I recently wrote a blog where I pulled an article from the UK Telegraph saying that our movement is nothing more than the "least inspiring movement in recent years".
I am adamant that one of the main reasons for this and other types of negative press out there is because of the billboard campaign by American Atheists. The billboards are inflammatory. They are not thought provoking or lead to thoughtful debate or discussion. They are insulting and I am frustrated that this is how American Atheists think our movement should be perceived and represented. I have wrote to the Chairman of the Board of AA and asked him to reconsider this campaign. Although the idea of the billboard I'm all for, what they say needs to make people say or think "wow, that's great, and it's something I want to check out further". We need to do better!
What are your thoughts on this? Do we need to write to American Atheists via petition?
"I am adamant that one of the main reasons for this and other types of negative press out there is because of the billboard campaign by American Atheists."
The media and public opinion have always been pissy anyway. It only makes sense to placate their oversensitive nature when it serves some sort of strategic value. I think that American Atheists have hit a point where they feel it is better to be openly discussed and visible rather than quietly ignored. Good PR is nice, but not if it comes at the expense of having a real platform to say your piece.
People have become too sensitive. I think the ads were poor in execution, but the tone was still only mildly aggressive. They pale in comparison to some of the anti-atheism ads I've seen in the United States. I am not suggesting that one bad deed deserves another, but we are looking at a double standard. When confronted with anti-atheism ads, at least a few media personalities simply responded 'I am not aware of those'. Essentially, a broad spectacle is made of something when a minority group does it, but when it is a common occurrence from a majority position, nobody bats an eye.
I'm not even complaining about it. That's the way it is. It seems like the American Atheists leveraged that. Even non-confrontational billboards and adverts drew ire, so they had to know that these ads would rally a bit of media spotlight. Has it caused a bit of confrontation and controversy? Yes, but why is that a bad thing? There is more tension building beneath the surface than what we typically see. Sometimes that has to be brought out into the open air.
I advocate religious tolerance as a matter of freedom of believe and conscience. What frustrates me, as well as many others, is that the current form of religious tolerance makes it a social taboo to argue about beliefs. These are arguments that need to happen. Tolerance of atheists, as well as the tolerance of many minority groups tends to be passive aggressive. It's unhealthy. Atheists do need to build bridges to the community at large, but if that's all we do, we will largely have only a superficial impact. We need to be forthright and, at times, we need to stir the pot.
I don't love the current leadership of the American Atheists. I don't think that David Silverman is the best public speaker. That said, I'm not a member. I'm not even American. I don't think their approach is really going to have a detrimental impact on the public view of atheism on the whole. It will probably just bring to light some of the already existing bad vibes towards us. Personally, I think it's much easier to address problems once they are brought out into the open.
"But I think the same results or goals could be achieved without being insulting."
This is less a disagreement with what you wrote and more a point of semantics. You could take an alternate approach that might have equitable, or even greater worth, but insulting people does have its own unique value if the insult also happens to be a tenable position.
People react to things in strange and difficult to predict ways. If I insulted someone, I'd expect them to just shut me out, but that isn't always going to be the case. If the target of the insult is doubting themselves or is afraid that the insult may be true, it sometimes draws them out and forces them to reexamine their beliefs. The insult may say something that the individual was afraid to admit to themselves or say out loud. The ads weren't targeted at believers, but rather at doubters and pretend believers. Some of them have probably been looking for an excuse to break free from their religion, and the controversy around these ads does provide an opening to broach the subject.
Naturally, other doubters will have the exact opposite reaction. The ads will offend, they'll put up their defenses and retreat further back towards religion. It is a polarizing message. From where I stand, it seems like the campaign is a little bit of a gamble, but nothing too dramatic.
I don't know if I would use such tactics myself, and as I said before, I do think that the execution here was weak. I completely agree that the ads were not thought provoking. Frankly, I found them superficial and a little crass. When if comes down to the basic approach though, I'm hard pressed to say whether or not the benefits will outweigh the cost.
Advertisements have two main purposes, to ensure that loyal customers is reaffirmed about the quality of the product they prefer, and to convince customers of other products (including no products) that the quality of the advertised product is better than the other offerings. Though you may argue that the ads are not for a 'product', they are, just as ideas submitted to journals are attempting to 'sell' new knowledge. Advertising is not only the art of convincing, it is a whole scientific field with its own scientists producing knowledge which can be applied to best spread our message.
As such, the ad campaign seem to be better suited at the first purpose and perhaps less so at the second. Seeing as the product of atheism is pretty much in its infancy, it is the preferred way of entering the marketplace. By creating a splash the media notices, a large amount of free publicity is gained, and the effect of the message is increased substantially.
Not quite sure where you will find support from me that the campaign is something I like. I only stated that from a marketing perspective, it pretty much follows the rule book.
You are free to have an opinion on the message of the campaign, but how it's conducted indeed follows the principles of marketing. The concept of 'selling' atheism is quite new - we don't knock on doors, we don't leave our books in hotels, we don't have any symbols, etc - and until recently we did not put up billboards.
The message will need some fine tuning as we explore the avenues of advertising our ideas, but I staunchly support that we do it in the most effective manner, of which this is actually a very good example. Our best weapon is knowledge, and to not use our knowledge of marketing to market our knowledge, is not the rational way to approach it.
Leave the marketing to the marketeers, they are the experts in getting messages across.
I can go either way on this subject depending on the location...When driving from north to south or east to west... I see so many religious billboards promoting fear that it makes me sick..
One thing that I have noticed though.. they have their billboards peppered around here and there.. but whenever you see a large number of them right in a row after around 3 or 4 of them you see the same thing... a big sign that says !ADULT!
The most interesting of these occasions was driving to Chattanooga.... Giant cross.. Giant cross Billboard... Giant Cross... Billboard... Fireworks.. Billboard... LARGEST ADULT STORE IN THE COUNTRY! and so on.....
To think that they are aloud to target things that they find immoral and they are obviously targeting these places.. yet they get offended when they are targeted by anything is just the norm..
As well though I do think that David Silverman could do a better job as a representative for atheists he is the leader of a group of atheists not the leader of us all..