Skepticism

Nice idea, dumb slogan

This is all over the UK news today. The British Humanist Association, with the support of Richard Dawkins, has raised nearly £30,000 to place atheist posters on the side of buses. This is to counter the recent rash of religious advertising on buses, and I think it’s a good idea.

But the slogan they have chosen, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” is poor. (edit: thanks for the correction, guys) It’s preachy, and preachy doesn’t sell any more. That’s why religion has had to resort to advertising on buses. It’s patronising, and no-one likes that. It’s aggressive, and aggressive campaigns are not only high-risk, they’re niche audience. I do this sort of thing for a living, and my professional opinion is that the slogan is counter-productive and plays into the hands of those who offer a nice cup of tea and eternal life.

I’m not sure who this is aimed at, but I don’t think it’s going to do what the BHA intends, which is a shame.

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56 Comments

  1. But if someone is looking for a nice cup of tea and a promise of eternal life how can you compete with that? … well I could probably make a cup of tea, possibly even I could throw in a chocolate biscuit or too, but I can’t do anything about the promise of eternal life.

    Aren’t both sides basically preaching to their respective choirs?

  2. Doesn’t the use of “probably” suggest agnosticism?

    Hmmm. Not aggressive. Not preachy. How about …

    “Why do you need God? I mean, REALLY.”

    That’s kind of snobbish, though. But if you had a commercial with Isla Fisher saying it suggestively, it might just work.

  3. Tough question and as the article indicates the religious folk seem to be looking at this as a positive point of engagement.

    Perhaps a question like, “Where does rational thought lead?” and a HBS website link would be more effective. Then again something more snarky like “God, no evidence or thought required”, would really get peoples attention.

  4. I don’t think it’s too bad. If I were to be pedantic I might suggest, “There probably are no gods”, but given the audience, the singular is probably just fine. I suppose the second sentence could be softened a bit, but it doesn’t sound bad to me. Maybe things are different in the UK. I remember driving around Tucson, Arizona seeing large black billboards with plain white lettering, saying things such as:

    “You think this is hot?”
    -God

    So, in comparison, this slogan seems quite gentle.

    For those not up on your US geography, Tucson is a place where the temperature varies between “hot”, “damn hot”, and “holy crap, what do you mean you’re out of ice?”

    I am a Hedge

  5. When I read about this this morning, my first impression was that I didn’t think it would be a very effective campaign in London. For some of the reasons you listed.

    This would, however, be a good campaign anywhere in the US, because what we need in the US is more openness about atheism. Supposedly 10 – 16% of our population are non-believers, but you wouldn’t know it.

    American atheists keep their nonfaith to themselves … believers see only a small fraction of the disbelievers out there and publicly persecute the nonbelievers … nonbelievers also only see a small percentage of their numbers ad do not realize just how many of us there are … more atheists keep their lack of belief quiet. It’s a cycle that perpetuates discrimination with the tacit permission of those being discriminated against.

    London seems, at least by American standards, already pretty accepting of atheism, and this bus campaign won’t do much to change that. A campaign like this in the US, though, would have the potential effect of showing people that they are not alone in their disbelief, and that is what we need to get more atheists to “come out.”

    We do have a couple of billboards in different parts of the country. This one says it perfectly:

    “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”
    http://freethoughtaction.org/

    That’s a very direct statement of the implied message of all such campaigns.

  6. Side note: When I see the acronym BHA, I always think “Butt Head Astronmer” and therefore, about Apple and Carl Sagan (not that I think Sagan was a butt head – it’s just a funny story to me).

    On topic: I don’t know about the UK, but that slogan doesn’t seem any more preachy than those “God” billboards I’ve seen here in the US, as mentioned by I’m A Hedge in #9.

    Also, I contributed a little bit to their campaign in my measly US dollars.

  7. When I first saw it, I did think it wasn’t the best that could be done. But I couldn’t think of a better one. I, however, am not in marketing.

    If you were in charge of this campaign, what would you put on the bus, Teek?

