Brands vs Religion

Via Google Fastflip - FastCompany - comes this study from Duke University, another interesting part of the brand loyalty equation.

In fact, the more religious a person is, the less those sort of brand expressions seem to matter, according to a series of experiments run by the team. Their paper, “Brands: The Opiate of Non-Religious Masses?,” appears currently online in the journal Marketing Science.

“People with a high involvement in religiosity aren’t necessarily as brand-conscious as people who don’t practice religion,” said Gavan Fitzsimons, the R. David Thomas Professor of Marketing and Psychology at The Fuqua School of Business. This is true at least for visible expressions of brand, like socks and sunglasses.

The team first conducted a field study in which they looked at several geographic areas for the number of Apple stores per million people, the number of brand stores such as Macy’s and Gap, and a comparison statistic they called the “brand-discount store ratio.” Then they compared these rough measures of brand reliance against the number of congregations per thousand and self-reported attendance in church or synagogue, controlling for income, education and urbanization differences. In every analysis, they found a negative relationship between brand reliance and religiosity.

Don’t have much to add yet, other than it seeming to fit a missing part of the puzzle to explain some passions about certain brands.

Interesting, the psychology of this runs so deep it’s hard begin to digest it.

Does this mean that religions are a kind of “super-brand” in a way? Old, well established, to the point where all you need is faith and you will have a place amongst like-minded people who accept you strongly because you share the same values, beliefs, and ideas.

The article suggests that people turn to consumer brands for this sense of belonging and acceptance if they are not religious, but the article maybe could have gotten more in depth as to why people seek this in the first place?

I thought it was interesting that the researchers didn’t consider spirituality vs. religion or spirituality vs. brand loyalty in their experiments. Maybe they were more interested in the social aspects of religion and brand rather than individualistic traits such as independence, confidence, and spirituality and whether or not those traits derive from social acceptance or individual spirituality.

When I first saw the title of this thread I was hoping that different brands were starting to sue companies that are ripping of their logos and trademarks for use in religious organizations.


I’m still trying to wrap my head around the full depth of this article but I think there are a ton of interesting ways to interpret this info.

The superbrand concept is definitely interesting - I would like to see the ‘religion’ superbrand compared against another large cultural phenomenon and see if that has the effect of suppressing brand loyalty. My first gut reaction was with the environmentally aware demographic, but I actually doubt that would be a good comparison as a lot of companies have figured out how to capitalize on consumers’ desire to be included in that group.

Another interesting thing at work here is to define what exact falls under the ‘brand of religion’. There have been attempts to brand religion, certainly the practice is as old as selling idols/icons of faith. More recent examples include the WWJD tagline… I come from a Judeo-Christian background so I’m not familiar with other expressions of this sort of branding elsewhere, except where practitioners of faith choose to wear external markers. I think our culture tends towards pushing acceptance of multiple beliefs, so I don’t know if the superbrand is as strong as it could be, and certainly in a lot of places being religious doesn’t garner you any social acceptance. Life in high school would have been a lot easier if I’d had designer jeans instead of a religious conviction. :slight_smile:

I had thought also that maybe the defining characteristics of the religious is that the very nature of what they believe would reduce their reliance on ‘things of this world’, therefore decreasing brand loyalty, maybe? However, there’s certainly evidence out there (at least, for American Christians) that their belief system doesn’t appear to affect their behaviors in other areas of their lives (the divorce rate is almost the same, etc.), so I struggle with that hypothesis a little bit. Very interesting topic!

How about religious brands. There is a brand called NOTW that has some kind of religious affiliation. It is a craze in socal currently. So are people who are religious more okay with brands as long as it is affiliated with what they believe?

That’s what I was initially thinking. The term “worldly” used by the Mormons seems to suggest ‘obsessed with things of the world’, instead of being consumed with the LDS. I’m not a religious scholar but I remember some schism between Jesus and the ‘money-changers’ in the Temple, where JC threw a tantrum and kicked all the bankers out. It would be interesting to look at this specific issue of ‘brands vs religion’ from a Biblical (or other) perspective to see if it holds up from the ‘other side’.

The term ‘opiate’ is an interesting choice too: something taken willingly but with a dependency, satisfying that emptiness or need for a period of time, needing to be renewed.

Research has noted a negative correlation between the practice of religion and the intelligence quotient (IQ). Researchers decided to plot the importance of religion in people’s lives vs. IQ from several countries throughout the world. The results are quite impressive… The more a country believes in religion, the lower the IQ and GDP of that country. On a smaller scale, this might explain the the Brands vs Religion question in America. The more religious the person, the less money they have to spend on major brands and consumerism.


