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Getting Religion

As I got to do some serious thinking about my multisensory branding hypothesis, I realized that the very best role model was religion. So as my travels around the world took me, I began visiting different regions where different religions were practiced.

In a small temple outside Bangkok in Thailand I came across a most bizarre Buddha — one serene looking David Beckham Buddha. For the uninitiated, David Beckham is one of the most famous British soccer players ever.

The Beckham Buddha was carved in 24 carat gold, and displayed alongside other traditional Buddhas. This was intriguing. It was where pop culture, branding and religion converged. And as I locked into this way of seeing, I noticed that consumers are treating brands quite religiously.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this analogy.

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  • Phil Cooke

    In my new book "Branding Faith" ( I write about this very issue. Religions need to learn to tell their story in a media-driven culture, and branding is the key to telling that story effectively. Understanding the audience, and making that connection in the middle of the vast media clutter out there will make a dramatic difference in their ability to make an impact.

  • Janice Caillet

    The “branding” going on in religions also fascinates me. The usage of icons, rituals and language is wonderfully similar in many of the world’s religions. Another similarity is their use of people/community members in building the brand.

    It first became very evident to me when I was walking through Central Park one day and I noticed a group of people, about 200, sitting and chatting amongst themselves. They were all on blankets and sharing food with one another. I didn’t know what it was at first, perhaps a family reunion of sorts – however this would be one odd family, as I believe every race was represented.

    It became clear when I moved closer, and looked interested. Someone approached me and started small talk. She asked me if I wanted to sit down as there was going to be someone speaking soon. It was odd at first; however, the person was very warm, sweet and non-confronting so I sat. Then I saw the machine at work – no judgment, it was just interesting to see.

    I saw at least 10 people positioned on the very outskirts of the group, “the lurers” they are there to bring potentials in, like me. Sometimes they were successful, sometimes they were not. It didn't seem to phase them though. These people were obviously chosen, or they naturally wanted the part, as they were all relatively pretty and harmless looking (which is important in NYC).

    Then the “lurers” sit you down with the next group in line “the seeders”. These people plant the seeds of what their community / religion is about. Nothing too overt, just a little seed here and there amongst easy non-threatening conversation.

    Once you are there for what seems like no longer than 5 minutes, a “Welcomer” comes along with a very quick but genuine greeting “Welcome to the Central Park Community Church”* Ahhh, it was clear to me what I had gotten myself into. Yet, before I knew it everyone went quiet and the speaker started. A little too awkard to get up now.

    A young and outgoing speaker started the program. There were 5 speakers in all with the last being the most powerful. These speakers are “the brand” and the deliverers of the message. There were rituals, community hand holding, and lots of “inclusive” type activities. Afterwards, many people in the community, hoping I will return next week inundated me, the “ensurers”. I received pamphlets and business cards (only in New York). I have to admit, it was very welcoming.

    After this experience I started noticing the machine at working in other places of worship. In Bali, France, England, Portugal, Chicago, Florida, etc. The formula is quite similar – though not as overt. There are the “lurers”, “seeders”, “welcomers”, “deliverers” and “ensurers” – all working towards a common goal – branding their religion or at least their group to ensure its place in the future. However, at times, I am not the one they “choose” to lure, seed, welcome, deliver and ensure.

    *I cannot remember the exact name of the church group, as this was several years ago, I live in Paris now, yet miss NYC. This is a critical branding problem of theirs, as so many of these groups sound similar to one another, but it did have the word community in it - no surprise.”

  • Frank McClung

    There's some really good insight in the two previous posts:
    - Brands have become religions.
    - Religions look more and more like brands.
    - Both religions and brands meet basic human needs.
    - Brands and religions are competing to define people's identity. In the West, brands seem to be winning at the moment.
    - Brands are gods and can be worshiped.

    Can't wait to see what else comes out of this discussion. Might want to check out the Re-Branding Me article on the blog B L A N K that deals with a similar topic.

  • Szu Ann Chen

    I agree with Mr. Lindstrom and Mr. Facer. More than ever brands are becoming like religions because they both give us the sense of belonging. In many ways I think we're replacing religion with brands, at least in western cultures. I think that religion has lost its grip in terms of being a social cornerstone from which we draw our sense of identity. We don't primarily think of ourselves or each other as "the Quaker," "the Lutheran," or "the Buddhist." Don't get me wrong, religion is still an important part of our culture and of our personal identities, but its social relevance has certainly dropped a few notches.

    Brands, on the other hand, have become how we are defining ourselves as individuals. And religion, in a way, has become one of the brands. We draw our sense of identity and belonging by the brands we choose to be affiliated with, and we love certain brands because we think they reflect a part of who we are. Brands are personalities, they are living things. They communicate and emanate ideas, and sometimes, ideals. They are bigger than ourselves; they have the power to reach the masses. Does that sound familiar? They have become gods in our society. Objects of love and worship.

    For example, I love love the Dyson vacuum. I love the brand because of what it represents--it communicates a set of ideals. To me, Dyson represents what good design should be--using technology to create something beautiful and functional that solves an everyday problem. Root Cyclone technology to suck out dirt? Crash helmet material in bright yellow and grey for the body? I am sold on the Dyson and everything it stands for. And I can say that I love the Dyson--it gives me feelings of elation and pride. And isn't that what religion is for us too?

    Through brands we communicate who we are to others. We make allegiances and categorize others through brands. We also connect with people through brands. You can tell me a lot about yourself by telling me about the brands you love, and vice versa. If I give someone a list of brands I love--Target, Dyson, Salomon Sports, New Balance, Jack in the Box, Apple--I am essentially communicating the values, personalities, and ideals that I identify with. And chances are, that person could form an idea of who I am based on these brands. Brands are identity to us.

    So yes, brands and religion have merged. Advertisers and marketers have tapped into our human need for belonging, meaning, and worship and turned ordinary everyday products into brands, and brands into religions. And now brands are our gods. We cherish and value our favorite brands. We identify ourselves with them. We tell others about our love for these brands, and if others attack our favorite brands, we defend them. I know I would do that for my Dyson.

    Let's go and worship.