  8. I personally liked this slogan. I thought it was kind of mellow, instead of some of the agressive things that the popular athiests are often saying.

    I could imagine seeing this and turning to a friend and talking about it. I don’t think that the slogan is meant to convince anyone of anything. I think it’s a conversation starter. For that, I think it may be effective.

  9. yeah, i have to disagree. i think that it is an apt/appropriate statement. although, being a militant atheist, i suppose might have gone more bold (i. e. GOD IS F’ING IMAGINARY. I MEAN, SERIOUSLY) if i had the money and had been in charge. if i am willing to let them give their little speech to me, they should be respectful enough to hear me out when i give them my little speech that disproves and debunks their speech. besides, with all the bs religious billboards out there that make me vomit in mouth a little every time i see them, it feels good to picture some religious people vomiting in their mouths a little bit. i hope it happens in the morning. right after they brushed their teeth. on their way to an important meeting. and, most of all, i hope they had garlic cheesebread for dinner the night before.

  10. tkingdoll,

    Why don’t you host a “best bus slogan” contest here, and then take donations to have it put on a bus somewhere, care of Skepchick? (and maybe throw in a Skepchick shirt or something to the winner)

    I’d donate, and I’d also see about putting it on a bus in D.C. (if it’s good and I can afford it).

    I’ve also asked around about putting full-page ads in the paper (there are often full-page religious ads in the paper — very misleading, promising salvation and healing and whatnot, that they cannot possibly prove).

    yay

  11. I just remembered those anti-smoking ads that had pro-smoking slogans with contrasting imagery. They’d have “Smoking is Sexy” over a picture of an old guy with nicotine-stained hands and a trach scar. Not sure how effective they were but I liked the irony.

  12. Not to nitpick, but it’s “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

    I really like it. It’s basically the atheist version of “Don’t worry, be happy” which (speaking from experience) is something that the struggling theist needs to hear. I don’t find it preachy.

  13. @Mrs.Schaarschmidt: I agree, “probably” hits exactly the right note. It’s a conversation starter to trigger debate, and it immediately puts dogmatists on the wrong side of it. It challenges people in a nice way to think about the balance of probabilities, and that’s 99% of the battle.

  14. @Steve:
    The anti-smoking ads I’ve seem have typically been terrible. They seem to be written and produced by preachy holier-than-though college sophomores. They don’t seem to have consulted with anyone in the marketing business. (Some people here may not care for ad folks, but they do have some expertise. Somebody out there pays $200 US for shoes, it’s it isn’t because of their comfort or durability).

    When I see the anti-smoking ads I get an urge to go buy cigarettes, just to teach those preachy twerps a lesson.

    If anyone wants to seriously consider a publicity campaign for atheism, please get some professional opinions on the matter.

    I am a Hedge

  15. I think the slogan is quite good. Straight forward and easy to understand. I would have gone with a picture of a child looking up to a bishop in full rig, saying “Aren’t you a bit old to have an imaginary friend?”

    I think it compares well with the ‘Alpha’ billboards and bus signs: “Is this all there is?” and “If god exsisted what would you ask him?”

    I’ve lived all over the UK and I would have to say that London is certainly the most overtly religious part of the country, or so it seems to me.

    On a lighter note, I did notice today at Tottenham Hale Tube Station (on the Northern Line) some cheeky scamp had vandalised the “If god did exsist what would you ask him?” billboard, with the words “Why are you such a C*NT?”

  16. @TKINGDOLL . I forgot to ask, as I know nothing about the advertising business, what did you think they should have gone with? I bet you’ve spent hours daydreaming about what you’d put on billboards if you could :-)

  17. I fear I must disagree, as I find it light hearted and succinct. There’s nothing being sold, unlike with religion(more or less . . .), and it’s just saying it’s fine not to wear the yoke of perpetual guilt that theists declare is a necessity. Share and enjoy, after all.

  18. I just had to add one more thing…

    While I still think there is a major difference between the misquoted slogan and the actual slogan, I think that this is much, much worse…

    Bendy-buses, like atheism, are a danger to the public at large.

