Monday, April 6, 2009

Brain-scanning the Christians

At AdAge today, a new video about a bizarre experiment in which Martin Lindstrom of Buyology scanned the brains of people of religious faith while exposing them to a mix of images of their faith and images from leading consumer brands to determine the extent to which the psychological drivers of brand loyalty and religious belief overlap. The video is worth the three-minute viewing just for the segment about the earnest young English Catholic fellow being pulled into the MRI for his Clockwork Orange mindfuck montage of Rolexes and rosaries and Mother Theresa and dudes on Harleys and communion wafers and Amex Gold cards.

The results? Turns out the leading "cult" brands like Ferrari, Harley-Davidson and Guinness highly correlate with the world's great religions in the following sentiments of their believers:

A sense of belonging - 85%
A clear vision - 82%
Power from enemies - 74%
Sensory appeal - 89%
Storytelling - 79%
Grandeur - 88%
Evangelism - 93%
Symbols - 92%
Mystery - 74%
Rituals - 90%

In contrast, weaker brands produce much lower correlations. Marks like KFC, AT&T, Microsoft and BP yielded scores in the 30% range.

Lindstrom suggests this gives marketers an idea of what the successful characteristics of the brands of the future will look like. I am immediately reminded of Michael Burleigh's amazing recent history of The Third Reich, that freshly confronts Nazism as a messianic totalitarian religious faith, and the lessons of what happens when a quasi-religious political movement gets a good branding strategy. I am perhaps not as interested as what the messianic *consumer* marketing brands will be in the future (which may after all be a post-consumer (and definitely post-AdAge) economy. What it really makes me wonder is how the advancements of consumer marketing (yes, roll over Philip K. Dick, Madison Avenue is actually scanning our brains to divine how to commercialize our religious yearnings) will impact the development of organized religion and political brands. If Obama is our Pepsi-branded secular messiah, what happens when the image makers have this kind of data to work with? Thank God the "mass media" is dying before they can go to the next level in manipulating us as a mass...


Dave Hardy said...

You restore my faith in the posibilities of SF with posts like this. I tried to start a discussion of fascist aesthetics on an SF board I infrequently visit. I had a rather cold reception (with some exceptions), some folks didn't even think there was such a thing as a fascist aethetic, let alone one in SF. Yikes.

RE Consumerist-Fascism, I used to think that when Laibach turned inane Western pop into Fascist anthems, it was a snarky shot at the music industry. But now I tend to think that a depoliticized, vacuous culture opens some space for totatlitariansism in a "return of the repressive."

Keep up the flow of exciting ideas!

Christopher Brown said...

Thanks, Dave! I am overdue to read Ballard's most recent novel, Kingdom Come, which was an exploration of precisely this topic of fascist consumerism (or consumerist fascism). You may want to check that out.