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.