    –Stephen Green of pressure group Christian Voice

    No, not the public at large… Only to your babies when we’re hungry. :P

  19. Gah I just lost my reply! Summary, cause I’m in a rush:

    1) I copied and pasted the quote from the BBC article. I notice theirs is now correct. Sorry for the misquote, I will edit the post with a note when I get chance

    2) Italic tag, wtf? I used the damn italic button on the toolbar so quite how it could not close it’s own tag I don’t know. Or maybe I deleted it by accident, I was rushing like a mad thing. Sorry again!

    3) I have some great ideas for slogans, I have a long train journey this afternoon so if I can get online I’ll post ’em.

    4) mxracer: shove it. I’m sure whatever you do for a living is utterly tedious and pointless.

  20. The slogan was being careful to avoid being banned under the advertising rules.

    The slogan is only the start, i’m sure. A testing of the waters. The donation amount at last check was at 81,000 pounds after 2 days. I do like the idea of running a competition for best next message though.

  21. Right, I have a little more time so I can pay attention to this!

    First off, the biggest no-no in creating an appealing message is leading with a negative. Telling me there is probably no God is meaningless, and whilst it effectively preaches to the converted, it’s surely not aimed at them. So, let’s say I casually believe in God. I see that poster, am I going to change my mind based on the say-so of a bus advert? On what basis is there “probably no God”? That statement is ivory tower, and it’s negative.

    However, if they must lead with it, the best way to follow it would be with a statement about the impact that no God has on the world, or if they want to use the negative theme, a statement about the negative impact the concept of God has on the world.

    For example they could say “There is probably no God. But life is beautiful anyway. How are you today?”.

    That’s the atheist equivalent of a nice cup of tea and eternal life.

    On the ‘God bashing’ angle, they could go with something like “in the Bible, there are X murders, X rapes, and X human sacrifices in the name of God. Is that really something to worship?”

    The second part of the actual slogan, “now stop worrying and enjoy your life” is horrible for a few reasons:

    1) It’s patronising
    2) It assumes that atheists don’t worry
    3) It assumes people who believe in God aren’t enjoying their life
    4) It assumes that atheism is somehow a magic spell for enjoyment of life, and rejection of God will not bring any emotional issues
    5) It’s preachy. Do NOT tell people what to do. EVER.
    6) It gives people something to worry about (the idea that they might not see their dead loved ones again, and that life has no larger purpose or meaning), then cuts them down by telling them not to worry. DUH!

    I hate it with a passion, and I truly believe it’s counter-productive. It’s like rebuking a small child. “Ugh, you still harping on about that Santa fellow? Stop wasting your time and come and have a cookie”. It means well, but I think it insults the intelligence of people who have chosen to believe in God, without giving them an open door. It’s a closed, negative, preachy statement. It’s not giving me something to think about, it’s telling me what to think.

    I used to be a Christian. I know what motivates people to believe. I do not accept that this slogan will have the effect intended, other than to garner headlines for the BHA, who don’t have a sustainable or palatable community to offer as an alternative to religion.

  22. Note, several months later: I stand by my original comments, I think as a ‘call to closet atheists’ it’s a poor choice and I really don’t like it, but it has been a massive PR success (which is a different objective). For attracting newspaper coverage and debate, I acknowledge it was a good choice, although I suspect almost any slogan in an atheistic bus campaign would have had the same effect. In the comments of Rebecca’s post about a new Darwin ad here: http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=5934 I expand on my thoughts a bit more if anyone’s interested.

  23. Hmm, “call to closet atheists”. That has some advertising potential. Tabloid-style banners with famous atheists being “outed”.

    Adam Savage Comes Out!
    Confesses atheism after week-long thinking binge.

  24. I object to the slogan because it plays into a theist bugaboo about atheists. The commonest objection to atheism given by theists is that without God, there is no morality. That atheists are free to do whatever they want as long as they don’t get caught. The statement “relax and enjoy your life” could be interpreted as encouraging amoral behavior.

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