Branding: Steve Jobs Versus Jesus?

Steve Jobs versus Jesus

The Apple logo on a laptop or phone may evoke the same feelings for some people as a crucifix or Star of David pendant does for others, suggests research by Tel Aviv University, Duke University and New York University scientists. According to their research, brands are a form of self-expression and a token of self-worth, just like symbolic expressions of one’s faith.

Considerable statistical evidence supports the theory that consumers buy particular brands to express who they are to the outside world. From clothing choices to cultural events, people communicate their personalities and values through their purchases.

To better understand the relationship between religiosity and brand reliance in the U.S., the university research team conducted field and lab experiments, reported In the field study, they collected data on the number of major-brand stores (e.g. Apple, Macy’s and Gap) per capita and correlated this with the number of religious congregations per thousand people, as well as with individuals who reported frequent attendance at church. Adjusting for economic, educational and urbanization factors, the team found a negative correlation between religiousness and brand choice.

In the lab experiment the college students were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to write a short essay about what religion means to them personally, while the second group wrote a more casual essay about their day. Both groups then participated in a simulated shopping experience that offered both national and store brands, including items such as sunglasses, fashion accessories, batteries and pain reliever medications. This was coupled with an Internet study, in which over 300 participants were asked to write about their religious practices and then went through the same simulated shopping experience. reported: “Researchers discovered that those participants who wrote about their religion prior to the shopping experience were less likely to pick national brands when it came to products linked to appearance or self-expression ― specifically, products which reflected status, such as fashion accessories and items of clothing. For people who weren’t deeply religious, corporate logos often took the place of religious symbols like a crucifix or Star of David, providing feelings of self-worth and wellbeing.”

So if you’re a brand manager, you might want to study the demographics of your markets in a different way, noted Duke University’s Gavan Fitzsimons: “If you knew that your target customers were largely more religious, that’d probably suggest the store brand path would be easier. If you knew that your customers were largely not at all religious, that suggests that you might want to focus more toward building a national brand.”

Brand Loyalty

Apple Religion Cartoon by Webcopyplus

The study reinforces the need for companies to clearly communicate who they are and what they stand for. A strong brand forges an emotional connection with desired audiences (for more, read Building Your Online Brand With Words). This is in large part why customers defend companies like Google and Apple so fanatically. As humans, we want to belong to a community. Some follow Jesus — others follow Steve Jobs.

Next, the researchers hope to clarify how the relationship between advertising and religion affects branding in international markets, considering whether a strong religious presence in a particular geographical area might block the expansion of brands.

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