The cause and effect might be reversed in this case. I think that it’s more likely that poorer people and those with limited means end up turning towards religion more often as a last grasp of hope to get out of their bad situations. A lot of poor people would see more value in it than people who are wealthy and may not have a care in the world. When you’re barely living check to check and have to choose between heat or electricity to go without this month with no change in your situation in site, you’d tend to have more of an urge to pray for some miracles and look for belief that somehow things are going to work out for you in the end. The same as people on their death beds or in death row.

Agree with Skinny. Correlation does not equal causation. It’s a basic rule of thumb in statistics.

But I do think it’s interesting, and in some ways, branding is like a religion. Just look at the cult that is Apple fans. Remember the days of the console wars (when they were more intense, and more fanboys)? Some of them were crazier than any religious nut out there. The big N, Sony, and Microsoft… oh and Sega. Those days were intense.

But are those poorer people with limited means in these bad situations because they lack the critical thinking and problem solving abilities (intelligence) to climb out of it?

Maybe for some, but definitely not all. Sometimes life just rolls you a snake-eyes and a strong grasp for religion gives them their only sense of hope.

I’m relating back to the the essence of “brand reliance and religiosity.” It’s about playing with the cards that you are dealt. There is a difference in populations that have the means to always have new Nikes and a new BMW vs people who wear shoes till they fall apart and work on a rusting truck for years. It’s a fact of getting what you can afford and and being happy with what you have. If you have the means to get nice things and follow a brand, you do so. If you can’t afford to do so, you don’t. I think it’s that simple.

Approaching this in a different way, not the class schism, but the universal inner void that needs to be filled. Super brands is a nice method of considering religion, the logo for most religions is obvious and apparent. The Christian cross is the most obvious symbol that readily translates into the historic equivalent of a Nike swoosh. What the study seems to point out is that the void only has space for religion or brand loyalty. Are there examples of individuals that are able to hold the strong belief and frevent brand dedication?

In Shanghai the physical facade of luxury brands this year has risen to five or six stories. Previously the storefront of Gucci or Vuitton and company was a street level layer, they have been rebuilt this year to ornate, almost Islamic style geometric patterning at a huge physical scale. The interesting comparison of weakness of religion and strength of brands in China would be a nice subject of study and dovetails with the study’s conclusions.

The obvious super brand that has the immediate religion elements is Apple. It has a pope, arguably bishops, churches, even cathedrals in some cases (google the shanghai apple flagship store) a priesthood in the trained genuises, and in the iTunes software has an analog for the church service itself, or perhaps confessional. I just turned over the iPad I am writing this on to remind myself of the laser cut representation of original sin on the back. (to further the analogy, no pope can tolerate pornography in his church)

Interesting in this study is the psycho-stencil that we have inside us for fulfillment and the way that branding mirrors what religion discovered centuries ago.



I come from a “poor” family and I have to disagree with your statement. Poor people don’t necessarily lack intelligence. Many are only victims of their social environment. I know plenty of people who are extremely intelligent, but who had to sacrifice their education (at a very early age [5+]) because they had to support their families. There are many other factors at play here besides intelligence. You could be the smartest person in the world, but if you don’t have access to education and other resources, you would still be in that situation. It’s all a cascading effect where lack of one resources, affects your access to other resources, so on and so forth.

School doesn’t make you intelligent! You either have it or you don’t!!

I like your take on this. It’s seems like most people need to be part of something ‘bigger’ than they are to fill that void. Brands are: something that is universal, has millions of followers, social groups follow the same brands… maybe brands are the new religion?

People need their opium…

Apparently :frowning:

I do concur with the study. Brands are the new religion. People swear b(u)y them…And I find that confusing. :confused:

& Ross I love those ‘religious’ logo’s

Just throwing this in to the mix, because it was the first thing i thought of when reading the initial quote.

Sportsfans are just as “passionate” as the religious, just more intoxicated.

It’s a tribal instinct, a need to belong to some kind of group helps with self image and validation, knowing others think and feel the same way. That need will manifest itself in many forms, religion, politics, gangs, exclusive clubs, brand loyalty, groupies, music, etc…

Great thread that I missed.

+1 on everyone needing something to believe in

bngi: I thought of sports teams too.

Urban v. rural: Does anyone have an stats looking at the relation of these factors to the urban / rural divide? It seems to me that brand loyalty and sports fans are mostly an urban development. Religion is rural. Could this be a driving factor?

In fact, it kind of makes sense from a marketing perspective. Brands are driven by ads, buildings and seeing the brand in use. That means walking by an ad, building or someone using the product. That stuff makes sense in a city where I know a large amount of people will run into my ad. Religion is driven by proselytizing. I know a few christian churches that send people to rural areas of South America and Africa to try and get converts. This works when you have a large population of volunteers (the children of your followers) and the means to send them out.