Apple: Brand, Cult, or Religion?

According to Martin Lindstrom’s research for his book Buyology, I’m not alone.   I was having a religious experience.  With a hunk of metal and circuitry.

In fact, to our brains, the Apple brand is nearly identical to a religious figure or icon.  In a study Lindstrom conducted with neuroscientist, Dr. Calvert, involving 65 subjects, and a series of images, there was practically no discernible difference in brain activity between strong brands, such as Apple, and religious images.

Weaker brands, in contrast, showed activity in entirely different regions of the brain, while  the strong brands, the “cult” brands, produced increased activity in areas of the brain associated with memory, decision-making, emotion, and religious experience.

What is it about Apple, or other strong iconic brands such as Harley Davidson, Coca-Cola, or Ferrari, that triggers a religious experience?

Lindstrom determined 10 common pillars that all major religions share. No one has confirmed that the below experiences are what correlates to a “religious” brain response, but what the heck, let’s see how Apple squares up:

1. Sense of Belonging – In the video documentary, Macheads, longtime Mac fanatics talk about their early adoption of Mac as a social movement.  They talk about belonging, and needing to band together to share information.

2. A Clear Vision – Steve Job’s original vision for Apple: “Man is the creator of change in this world, as such he should not be above systems and structures, and not subordinate to them.”

3. Power over Enemies – Apple’s ads pitted the Apple user against the PC user, and Microsoft has been scrambling to win back power ever since.

4. Sensory Appeal – Apple transformed the personal computer, and subsequent products, from ugly utilitarian products, to sleek-lined, elegant, and aesthetically appealing, functioning works of art.   The stores are clean and light, with high ceilings.  User interfaces are attractive and user-friendly.  Even the packaging smacks of elegance and luxury.

5. Storytelling – Watching Steve Jobs unveil a new product is very much like watching a master storyteller.

6. Grandeur – From Apple stores to conventions, Apple is all about grandeur.

7. Evangelism – Go ahead.  I dare you.  Just ask a Mac user about their new Iphone, or their new Macbook, and watch evangelism at its finest.

8. Symbols – From the logo, to desktop icons, Apple has nailed symbols.

9. Mystery – Probably one of Apple’s finest marketing techniques is the sense of mystery created around their new products.  By the time a new Apple product actually hits the market, the whole world has already guessed, and speculated, and spread rumors about the product.  Mind you, Apple never confirms, or denies, the rumors.  I always imagine Steve Jobs (His Holiness?) sitting back and chuckling as he watches the world market his products for him, before they are ever even announced.

10. Rituals – Product releases and conventions bring Mac followers out in droves to be part of the rituals of Apple.

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