Never talk about Religion, Politics or Branding

I am surprised that there haven’t been more articles in recent days looking at the motivating factors behind what, to the impartial observer, seems like the â??irrational devotionâ?? of individuals and groups to a faith and the idea of a supreme being. Rich pickings for ‘brand guru’s’ are often found in the more extreme social phenomena we see around us, and never one to miss a metaphorical trick, I expect it is only a matter of time before consultants start talking about nurturing and retaining ‘Brand Fundamentalists.’

The actual issue itself, of the ‘blasphemous’ religious cartoons published in a Danish paper, is not one that I can see as directly related to anything positive or heartening, in terms of where our society is heading or how we relate to each other. Quite aside from the ridiculous argument that you can’t satirise the Prophet Mohammed (because it ’causes offence’) yet you can wish death upon a nation and publicly call for the beheading of anyone who ‘mocks’ Islam (which presumably causes no offence and represents one of the most mild-mannered utterances in the history of human speech since “more tea vicar?”), it seems the world has, finally, gone totally, irreversibly mad.

We now question the media more than ever, treat with scepticism anything our elected representatives tell us, and are cynical about the intentions of those we live and work with, yet as a society, still seem entirely at ease with believing in something, (and I’m talking about any religion here), for which there is no, and can never be any, actual proof of it’s existence. At best it is a wish that there may be something beyond this world in which we live, yet we have seen in the last week a ready and willing congregation, prepared to turn to violence and incitement to murder at the reproduction of a satirical cartoon. If only the energy and sense of injustice provoked by the slighting of a religious figurehead could reproduced in the face of the violence, war and inequality we seem able to perpetrate against one another in our flesh and blood existances, then perhaps the world would be in better shape.

However, you didn’t come to this blog to hear a rant about religion – so lets look for some positives.

Well, Fundamentalists are â??good for businessâ??, if Nancy Wong, at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is to be believed. â??Based on our findings,” she writes “firms may wish to take a much more proactive stance in terms of developing relationships with religious fundamentalists, as their need for predictability makes them a particularly attractive segment.â?

â??Their ability to remain vigilant to a particular brand and shun competitive appeals is an increasingly valuable commodity in a hypercompetitive marketplace. Marketing campaigns that stress how a product or service delivers consistent and predictable performance should help attract these individuals to a brand and maintain them as part of its loyal franchise.â?

Aside from the buying power of the religious consumer, in a rare act of modesty (or perhaps timidity), branders have so far restrained themselves to refering to brands as religions, though the idea of brands as â??cultsâ?? has now become commonplace. Saatchi and Saatchi refer to the ‘future beyond brands’ as being ‘Lovemarks’ – brands which inspire loyalty and devotion beyond reason. The question would be whether this is any different to all the brands and branding we have anyway? Sure, the idea of brands which effectively market and sell themselves is alluring for marketeers, as is a world where consumers attach irrational devotion (religious belief) to products and services, but is it because those ‘cult’ brands have an air of the untouched, the unmarketed or the underground that they’re popular in the first place? In â??Persuadersâ?? by Douglas Ruskoff, â??Kevin Robertsâ??, worldwide CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi, makes the case that Cheerio’s are a ‘lovemark’ rather than a brand, and this is where it all starts to fall apart, pushing consumers ‘suspension of disbelief’ one step too far.

No doubt all this ‘brand as cult’ thinking is doing ‘good’ business (i.e. making someone somewhere some money), otherwise I guess it would have been swept under the carpet by now, but if we are going to think of our companies as cults, we need to be very careful about which aspects of cultish behaviour we emulate, how much power it has and who is leading it.

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