Brand-olatry

I’m sure you’ve seen lots of these commercials just like this one over the last few years. And laughed. And possibly laughed some more.

Then, when you were done laughing, you maybe cried a little bit (but only on the inside so your coworkers wouldn’t laugh at you) as you went back to work on your PC.

Apple’s been, quite honestly, doing a terrific job making enjoyable, entertaining ads for their computers. Apple computers, after all, are hip and cool, and if you buy one, you too can be saved from the functional hell of using a Windows-based machine (like the—ugh—Dell I’m writing on at this moment; my wife’s on our Mac).

Now, I’ve heard more than one pastor make a clever remark about how the whole Mac vs. PC thing is a form of idolatry. But did you know…

They’re right?

[Insert ominous music here]

buyologyWhere did I learn this (aside from the Bible)? From Martin Lindstrom’s latest book, Buy•ology.

Over the course of a couple years, Lindstrom conducted a series of studies into neur0-marketing—seeking to understand how our brains respond to stimuli and how it affects our purchasing decisions. And, because Lindstrom believes that branding and spirituality are inextricably linked, he wanted to learn whether it was true. So, he set about testing his theory.

What he learned was something quite profound.

A group of sixty-five subjects were first asked to rate their spirituality on a scale from one to ten, with ten being the highest. The majority identified themselves with a devoutness between seven and ten. Over the course of several days, one by one the volunteers were shown a series of images while connected to an fMRI machine (for those not in the know—like me—fMRI stands for “Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging”). These included a bottle of Coke, the Pope, an iPod, a can of Red Bull, Rosary beads, a Ferrari, a church pew, David Beckham and so on.

What they found was very interesting: Stronger brands brought about a greater amount of brain activity involving memory, emotion, decision-making and meaning than weaker brands, which is not terribly surprising. But the doctor then discovered that when “people viewed images associated with strong brands—the iPod, the Harley-Davidson, the Ferrari, and others—their brains registered the exact same patters of activity as they did when they viewed the religious images. Bottom line, there was no discernible difference between the way the subjects’ brains reacted to powerful brands and the way they reacted to religious icons and figures” (pp. 124-125, emphasis mine).

I found reading this absolutely fascinating, as it reminded me of the power of our desire to worship things other other than the Creator who sustains us. Our need to worship is unrelenting, and we all worship something.

So perhaps the next time we’re eyeing a Starbucks while drooling over the latest gadget that Apple has unleashed (I hear there’s a big announcement coming in a couple weeks, by the way), maybe we need to ask ourselves:

Is my Grande, non-fat, no-whip, salted-caramel mocha an idol?

Am I committing brand-olatry?

The answer might surprise you.

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