Joanna Lewis, an Associate Consultant in Capgemini's Marketing, Sales and Service practise highlights how the Pope can now be associated with football, heavy metal and ‘bling’. She asks whether religious have to market themselves to be taken notice of in today's society. In the book ‘Brands of Faith’, Mara Einstein argues that religion has become yet another consumer product in the marketplace and faiths of all kinds must compete with a range of more entertaining and convenient leisure activities and the constant barrage of information we receive day to day. In order to be heard, religions have to market themselves. Is Einstein right? I have highlighted three pieces of evidence which go some way to support her case.
The first example is that of celebrities who endorse or are highly associated with a certain religion to the point that religion has become a ‘brand’ of which they are the face. For instance, Kaballah is known as ‘that thing’ Madonna practises, Scientology is most notably associated with Tom Cruise and Sarah Palin is regarded as a figurehead for Conservative Christianity in America. We have all seen these celebrities popping up on the covers of magazines and to a certain extent they have been effective marketing tools for their religions. An interesting question is whether religion needs to become branded to be easily identifyable and taken notice of by consumers in today’s information and image obsessed society? The second example is that religions are now embracing new media. There are a whole host of digital TV channels promoting different faiths e.g. the “GOD Channel”, “Gospel Channel” and even “Ramadan TV”. On the internet we have seen the rise of social networking sites where users can publicise their beliefs. For instance, thousands of Facebook users have joined groups which promote religious messages such as “Proud to be a Jew/ Muslim/ Christian etc.” Is media being used as a marketing tool in which to showcase religion so that it can reach out to a wider audience and maintain relevance to new generations? The third example is the increase in religious merchandising. Consider the Pope’s scheduled visit to England in September. Already promotional products such as football style shirts (half inspired by the England team, half by the Vatican flag), Pope Benedict XVI ‘heavy metal’ t-shirts (that wouldn’t look out of place at a rock concert) and Swarovski bracelets with the event logo have gone on sale to mark the occasion. Never before would I have drawn an association between the Pope and football, heavy metal or ‘bling’. Have these products been intentionally crafted in order to appeal to current consumer tastes and raise awareness of religion in a consumption driven society? Who is driving this religious marketing? Are the religious organisations themselves proactively pushing the celebrity branding, media coverage and merchandising as part of a marketing strategy to widen their appeal or are businesses simply ‘cashing in’ on religion and responding to consumer demand in the marketplace? In my view, it’s clear that religion is evolving to meet the demands of modern society and be heard in an increasingly noisy world. This is almost inevitable. Religious organisations, businesses and consumers alike are each partly responsible for driving this trend. Crucially however, the more religion becomes “yet another consumer product” which needs to be marketed, the more careful religious organisations will need to be about regulating the branding and messaging any marketing will portray so that the religion does not lose its original sense and meaning and retains its true followers.