THE CULTING OF BRANDS: When Customers Become True Believers

Douglas Atkin, Author . Portfolio $24.95 (230p) ISBN 978-1-59184-027-5

Atkin, a strategy director for a New York ad agency, believes the process through which consumer brands build customer loyalty is equivalent to the way religious cults recruit members—and, he says, that's a good thing. To him, cults are little more than well-defined affinity groups engaging in a few activities outsiders find unusual because they believe something different. Yet his superficial consideration of groups like the Unification Church and the Landmark Forum rarely gets into the specifics of those belief systems, instead presenting a fuzzy image of people bonding together to give their lives meaning. (Obvious negative examples, like Waco and Jonestown, are cursorily dismissed as badly managed.) Atkin then takes this broad definition and applies it to the commercial realm, making a reasonable case that Harley riders and Apple users, among others, follow similar behavioral patterns. But he overuses the term "cult" to the point of meaninglessness: it's one thing to compare Marine Corps training to an initiatory ritual, quite another to label eBay or JetBlue customers cult members just because they use the product repeatedly. While little argument can be raised against Atkin's proposition that "few stronger emotions exist than the need to belong and make meaning," more conservative readers may balk at his notion that the decreasing power of our culture's traditional institutions is an opportunity to exploit those emotional drives for profit. Perhaps would-be cult leaders will be able to use Atkin's marketing strategies to repackage themselves for broader mainstream appeal. Agent, Joni Evans. (June 7)

Reviewed on: 05/10/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-1-59184-096-1
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