The Soul of Indiscretion

Some say you have to sell your soul to go into advertising, but the Christian Coalition says one skateboard manufacturer has gone too far. The conservative group discovered in January that World Industries had included in its skateboard packaging a comic strip featuring a character called Devil Man and a contract asking the buyer to sign away his soul for all eternity.

The group promptly launched a campaign to halt the promotion, sending about 700 letters to the El Segundo, Calif.-based company. "At best, it's offensive," said executive director Ralph Reed in a press release. "At worst, it is harmful to children and undermines the authority of parents."

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World Industries CEO Frank Messmann doesn't understand the fuss; he considers the ad low on the list of things that "ruin our youth." Besides, he says, "If you're really a believer, you know you can't sell your soul to anyone -- certainly not through a mail-order catalog." Nearly 1,000 kids sent in contracts (out of 10,000 skateboards sold) and in return received a T-shirt reading: "I sold my soul and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

While the Christian Coalition takes credit for ending the promotion, World Industries says the contracts were a one-time marketing campaign, and, despite the fact that a few of the offending packages may still be in stores, the company stopped distribution back in October. But Messmann admits he learned a lesson. "If anything, it made me consider from purely a business standpoint not to really play the religion card," he says.

Still, parents beware: Messmann says that while he has no plans to use the contract again, the company will continue to use the objectionable characters in its marketing. The company's other cartoon characters include Pin Cushion (Devil Man transformed by straight pins stuck in his face), who shoots a baby in the head, and Flameboy, who sets himself ablaze with gasoline.