Does God have an advertising budget? Presumably not, but his advocates and critics certainly do, and their rival campaigns to promote or debunk Him have featured in an unlikely place: the annual report for 2009 of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice, which is available at:
The ASA received 28,978 complaints about all kinds of advertisements in 2009, of which 5.5% related to two campaigns battling over God and run through banner posters on the outsides of buses. These accounted for more than half of the percentage increase in the total number of complaints to the ASA between 2008 and 2009.
The British Humanist Association opened the batting early in the year with its slogan ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’. This was the sixth most complained about advertisement in 2009, attracting 392 complaints. Critics alleged that it was offensive to people of faith and could not be substantiated. The ASA duly considered the matter and agreed that the claim was not capable of being objectively proved, while noting that the advertiser had avoided a hostile or offensive tone.
The Christian Party duly responded with a campaign proclaiming ‘There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life’. This was number 1 in the advertising complaint chart for 2009, drawing 1,204 complaints. Critics claimed that the advertisement was offensive to atheists and could not be substantiated. The ASA did not investigate in this instance, since advertisements for political parties lie outside its remit. Since the Christian Party, formed in 2004, managed to capture only 0.1% of the popular vote at the recent general election, or 18,623 votes, perhaps its bus advertising had limited impact.