Billions of Christian believers around the world gathered, virtually or in-person, this past Sunday to celebrate and commemorate the holy resurrection of Jesus Christ. Given our peculiar circumstances, I spent most of the day reflecting deeply on the real meaning of Easter. I also made a very interesting observation between Christianity and many other popular brands.
For many years, people have referred to fans of popular brands as religious, or cult-like followers; buying the brand’s products no matter what and defending the company as if it were their own. I was fascinated by this level of devotion and the connection between branding and religion, so I began exploring it further. I studied the historical and modern actions of the most popular religions and cults, as well as their most devout believers to understand if the term “religious following” could be tied to the behavior of actual followers of a religion.
As a Christian myself, I also debated posting this in fear of offending anyone. At this point, this is merely an observation piece and I welcome your thoughts and feedback. I also believe that once you’re finished reading this article the similarities between the two will become far more clear that Christianity is indeed very much a brand, and the greatest brand in existence today.
Final disclaimer: This is also not a knock on people of a different faith. I point out Christianity because it has the greatest amount of followers worldwide, but these similarities can certainly be applied to almost any religion.
Christians have worn a crucifix around their necks for millennia. This is a symbol to signal their religious beliefs but also as a reminder to live a life as righteous as Christ. As much as some may not like to hear it but the symbol of the cross is a logo.
Much like the use of a logo by its brand, the cross is applied to nearly everything that is labeled as Christian. Look closely and you will find it everywhere from buildings and books, to wearables and tattoos.
One of the hardest jobs we have as brand marketers is getting people to understand that a logo without meaning is merely a worthless graphic. The best logos in the world embody the essence of the brand while remaining simple and instantly recognizable. It’s the deep meaning that makes the cross such a powerful symbol to Christians. However, graphically it’s not very different from the simplicity and iconic appeal of the Nike Swoosh. I would argue that some athletes have the same intense feels looking at the swoosh as some Christians do when seeing the cross.
The most popular brands in the world have the strongest belief in their values. Often referred to as love, purity, and forgiveness, these are the ideals that guide Christians all over the globe. According to Forbes, Apple is ranked as the most valuable brand in America; it has attracted 1.3 billion users on the back of its values of creativity, innovation, and challenging the status quo. However, these statistics pale in comparison to the 2.2 billion followers of Christ, making Christianity the largest religion, and by far the most popular brand, in history.
The biography of Jesus is the most notable and recognized story of all time. In fact, you don’t need to be of Christian faith to know the story of Christ. If you turn on your television last week, I guarantee there were at least a couple of networks playing the story of Jesus.
A powerful story is not only memorable, but it creates a consistent direction for a brand as well. If we look at the story behind Starbucks Coffee, we find the fable of coffee’s journey overseas into the port of Seattle. This lore inspired Howard Schultz to name the company after the first mate aboard the Pequod in the famous novel Moby Dick. The Siren may be known to be the loudest mythical creature of the sea, but it seems rather quiet in comparison to the 5 billion-plus bibles sold since 1815.
Christianity was formed around the values and life of Jesus of Nazareth, the immaculately conceived carpenter who lead a life of miraculous healing and righteousness. Many other brands also originate from the story of their founder, but sometimes the brand ambassador is merely a preacher of those brand values mentioned in point number 2.
Steve Jobs has been revered as the visionary of innovation and the single most important reason behind the success of Apple today. Even after his death, Apple evangelists still sing his praises. At one point, Jobs was begged to return to Apple, by the same board who ousted him years prior, only to resurrect a dying brand.
Much like Apple without Jobs, a brand cannot make it through hardships without a sense of purpose. TOMS shoes gained popularity by giving away footwear to people in third-world countries who didn’t own a pair already. They built a brand on charity and selflessness. On a significantly larger scale, Christians believe that Jesus’s life purpose was to teach people the word of God and lead humanity to an everlasting life of salvation into the kingdom of heaven.
Good brand messaging is always clear, concise, and coherent. God sent us his only son to teach us how to treat each other and enter the gates of heavy. Jesus kept the lessons simple, easy to understand, and spread the good word through his disciples. Billions of practicing Christians still continue to create awareness. Much like Christianity, brands cannot continue to exist without new followers and consistent messaging. In today’s world brands have billboards, radio, television, and social media to get their message out into the world.
You can say it until you’re blue in the face, but words don’t matter unless they’re followed by action. In today’s digitally savvy world, people are much harder to fool by marketing. Despite the plethora of commercials broadcasted by McDonald’s promoting “healthier options,” we all know that a McD burger can sit in a box for over 3 years without decomposing or any sign of mold because of the viral power of social media. I’d venture to bet that Christianity wouldn’t have withstood the test of time had Jesus not abided by his own words.
Christianity is all about the ‘F word’. Now, you might be thinking “faith” but I’m referring to feelings. Much like people, brands are empty without emotion. The feelings tied to a brand are the main reasons why people gravitate toward it. Customers pay more for Tiffany jewelry because it makes them feel special. Without the transfer of these feelings Tiffany’s jewelry would be no different than the jewelry you can buy at Walmart. What would Christianity be if it didn’t make you feel closer to God?
A brand’s architecture, interior, and website should be cohesive with the rest of the brand. The Chipotle brand touts additive-free, non-GMO, natural ingredients. Similarly so, their restaurants use natural and unrefined finishes; wooden tables, aluminum wall covering, and concrete floors. Christianity also uses architecture and design to properly create an on-brand experience in the Church. Stained glass, religious iconography, and an altar at the focal point set the tone for this place of spirituality.
Every brand should have a ‘brand standards guide.’ The most thorough guides are the best guides. These guidelines are created to ensure that the brand always looks, sounds, and acts in line with the original brand standards and values. Similarly so, the Bible was created to share the story of Jesus and keep us on track through parables and commandments.
Someone will be in touch very soon.