for this information about the artist.

    Hunter, since writing this post, I’ve been wondering how much advertising the church had really done before (not counting books and other commercial products, I mean). There may have been some, but I can’t think of any campaigns. Judging from the way Mark E. Petersen talks about it, the idea of using advertising techniques really was cutting edge for 1956. I’m glad you’re looking forward to these — I like ‘em.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 1, 2010 @ 10:33 am

  8. Excellent post (and comments – wow!). So, is this the genesis of the Mormonad?

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 1, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

  9. I remember these posters, cards and talks from famous Mormons very well because these were the years I was a teenager. I think that I have many of the cards still stored deep in my boxes of “things.” The theme “Be Honest with Yourself” worked very well since in the 1960s the larger society was promoting honesty, which would lead to being honest about civil rights; the Vietnam War; etc.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — March 1, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

  10. I remember seeing these, as well, the Virtue one being the most prominent in my memory. They must have hung around for a while, because in the mid to late 1950’s when these came out, I was too young to pay much attention. Hunter, if they seem cheesy, this was when Ozzie & Harriett and Leave it to Beaver were on TV, and everything was cheesy. The fact that they must have been somewhat effective is evidenced that all of us who lived in those years remember them. Stapley, you missed out on the plastic grapes from Relief Society too.

    Comment by kevinf — March 1, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

  11. It would be easy, I suppose, to laugh at the earnestness and simplicity of these posters and wonder how they would strike the sophisticated teens of today

    Maybe, but truths usually are rather simple. I look forward to seeing these.

    Comment by ellen — March 1, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

  12. Am very much appreciating the comments.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 1, 2010 @ 6:12 pm

  13. As a teenager I absolutely loved these. They didn’t seem cheesy at all at the time.

    Comment by Marjorie Conder — March 1, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

  14. I think, kevinf, that those grapes were glass. At least in the true Relief Societies.

    (By the way, we never had any of those in our house. Whether my mother never made it to that Work Meeting, or they just got donated to the garbage truck the next week, I’ll never know.)

    Comment by Mark B. — March 1, 2010 @ 7:49 pm

  15. Love your stuff, as usual, Ardis.

    Comment by sister blah 2 — March 1, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

  16. The Church materials seem cheesy because all advertising was like that during that time, and it looks cheesy to us because we are more sophisticated (read:jaded) about how we look at advertising. We’ve all seen far more marketing than our parents and grandparents, who were the targets of that campaign. I read a statistic recently that 90% of all the people who have ever been involved in creating advertising throughout history are working right now. The number may be dubious, but there’s food for thought in that.

    I have my grandmother’s resin grapes in my living room, and I treasure them. Also, as a church media hound, I immediately recognized Dale Kilbourn’s name. I see plenty others have commented on him as well. He’s famous!

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — March 2, 2010 @ 1:05 am

  17. Hunter, see what you started by introducing the word “cheesy”?? {g}

    There’s no doubt that we’re bombarded by advertising — I read of a scheme recently to use lasers to burn advertisements into the top few cell layers of fresh fruits and vegetables, invading one of the last few natural surfaces in most of our lives. 1956-62, the era of the BHWY campaign, was a kinder, gentler world, despite cigarette advertising on TV (!).

    With my propensity for collecting, too, I would have been first in line to buy one of the little albums to keep my cards in.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 2, 2010 @ 5:08 am

  18. Yeah, I was thinking about that this morning, Ardis. Ugh.

    Listen, folks: I wasn’t saying this series is cheesy. I was simply responding to Ardis’ opening comment that it might be easy for commenters to laugh at the posters, especially from the standpoint of “the sophisticated teens of today.” I don’t know these posters — I was born after this series was inaugurated. I was simply saying, even if they turn out to be cheesy, I applaud the Church’s efforts to be relevant with its various media.

    (So much for my effort to try and underscore a sense of respect and fairness for a by-gone ad campaign. FAIL!)

