Anyone who has travelled on the London Underground recently will have seen countless advertisements for the hit musical The Book of Mormon. I don't know why the show needs any more publicity, given that it's almost impossible to get a ticket for it, but if you've stood on a platform for any length of time, you'll have been able to read posters which, instead of quotes from the critics, have tweets from members of the public. "I haven't laughed so much in ages". "I went home and immediately bought the soundtrack." That sort of thing.
I haven't seen the show, but as it is the creation of the duo responsible for the adult cartoon South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, it is not an enormous shock to discover that it is irreverent, profane, at times shocking, and could, by some, be considered offensive. It's not just the Mormon religion which feels the force of Trey and Matt's satire: Christians, Jews, homosexuals, and African people might also be upset by the way they have been portrayed.
By any standards, it is a controversial piece of work. One of the songs suggests that Mormons believe that God lives on the planet Kolob, while at another point, the chorus sings the words: "F*** you, God". We live in a liberal age, when most people acknowledge the right of artists to take creative risks. But these are also times when everyone seems so quick to take offence. We see it all the time: one off-colour remark, one misguided tweet, even a trumped-up charge of calling a copper a pleb, and the sky falls in on the hapless perpetrator. How dare you insult me/us/them. Which makes the reaction to The Book of Mormon, particularly within the Mormon establishment, extremely interesting.
There's been none of the hoo-ha from religious zealots that has attended every production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and no one has yet picketed the theatres in the way Christian groups did for Jerry Springer: The Opera. Quite the opposite, in fact, and this morning Londoners will notice a different kind of billboard relating to the Mormon faith. Instead of complaining about a musical show that pokes fun at their religion, the Church of Latter Day Saints has chosen to capture the moment by launching a marketing campaign of their own. Brightly-coloured ads showing attractive young people of all ethnicities with the slogan "I'm a Mormon" are to be seen at Tube Stations - sometimes in very close proximity to ones for the show - and on the sides of London buses. "You've seen the play, now read the book," reads an advert in the programme for the show itself.
Whoever is advising the Mormon Church on their public relations and advertising strategy should take a bow. It would have been so easy to whip up a storm around the musical. The Mormons could have had all the publicity they wanted: demos, protests, questions in the House. But that would have been the wrong sort of publicity. By eschewing boiler-plate indignation and accentuating the positive, the Mormons can be seen as modern, open, inclusive and understanding. I wouldn't be surprised if the Mormon population of Britain (190,000 and rising) gets a boost as a result.