There are a handful of words in the English dictionary where the very sound of them can make some people anxious. The kind of words that can immediately split a room of close friends into two sides. Religion is one of them. Without talking about my beliefs or discussing the concept of religion, this post is not written to question the purpose of religion but to compare the interesting similarities of marketing and religion.
A lot of people think of marketing or advertising as the act of promoting a type of product or service. They usually think of things like TV commercials, popup ads, and other annoying forms of advertisements. But marketing is not just advertising, marketing is the art of selling an idea or vision, whether it’s to promote a purchase or just to change the way you think about something.
I like to think of advertising as the announcement of promotions and marketing as to the reason you should care about them.
Think of having a lemon juice stand in the middle of the street. The sign next to your booth will be the advertisement that’s telling people that you’re selling lemonade, and the marketing part would be the messaging in the ad. A persuasive hand-written message that will include the statement that freshly squeezed lemonade juice is made out of organic lemons that are ethically harvested and grown under the beautiful California sun, and drinking a cup of the day will not only boost your energy levels but will also enrich your body with the minerals it needs to have a powerful and meaningful day.
Now, you’re asking what any of this has to do with religion? It’s all about the art of persuasion. It’s not always about what we say, but how we say it and how other people react to what we’re saying.
Let’s examine some interesting similarities that religion and marketing have in common.
If you repeat the message, it’s more likely to be believed or accepted.
Have you ever asked yourself why you see the same commercial more than once (sometimes up to three times) during the same commercial break? What is the advertiser trying to achieve? Why spread your budget so thin across one commercial break? If it was your ad and your money, wouldn’t you think it will be more effective if you place that same ad during different times of the day? And you see the same commercial multiple times? Wouldn’t it make more sense to deliver 3 different messages instead of repeating the same annoying ad over and over again?
What about religion? When people practice their religion, how much repetition takes place in saying and reading prayers, How many of the same lines or similar phrases are memorized and said over and over?
Familiarity plays an important part in both religion and marketing. The more you see or hear about something, the more you might feel connected and agree with the message. If you come across a vegan cheese commercial and, in the same commercial, the message would be that eating regular cheese harms the planet and accelerates global warming, guess what I might start believing after seeing the message over and over again?
You guessed right: that it might be true.
As someone who lives mostly on plant-based food, the above example was only to show that we are more likely to make judgemental views on something and less likely to fact check to see if they are true.
Social proof really matters.
In almost every society, you have a small group of people who are different from the mainstream. The ones who do almost everything against the norm. The rest of the people are like most of us, we measure our value and worth through the eye of society by comparing ourselves to other people. It’s a pretty strange way to assess yourself but, since humans are tribal for reasons that are strongly rooted in evolution, society is greater than us and is not under our direct control.
We tend to like, wear, feel, and care about the same things our friends and community does.
Think of the word fashion. What does it mean? The dictionary defines it as a state of popularity among other people. We want to wear things that other people also like to wear. Have you ever thought of how crazy it is that we make our decisions about what we want to wear based on other people’s preferences? Yet, we do it constantly.
In religion, we find a similar concept of social conforming. We typically find people gathering in churches, synagogues, and mosques because these places are created for people to pray together. They are designed to enforce and evaluate your belief and acceptance of the religion because if everyone around you is doing it, your more likely to do it, too. If all your neighbors were ethicists or all were religious, how do you think it will impact your own beliefs?
It’s interesting how the world is divided mostly by religion. Almost every country has a predominant religious group and even when there are minority religious groups, they are extremely united in supporting each other.
The phenomenon of social proofing goes beyond religion and is heavily rooted in the fundamentals of marketing. That’s why you won’t see the same car commercials shown in San Francisco and Texas and you won’t see the same political ads in New York as you would in Nebraska.
People respond best to messages that their friends and community are likely to respond to as well. We, as humans, always want to be part of something bigger. We believe for that to happen, we need to fit into our community. To fit in, we need to be like everyone else.
That’s why perfumes are never advertised without models because you can see what kind of people wear them. We want to be like that person. If you were on a deserted island without anyone around you, you probably wouldn’t care what perfume, shoes or watch you wear because what fun it is if nobody sees you.
It’s never about the facts.
There is no one truth. In fact, the truth never matters.
It’s the story, the romance, the way it makes you feel. How many times you purchased a product and felt like you were sold short? Rarely do we feel like we were over-delivered.
With the body care commercials, food commercials, or products we purchase online rarely do we feel like we got what we paid for. Yet, we fall for the same trick over and over again and rush to believe the next story and click on the next ad.
When we come across the perfect commercial we don’t think rationally or stop to take a second to think, nor do we look for proof. Instead, we’re looking for excitement and actively seeking things that can positively impact our lives.
That’s why we rarely hold advertisers accountable for their ads and accept their white lies and vague promises as acceptable advertising practices.
This type of wholesale acceptance of the message is the same in religion, whereby there are many contradictions between different religious faiths and with science. Contradictions that, when evaluated in-depth, could raise many questions and concerns. However, religious people tend to favor specific parts over others and are willing to accept explanations and reasoning that they might not find acceptable for other subjects.
The point being is when you have a problem or are seeking for answers, cognitively you are willing to accept and settle for explanations more openly than you would if it would be about something that you have no desire for.
We act first and think second.
Religion is a controversial issue, yet there can be similarities between the way people embrace their beliefs and the methods used by advertisers to persuade you. It’s all about stirring up emotions and desire as well as ensuring you fit in with the crowd because you have the latest items. After all, we all want to keep up with the infamous “Joneses” next door who seems to have everything and are happy, aren’t they?
If you think advertising and religion have nothing in common, then think about the die-hard Apple fans and the Cult of Mac in which there is a deep zeal for Mac products, a zeal that is similar to that seen in fundamentalist religious groups. (This isn’t a commentary on Apple not its products, just an observation).
At the end of the day, it’s all about inducement.