Branding and marketing has become hugely important in today’s and competitive business environment. Companies have to find a way to stick in people’s minds, to generate an emotional response, to build trust and rapport. A name and a slogan just isn’t enough. Take a look at the following: just a simple image that is internationally recognized anywhere. They have fans and supporters, aka customers.
A mascot or image can be boiled down even further, into a very simple symbol that is unique to the company’s brand image.
The problem with brand identity however, is only a problem with chains and multinational corporations. Before the modern era, the only entities that needed to think in these terms were religious organizations. How could their saviors or teachers be depicted in a way that was universally recognizable, no matter which artist created the unique image? Artists created specific patterns and symbols to designate who the person was supposed to be.
Like companies, these “mascots” could be reduced to one simple symbol, which evokes an emotional response capable of carrying a complex psychological relationship with the organizations core principles, philosophy and benefits.
Modern corporations use these techniques because they work; studies have proven that buyers associated their feelings with a representational picture and that brand awareness, market impact and customer loyalty needs to be built up with constant repetition.
But what is religion selling?
Religions almost invariably pass themselves off as “non-profit”. They are in it for pure, spiritual motives. They are not trying to make money. They have nothing to sell; they simply ask for donations. But the truth is that they provide a very unique and profound service: they offer peace of mind for lost loved ones or for future fears; they offer forgiveness and penance to relieve one’s guilt; they offer the feelings of being loved and accepted – not to mention a social network bound around common beliefs. In return they make at least enough money to take care of the church grounds pay for the buildings, and pay a reasonable salary to their priests or leaders. So it is, actually, rather like a franchise: “small businessmen” running churches can easily get online and find tips and strategies for increasing their membership; download template sermons and activities; and rely on a successful and proven business model that cashes in on an established brand without worrying.
The only thing that churches haven’t done well – if only because religions are far too diverse – is to safeguard their trademarks and copyrights. If you want to be a Nike or Adidas bracelet to show your support for their brand, you have to go to them. Everything else is a “cheap knock-off.” But you can go online and find hundreds of thousands of products based on religious symbols. You can buy “Christian” merchandise that is made by an number of independent businesses that don’t pay royalties to any church. Artists are free to make paintings or icons of religious figures, without being sued for copyright infringement (as they would be, say, if they tried to sell paintings of Snoopie or Hello Kitty).
There are two ways to respond to this post: the first is to recognize that religion is a lot like a business corporation. This is not necessarily negative – religions, like businesses, offer benefits that consumers pay for. If they didn’t, they would “go out of business.” The second, however, is to recognize that your feelings towards certain brands – the zeal and enthusiasm you feel by being part of something large, supporting it with your time and money, may really be religious devotion. Whichever side of the issue you’re on, you should pay close attention to the balance of your psychological investment.