There were touching tributes to American military members from Jeep and American farmers from Dodge; the sweet story of a Budweiser Clydesdale reunion; and grizzled, grown men in drag pushing Doritos at a princess party.
For some Super Bowl viewers, there was also an invitation to “the curious, the inquisitive, and the seekers of knowledge” to consider the Church of Scientology.
The 30-second advertisement for the controversial church, cut down from this 1-minute spot, ran during halftime of the Super Bowl in some television markets, including Los Angeles and New York.
As of this posting, the church, which has claimed tax exempt status since 1993, had not responded to a question about the full extent of the buy–or how much was spent for the airtime.
What is clear is the ad, titled “Knowledge” and filled with education imagery and attractive young people in various states of contemplation, directly challenges many criticisms that have stung the church and tarnished its brand.
Appealing to “the rebels, the artists, the free thinkers and the innovators, who care less about labels and more about truth,” the ad suggests Scientology is a place for absolute free thought–not the image of a controlling, secretive environment the church almost constantly defends against.
“The fuel of that power is not magic or mysticism, but knowledge,” the narrator assures, challenging skeptics of the faith.
“Dare to think for yourself, to look for yourself, to make up your own mind, because in the eternal debate for answers, the one thing that’s true, is what’s true for you,” the narrator concludes.
The high–profile public relations play comes amid the release of a new book–“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief”–written by Pulitzer-prize winning writer Lawrence Wright, who traces the path of the religion from its founding by L. Ron Hubbard to today.
On Morning Joe Monday, Wright cited interviews with more than 200 current former Scientologists, including members of the Sea Org, the ranking members of the church. Some, Wright said, have made claims of abuse by Hubbard successor and current church leader David Miscavige.
“There is involuntary confinement, there are people who have been locked up in these re-education camps,” Wright said, adding that the real power of the church is that if these members were freed by force of law enforcement, they would tell investigators, “It’s all sunshine and seashells. We’re doing it for our own good.”
Wright also challenged celebrity Scientologists, such as Tom Cruise, to re-examine what he describes as the more problematic aspects of the faith.
The church hammered Wright and his book in a statement. “Mr. Wright ignored the real story of Scientology in favor of stale allegations and ever-changing bizarre tales invented by a handful of confessed liars consumed with their media smear campaign,” the statement reads, in part.
The Super Bowl Scientology spot caught many online by surprise. Twitter exploded with a range of reaction, from surprise to ridicule. Comedian Bill Maher tweeted, “I saw ad for scientology, i joined, and then Destiny’s Child reunited! That [expletive] works – thanks, Tom Cruise!”