The Brand, The Logo, The Cult, The Religion

You could assume I am speaking of Apple – the brand that has dominated the conversation in geeky circles for years, with loyalty that runs so deep that its followers must have every new product launched within the first 24 hours. The religion of Apple has its rituals – the iOS upgrades, the tutorials at the Apple shop. Sacrifices at the altar of Apple are never mentioned, it is expected that for so much joy, one gives up on a few – options, mere options. The deep loyalty and the apparent schism from the other sects almost makes this a Cult.

We have seen others before this – the Cult of Coca Cola, the drive of McDonalds, the ubiquity of Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder. This is what brands seek to do – create a cult, a religious fervour that brings them loyal customers. They have learnt many lessons from the grand religions of the world.

Religions have been so successful as branding exercises that they have become part of the identity of the loyalists. Just as someone cannot imagine their morning without a particular brand of soap, they cannot imagine themselves without the connection to their religion. The interesting thing here is that each is vested in their own brand, changes are inevitably cathartic. And involve major life changing events.

All religions have layers of meaning and nuance that is not for the everyman or everywoman to know. And therein lies the perfect catch -22 for each of them. You cannot know,  but must believe that there is more. Of course there is a God, but you cannot know the God, you can only know the strength of your belief in God. And as with all good cults, this strength is tested and reinforced from time to time. Often to reinforce the faith in the one God, often to reinforce the faith in the prescribed ways. As every good brand manager would do to renew and strengthen their brands.

I speak of the religion I was brought up in, not claiming to be an expert in any. And If I were a complex philosopher with various competing, co-existing schools of philosophy to curate and promote, I could not have chosen a better vehicle than building brands. Gods as brands for philosophies are represented by their logos – the images. Our famous eight handed Gods or ten headed demons did not really have those limbs or heads (They were not even people!) The hands represent actionable capabilities. The heads represent knowledge. Ravaan was one of the greatest scholars – his head is supposed to, therefore contain as much as that of ten scholars. Each deity and their accoutrements represent aspirational values, much like what brands seek to create today.

Gods, in Hindu ‘religion’ clearly represent philosophies, a certain belief system that could translate into specific behaviours and attitudes in dealing with everyday transactions. For example, the family that worships Krishna invests in retellings of fun, wealth, intelligent solution seeking and valour that influence their behaviours. The degree of indulgence in such households would be more than in spartan households that worship the austere Shiva. He of the matted locks and looks that could kill – the dance of creative destruction is his as is the third eye. Nobody can actually believe that there was a person with an extra eye plonked in the middle of his forehead. It is but a representation of an internally coherent set of values that guide one through difficult circumstances. Given a problem to solve, the embedded stories will certainly influence choice. In everyday situations it is not difficult to envisage that a Vaishnavite response and a Shaivite response will be inherently different – I believe this is a traditional battleground.

Are these philosophies then a religion? While intellectuals and academics have written for centuries about it, a simple marketing perspective is interesting too. If philosophies are packaged and created in a brand, with a distinct logo (the image or idol), a distinct market segment that they appeal to, then religion is their marketing vehicle. The product is the set of compatible philosophies. The place, interestingly used to be restricted to temples and churches, but the rule of omnipresence and societal requirements of egalitarianism combine to make religion more universally accessible than many other institutions. Television sets blare out messages, the internets sustain debate across the globe. The promotion of these is invariably using the classic tools of marketing – advertising, word-of mouth promotion, PR  campaigns, events, bonus and reward promotions, and of course direct selling by the priesthood in organised religions. (To remind ourselves, the basic definition of ‘promotion’ in marketing 101 includes the objectives – to inform, persuade and remind). Of course there can be no product without a price – and in this, religions have trumped mere marketing managers. The price discovery mechanism is robust, because it has been handed over to the crowds. People give according to their means, their emotional needs, and most importantly, they give based on the value they receive. This of course is managed with organised giving being the mainstay of most religions – scale operations are never cheap. Most large religions, as brands also have a large asset base to operate and sustain the enterprise.

Yes, religion is the business that propagates and sustains philosophies. Does that acknowledgement demean religion or the philosophy behind it? Absolutely not! I would give it credit for pragmatism, for finding a path to sustainability. Do I have to buy in to every brand out there? Nope. Is there a free market across brands? In times of peace there well might be a free market, in times of plenty there is often free exchange. But just as economic recession puts pressure on jingoistic tendencies of countries – as we see, religions too respond to internal and external pressures and often overreach themselves. And as our financial giants have learnt, the seeds of self destruction are often sown in such ventures.

Religion is another product that we consume, possibly the greatest comfort and support to many. It has great value in having the capacity to hold and to heal peoples. It has proven its capacity to evolve and rebrand itself over generations. There is much to be said for learning from these old religionistas. Do I have to buy in? Depends on the price you ask of me.

(Caveat: There is much to be said, please say it with civility, for the sake of your own self respect. This post is but a microcosm in the sea of beliefs)

One thought on “Brand Religion

  1. I like your analogy – at the end it’s branding. I am not a believer in any region (but do believe Apple was the best brand ever, and Steve Jobs was Jesus’ incarnation 🙂 and want to add few things from that vista point – the sole aim of Brand (or religion) is to make people get less conscious about price points, become fanatic and question less the authority which holds the brand. In that manner, it makes people dumber and lesser capable to care about their self interest or overall good. From that point of view, I feel Brand always deceit people. In business context also, you can find empirical evidences that brands exploits their loyal customers by making them pay more (Amazon is classic example).

    I think people should be brand conscious but they should not adhere to cult culture. For that sake I love the old Apple brand which stood for “be different”. The whole new campaign about “being cool” is cult branding.

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