Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Rolling Stone magazine accepted advertising for a company selling a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of Jesus Christ. Indeed, a color ad with the image of Jesus and the message, “Put down the drugs and come get a hug,” appears on page 71 of the current issue.

But when it came to running an ad for a new Bible aimed at twentysomethings, the magazine said forget it.

With little warning, the youth-worshipping Rolling Stone reneged on a deal forged nine months ago with Zondervan, the nation’s largest Bible publisher, ultimately rejecting the company’s ad for “Today’s New International Version” of the Bible — “TNIV” for short.

“We were surprised and disappointed,” said Doug Lockhart, spokesman for the Michigan-based publisher, which sells more than 6 million Bibles per year.

“We have no comment on the situation,” a Rolling Stone spokeswoman said yesterday.

The Bible publisher remains mystified.

“Initially, Rolling Stone was excited, and we were excited. The fees had all been negotiated. They had second thoughts, I think, when they saw the ad itself,” Mr. Lockhart said. “Their first comment was that this just wasn’t ‘the right time.’ We really wish they’d reconsider.”

Written in contemporary language “for a new generation of Bible readers,” TNIV is aimed at the 18- to 34-year-old set — a group that is the prime Rolling Stone audience.

The ad itself — part of a $1 million national campaign — does not flaunt theology or even mention God. It instead features a photo of a young man and the slogan “Timeless truth, today’s language.”

The approach has not offended other youthful markets. Mr. Lockhart said cable channels MTV and VH1, plus America Online, Modern Bride magazine and the satirical political magazine the Onion have accepted ads for the new version of the Bible.

“Our phone has rung a lot in the past 48 hours with those saying they’ll also accept the ad,” Mr. Lockhart said. “So, we’re encouraged by that.”

Heavy on auto and rock-music advertising, the current Rolling Stone also contains a mixture of other ads for personal lubricants, liquor, cough medicine and the “Got Milk” campaign. The Jesus T-shirt, featured in the magazine’s “The Shop” section, is from a Florida-based company called Victim Clothing.

Zondervan’s market research into the young and restless reveals they are a spiritually hungry group.

Mr. Lockhart cites a Harris poll that found 59 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds said the Bible was “relevant to their lives,” though more than half said they did not read it. Another 32 million of them call themselves “spiritually intrigued.”

“We are committed to reaching this group. But to engage them, we needed media venues which were untraditional for a Bible background. That’s what brought us to Rolling Stone,” Mr. Lockhart said.

In an interview with USA Today earlier this week, a representative from Wenner Media, which owns Rolling Stone, noted that the publication is “not in the business of publishing advertising for religious messages.”

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