“On the ‘Homefront,’ Response Is Good, Outlook Positive,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 110–11
He’s blond, irresistibly cute, and the picture of concentration as he slices sausage and prepares to toss a ring of green pepper at the pizza he and his two sisters are making. “Share a little bit of yourself …” echoes on the soundtrack in the background while these three engaging children prepare and present their offering of love to an older shut-in friend.
A man who has been beaten and robbed crawls out of an alley onto a rainy inner city sidewalk and begs for help. Passersby carefully walk around him until one, driving down the opposite side of the street, sees the pitiful figure and stops to rescue him.
Father and Mother surprise their children in a water fight around the farm’s equipment shed. “Don’t anybody move,” Father says sternly to the muddy kids—then returns with the camera to snap their picture for the family album. To the tune of the catchy soundtrack, “Don’t Let the Magic Pass You By,” Mother douses Father with the hose and puts him into the middle of the flay.
Do these scenes sound familiar?
They probably should. At the end, they carry this identifier: “From the Mormons, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Millions of television viewers in North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, and Italy have been exposed to these and similar messages during the past fourteen years.
They are part of the Church’s much-honored series of “Homefront” radio and television public service messages. Since the first campaign was aired in 1971, “Homefront” messages have won more than three hundred awards because of their quality and content.
But the honors they have won are not the most important thing about these radio and television “spots.”
“The (‘Homefront’) message is to families and children,” says Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve. The intent is “to make people better people and draw them closer to Heavenly Father.”
With “Homefront,” he says, “We think we’re rendering a public service. We’re offering new perspectives on the way people ought to relate to each other.”
Most of the people who decide whether “Homefront” spots get on the air—television and radio station public service/public affairs directors—seem to agree that the announcements really do offer a public service. Wrote one radio station executive: “I have often found your spots to be both helpful and informative, and they have aided me in my personal life. … They are always entertaining and thought-provoking, as well as having excellent production and writing quality.”
That last sentence holds the key to the success of the twenty-four “Homefront” campaigns, says Richard D. Alsop, president of Bonneville Media Communications and the man who originally developed the “Homefront” idea. Broadcast stations want a good product to serve their audience, he explains. Poor quality public service announcements aren’t used, but good ones get plenty of air time.
The first “Homefront” campaign “exceeded our wildest expectations” in terms of placement on broadcast stations, he recalls. And placement has improved since then. “Homefront” spots are broadcast by 5,429 radio stations and 788 television stations in the United States and Canada, by 6,001 radio stations and 752 television stations in Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking areas, by 76 radio and 30 television stations in Australia, by the national radio and television network in New Zealand, and by 473 radio and 63 television stations in Italy.
In producing “Homefront” campaigns, Brother Alsop explains, “our objective has been to promote family solidarity and identify the name of the Church.” Great care is taken to be sure the messages have substance. “We identify that there’s a need, but we try to incorporate also a solution—something someone could go home and apply that night with the family.”
The effort to use the full name of the Church in the “Homefront” announcements has had its effect. Some non-LDS viewers and listeners have written to say that they did not know Mormons believed in Christ until they heard the Church’s formal name. Others have said the spirit of love, warmth, and joy they feel through “Homefront” communicates the love of Christ, countering claims of critics that Latter-day Saints aren’t Christians.
The spots are “transculturized,” Brother Alsop says, “if we have an idea that has international relevance.” Sometimes dialogue is simply “looped in” in Australian or Spanish voices. Or a spot may be originated or reshot to fit a local culture. In 1984, for example, Bonneville Media Communications simply dubbed in Australian voices for the dialogue in one campaign, but filmed another spot especially for Australia, dealing with drug problems prevalent there.
The Church has run four “Homefront” campaigns that requested audience responses, noted Stephen B. Allen, director of the Missionary Department’s Media Division. The campaigns drew letters “by the thousands.”
One, “Bridges and Gaps,” offered a game parents and teenagers could play to help enhance communication. Many of those who wrote to request the game expressed their feelings about what they hoped it could do for them. One man, for example, told of a painful, distant relationship with his father, and of a desire to express his love. “Maybe your challenging word game can bring us together and help me find a way to tell him.”
Another person wrote: “My daughter left the enclosed note. … She says they have a terrific game parents are supposed to play with their kids. … I guess our family needs it, if it means so much that my daughter would write me a note about it.”
Even when no responses are solicited, audiences write. One young man responded to a spot on loneliness, closing: “Although I now find it harder each day to face the sun, it is wonderful to know that somewhere, someone cares.”
Not long ago, the Church began a new series of spots aimed at children and teens, “Homefront Jr.” It “has been the best-accepted campaign we’ve ever done,” Brother Allen says. “Homefront Jr.” spots—the “Share a Little” vignette with the children making pizza, for example—have been used by 98 percent of the 958 television stations that received them. One of the commercial television networks in the United States reversed a long-standing policy against accepting PSA’s from religious organizations; it chose to run the “Homefront Jr.” spots because of their message and their quality.
Noting the great potential of the media for missionary work, Elder Ballard explained that the Church nevertheless must be careful in “Homefront” spots not to compromise the legal and moral responsibility of stations to serve the interests of all their viewers and listeners. The spots must contain messages of benefit to individuals and families of any religious persuasion. Still, the messages are built on values found in the gospel taught by Christ.
“It’s a very difficult, delicate, sensitive balance we’re wrestling with. We think we’re making progress.”
Obviously, the “Homefront” spots are achieving at least part of their objective in that they “help people very much regardless of religious affiliation,” Elder Ballard comments. And they do spark considerable interest in the Church.
But as good as the messages may be now, there are undoubtedly improvements possible which could cause more viewers or listeners to seek additional information about the Church from missionaries or from their LDS neighbors, he says.
The Lord commanded that the gospel be taken to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. (See D&C 42:58.) “Following that mandate, we’re going to do everything we know how with the media, the missionaries, and the members to do what the Lord has told us to do,” Elder Ballard affirms.