Where's Grandpa now?

Date Published: 
May, 2005
Original Author: 
Bruce McGowen
The Catholic Cemeteries, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, May 2005

How can you influence people who choose cremation not to automatically link it with scattering or keeping an urn on the mantle piece? The cemeteries in one Catholic diocese worked with its local association and suppliers on a creative advertising campaign to remind people of the importance of cemeteries.

The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has six cemeteries, one of which is 150 years old and has over 100,000 interments. So we have a long tradition of taking care of Catholic families at their time of need.

After several years of having almost the same number of burials each year, in 2003 there was a noticeable drop in interments despite the fact that the death rate remained virtually the same.

Over that same period of time, the cremation rate in The Catholic Cemeteries went from 18 percent to 21 percent, and the overall cremation rate in the Twin Cities market went from 22 percent to 30 percent. As we all know, these are numbers that will continue to go up.

My assistant Judy Fletcher and I did some research by monitoring the obituary pages. We found that 43 percent of the obituaries listed no cemetery for an interment. This of course raised a red flag. Those people are either keeping an urn on the mantel or scattering the remains.

The idea and the funding
We wondered: How could we educate the increasingly cremation-minded public about the continuing importance of cemeteries, regardless of the method of disposition?

I proposed to John Cherek, director of The Catholic Cemeteries, that we present an advertising plan to the Twin Cities Cemetery Association, a local association with a number of participating cemeteries.

The ad campaign would be designed to stress the importance of using a cemetery. In other words, to create a demand for our product. Of course we advertise to get sales, but we didn't expect this particular program to generate sales immediately. Our goal was to do something about the fact that the death rate has not gone down, but the burial rate has.

In February 2004, with our TV representative and a radio representative, I made a presentation to the Twin Cities Cemetery Association.

I told them that our real competitors were not each other but the ideas that caused people to take urns home or to scatter remains who knows where.

Association members approved the campaign almost unanimously. The next question was where would the money come from to pay for the campaign. We decided the cemeteries would do it.

When you're dealing with a group, there will always be some people who don't go along with an idea. Some cemeteries did not participate financially, in effect getting a free ride, since the ads try to sell the idea of cemeteries rather than a particular cemetery.

We made presentations to suppliers, who we felt also had a vested interest in our success. Most of them embraced the idea and agreed to participate financially in the project.

I then wrote several possible commercials and presented them to the Twin Cities Cemetery Association members. They selected the ad, which would feature a young mother and her 12-year old daughter, called "Where's Grandpa now?"

Our local television station, WCCO-TV, produced the commercial at no cost to us in consideration of the amount we spend on running ads every year. The child, an aspiring actress, performed for free in order to build up her resume.

We decided that our first campaign involving radio and television commercials would air the week after Memorial Day at a cost of $22,000.

The first year would be the most difficult financially, as none of the cemeteries or vendors had budgeted advertising dollars for this type of awareness campaign.

The association plans to continue running the ad campaigns. We have several 30-second television and 60-second radio ad scripts prepared.