    Comment by Hunter — March 2, 2010 @ 9:51 am

  19. All is well! I have enjoyed everybody’s comments and their recognition of the intent, and even the execution, of this campaign.

    I was afraid, I suppose, that because these came from the same era as the corny hygiene films that some of us remember from P.E. classes, as well as “Leave It to Beaver” and the “duck and cover” campaigns to protect school kids from total thermonuclear war by the shield of what must have been magical elementary school desks, that we would automatically think this campaign was just as simplistic.

    But comments show otherwise, for which I’m grateful.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 2, 2010 @ 10:04 am

  20. I remember the ‘Mormonad’ posters with a wide variety of messages but that was further down the evolutionary chain. Is there a “missing link” from the fairly recent Mormon ads back to this campaign?

    Comment by J. Paul — March 29, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

  21. I still have many of these “Be Honest with Yourself” cards. The campaign continued with “Know the Truth/Keep the Faith” and “Get the facts/Keep the Faith.” I found your article by searching “Be Honest with Yourself.”

    Comment by Margie D — August 26, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

  22. I too remember and love those posters and cards. I still have them in my memory box. I loved the little ring bound booklet of small talks by church leaders of that time. Perhaps it was only my stake or ward that did that? Does anyone remember the “Be The Girl Of Your Dreams” small booklet of that same era? It may have been Sunday School, but I believe it was Young Women’s. I have lost my copy that I saved for so many years. Would sure appreciate some info regarding it.

    Comment by Janice W — October 25, 2010 @ 8:21 am

  23. I have my mother’s booklet. It is 104 pages, light green with Red writing and a drawing of a girl on the cover and is from the YMMIA, 3rd edition, revised 1956, written by Angelyn W. Wadley.

    It has 10 chapters: Hello You, The Present Reflects the Past, The Star of Your Own Romance, Can You Manage Your Emotions?, Can You Face Life Squarely?, Do You Have Growing Pains?, Personality for Popularity, What About Dating?, Can You Say No? and A Source of Help and Inspiration.
    Sound familiar?

    Comment by Rachelle — October 25, 2010 @ 9:41 am

  24. I just made a scan of the booklet Rachelle identifies. No promises as to when it will be up, but it looks like the kind of thing that would be interesting to post here a chapter at a time.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 25, 2010 @ 10:29 am

  25. Does anyone have sheet music on Be Honest with Yourself

    Comment by Connie — March 13, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

  26. Hello!

    I am Dale Kilbourn’s daughter. How delightful it was to find your blog, and the discussion of the BHWY ads/cards. My dad worked on them before I was born, but many of the cards feature my older brothers and sisters. Dad did artwork for the church for almost 50 years, and it is so nice to see that people still remember him. He will turn 83 next month, and still does some artwork for family and friends. I am immensely proud of him, and it’s great that others appreciate his work, too!

    Comment by Diana Kilbourn Yates — October 25, 2011 @ 9:58 pm

  27. Thanks for giving this history of the BHWY posters. This is my first visit to your website, and my first time to post online. I was thinking about things that shaped my life while working on my personal history and searched hoping to find some of these posters. Each card had a message on the back that gave food for thought about the scene in the poster. I was hoping to read some of these messages on the back because the campaign, especially the “Be Honest With Yourself” and “Know The Truth” taglines, had a profound effect on me. These messages convinced me that being honest, especially with yourself, was an important key to peace and happiness in life. Perhaps the packaging is more sophisticated today, but the simple truths of the messages are the same.

    Comment by Ken Monson — January 6, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

  28. Welcome to Keepa, Ken. All the posters and commentary are posted here (go to the “Topical Guide” link in the upper left-hand corner of this screen, then use your browser search to find “Be Honest With Yourself” [no quotation marks] You’ll find links to all the posters). If there are particular images that you want for your history, let me know and I’ll send you scans.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 6, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

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