Religious branding

Dearly beloved, are you still on the path towards God? Paths aplenty, I’d say. In this BLA we’ll be talking about the church as a brand and we’ll be covering her divine marketing plan. The churches are emptying out, but the sales figures are on the rise…


A pop star pope

The Catholic Church has the pope as its main messenger. Perhaps unknowingly, the church creates a pop star with millions of followers across the globe. He used to be a demi-god, now he’s more of a cult figure. What’s the difference between The Vatican and Graceland, really? Well, for one thing: every new pope that takes up residence causes a worldwide hype. Now that’s a marketing strategy with a future. The pope’s old house is rented out at an ungodly prices, his car is sold on eBay for God knows how much…

The Catholic church has its standard symbols: the ringing of the church bells and the associated feelings of home and family are important to many of its followers. The church’s viewpoints on divorce, sex before marriage and prophylactics however, continue to be divisive and controversial, making it hard for them to recruit younger members. Using limited resources, the church tries to maintain its ‘client base’ and attract new fledglings as much as possible.

The Dutch Protestant church was awarded for their ads in the Sunday papers, saying ‘all of our branches open on Sunday’. And its Roman Catholic brethren aren’t far behind. Believers are able to receive a prayer-related text message every day during fasting. All revenues from these text messages go to charity. Nice one! The ‘Catholic ringtones’ are built on the same premise.

European churches are on the edge of a major marketing expansion. The US church communities have been using ads and slogans to draw in the church crowds for quite some time, now.

Old faith, new robes

Even the fashion world is helping the church brand expand. For years, religious symbols were considered to be taboo amongst younger people. The past few decades, crucifixes and Godly wisdom has been absorbed by both emerging and fading trends. Clothes bearing religious prints, plastic rosaries, a customised iPod … Religion has become a consumer good. A French fashion staple re-created the Last Supper with women, milking it for its last ounce of controversial potential. The Christian and Catholic Church may be built on solid (hallow) ground; a marketing plan is still very much needed. How does He see the future unfolding? (Or should we say: She?)

Jesus lives! (Again!)

Does the church need big advertising budgets to promote itself? Many churchgoers don’t think so. Who needs a complicated marketing plan when Jesus himself is making monthly appearances? These kinds of miracles are mainly popular in North- and South-America. Jesus has made appearances on a car door, a Polish pastry, toast and a shower cabin. NASA even managed to photograph the eye of God. Every time a miraculous appearance occurs, the press picks up the story and carries it across the planet for weeks. The ultimate question of the existence of God is raised and the craziest theories are quick to claim their fifteen minutes of fame.

Conversion has become easier and more widespread than ever. Christians are picking up copies of the Koran and Kabbalah is popular among the stars. The Hindus pray to Krishna, the Buddhists to … Richard Gere? The religion market is expanding and old values are challenged by the new and exotic. The ‘new kids on the church block’ are using contemporary brand strategies to recruit for ‘their’ beliefs.


The word ‘scientology’ means ‘study of the truth’. It is based on a book called ‘Dianetics’, published in 1950. More than 20 million copies have been sold since. The author of the book is L. Ron Hubbard. He and his followers believe in the achievability of a perfect humanity with eternal life, no more problems, endless happiness, a more positive ‘state of mind’ and spiritual freedom.

According to Scientology, man can be divided into three major parts: the individual, the mind and the body. Using an ‘electrometer’, they track down your spiritual hang-ups. Once those have been located, you are ready for a (secret and expensive) cure. Once all humans have been cured, there will be no more wars, insanity or cruelty left. In Belgium and in most European countries, Scientology is considered a sect. But this is changing. Their big ad campaigns on TV and the Internet, their high-profile lawsuits and celebrity members are pulling in a lot of new members. Mother and daughter Presley, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Sharon Stone have all been connected to the church of Scientology. These stars are considered trendsetters by many, so they have some serious pulling power for the emerging religion. Of course, many have already abandoned ‘their’ church after the hype died down and the scandals started piling up. Ricky Martin, Charles Manson, Gloria Gaynor and Jerry Seinfeld all abandoned ship. The church has an establishment in Brussels, but despite their aggressive recruiting style, the Belgians and Dutch seem hardly convinced by L. Ron Hubbard’s style. The rest of the world, meanwhile …

Does the church need a marketing strategy? Should priests be educated in the illustrious fields of marketing and brand strategy? The church still needs followers to survive. New ‘churches’ will come and go, but the belief in a higher power never seems to die down. Neither will commercialisation, by the way. Selling off bits of your religion has done the church a world of good, really. The young will stay in touch with their spiritual side, while the church keeps in touch with a new generation of spiritual shoppers.