The Gospel of Nike, Microsoft and Disney

Brands Are the New Religion, Ad Agency Says

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LONDON, MAR. 5, 2001 ( From an industry not known for understatement, comes a new boast: Belief in consumer brands has replaced religious faith as the thing that gives purpose to people´s lives.

«Brands are the new religion. People turn to them for meaning,» the ad agency Young & Rubicam declared, according to a recent report in The Financial Times.

In heady language, the agency said: «The brands that are succeeding are those with strong beliefs and original ideas. They are also the ones that have the passion and energy to change the world, and to convert people to their way of thinking though outstanding communications.»

Young & Rubicam´s cheeky claim follows a report last year from Fitch, the London design consultancy, that also deified consumer brands. Fitch said many people flocked to Ikea instead of church on Sundays. Since 1991, it added, 12,000 people had been married at Walt Disney World, and it was becoming common in the United States for Harley-Davidson motorcycle aficionados to be buried in Harley-branded coffins, the Financial Times said.

Young & Rubicam suggested that today´s brand builders could be compared to the missionaries who spread Christianity and Islam around the world.

«It was the passion with which they communicated those beliefs that led to people responding in their millions, because the religions were based on powerful ideas that gave meaning and purpose to life,» said Jim Williams, the ad agency´s European strategy director.

In the same way, Y&R said, the most successful brands today were those that stood not just for quality and reliability but for a set of beliefs that they refused to compromise.

The agency named Calvin Klein, Gatorade, Ikea, Microsoft, MTV, Nike, Virgin, Sony Playstation and Yahoo! as examples of uncompromising «belief brands.» Paradoxically, Nike is the subject of controversy over labor practices in its subcontractors´ Third World factories.

The Anglican Church said Y&R´s findings were «good news» if they meant companies would come under more pressure to incorporate social responsibility into their brand values, the Financial Times reported. The Anglicans also pointed out that the Christian faith had one of the oldest and most recognized branding devices in the world, in the cross.

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