Fast Company

Hearing Hogs

So many of the world's strongest brands have a whole lot of features in common with religion. Let's take Apple as an example. As any Apple fan, and you may be one yourself, and they'll instantly say how much they love the brand.

And Irish Guinness drinkers will be equally enthusiastic, as will a Harley-Davidson owner.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying brands will replace religion, but the religious parallels are all there. These brands all forster a sense of belonging, and they have rituals and symbols.

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  • 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 also 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 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.

  • David Facer

    I like that you raised this question, especially in a brand- and religion-obsessed culture as that of America.

    It is not that brands are taking lessons from religion, but rather that both marketing and religion take lessons from human nature and nature.

    Humans are every bit as much pack animals as dogs, as industrious as ants and as social as bees.

    We're constantly communicating; about what we saw during the day, how we feel, who said what, what happened on a TV program, what new ideas we've had, who is wrong, what is right. That communication, for the vast majority of people is an attempt at persuasion. It is also an attempt to create, break apart or extend a social structure - so we know who belongs in what pack, tribe, colony or hive.

    When I tell you about a product I bought (I'm crazy for REI camping equipment), I'm telling you a great deal more than something about REI. I'm looking for similarities and dissimilarities so I can know if you're part of my pack, and if I'm part of yours. Since I can't smell your bum (thankfully), this is how humans with large brains and unique language do it. Incidentally, it is our very language that is a primary cause of our estrangement from the wisdom of the natural world.

    Marketing and religion leverage the same natural human tendencies.

    Further, we, like the animals, recognize each other as safe or unsafe based on physical markings. We make sense of each other based on visual representations. Just look at the word, brand. It is the same word used for the physical ownership markings put on farmed animals. When we see one we own ourselves, we know we belong. When we see a different one, our brains immediately begin processing similarities and differences, looking for safety and risk. Never let it be said, most of the judgments we make are pure hallucinations, pure projection of what we have come to believe about a company brand and what we think we know about a human; the being latter altogether more complex than the former.

    Marketing and religion are social systems that make use of how we operate as animals.

    Dear God, I love REI camping equipment. Sniff. Sniff.