‘Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder’ is not a quote by a philosopher, but by a victim of good marketing. It’s an art that holds the strings to your perception. It is what makes you shell out ₹250 for a Starbucks coffee, while you try really hard to convince yourself that the ice-diluted frappe, with your name on it, is not really just the non-fancy cold-coffee that your Mom makes at home!
Let’s assume in this post that religion is good, it’s fantastic. But is that enough? Religion has existed for hundreds of years and has nearly all the world convinced of its greatness. Think about it! If religion is a company trying to grow its customer base even with the best product in the world, how do the customers know it’s the best product in the world? Just because the company says so? But every company trying to sell anything would say so, wouldn’t it? Religion is the best marketer there ever has been. Even good things (as we have assumed) need to be marketed. Religion provides an excellent case study for marketing excellence.
Like in the previous post, attaining/pleasing/praying/reaching God is the service religion provides to you. Let’s see why religion is extremely hard to market:
- No verifiable proof of gain: Will praying to God make me happier in life? I prayed to God for half my life, am I happy now? Has he redeemed me of my sins? If so, how do I know he has? It’s like someone trying to sell a specially prepared cake to you, with a flavour not known to man yet. To taste this flavour you need certain taste buds that humans are not born with. Yet, this person claims that it’s not tasteless, it’s just an unimaginably good flavour.
- No correlation between quantity consumed (time spent praying) and potential gain: How much happy will I get per unit time spent praying? It’s like asking a grocery shopkeeper how much you should pay for 5 Kgs of Apples, and he telling you to pay as much as you can in return of as many apples as he wishes to give you.
But religion is smart. Here’s how it tackled these problems:
- It’s always you: If you are happy, successful or lucky it is because God was pleased with you. Remember the time you were late to class but your teacher was even more late? There. If you are not happy, say your teacher gave you a hard time, it means that you didn’t pray enough, didn’t follow the moral code (more later) closely enough.
- It will happen when it will happen: If you remain good and pray, God will be happy and he will make you happy in turn. Questioning whether he will actually make you happy makes you not good, which makes him not happy, which in turn makes you also not happy. “Bhagwaan ke ghar der hain, andher nahi” (God might take his time, but he will deliver) Therefore, keep availing religion’s service without question.
- Fear Mechanism: If you do not avail this service, not only would you miss out on the benefits of becoming happy by God, you will also be subject to miseries and sadness. Don’t believe us? Remember once your toe bumped into the chair? There.
- Social Compulsions: The final push. You go to Starbucks because it has a high social value. It’s symbolic of your status and high living. Similarly, religious persons have been made to be the good people of society. And it’s good to be good. “You don’t follow your religion? You must be an immoral, rebellious brat.” Sounds familiar? This is also what makes it a self-sustaining model of marketing.
- Mandatory entry: You become a consumer by birth. You can’t even choose which religion. This is also a way in which different religions like oligopolists coordinate their output policies (read spread of supply) though again just like oligopolists they cheat this agreement at times (read: conversions)
Let’s consider the marketing mix of religion. Any product/service is sold to its customers in exchange with something that the seller wants, the price. Here are the four P’s of religion:
- Product: Like before, attaining/pleasing/praying/reaching God.
- Price: This is the real reason why religion exists- To get their price. Their price is you following the norms and the moral code they have set out. You’ll only get God if you follow the religious rules. If you remember from part 1, God and religion aren’t really the same thing. Religion wants society to be as it wants it to be.
- Place: It’s distributors include god-men, priests and your devout uncle. Institutionally, it is dispensed at places of worship like temples, churches and mosques.
- Promotion: Branding and advertising works the same way as grass grows (as I read somewhere). You never actually see it grow, but soon enough you have an entire field covered with grass. The same happens inside your head through advertising. Why do you think companies like Coca-Cola spend so much in advertising even today? Presumably everyone knows what coke is. I’ll let you think over this. Advertising is about constantly reinforcing the brand, creating a permanent resonance in the customer’s mind. Here’s how religion brands and advertises:
- Brand reinforcement:
- Hymns: Remember singing along with the Mauka Mauka ads? Well, religion started doing it much before. #thuglife
- Advertising requires identifying the places with the maximum eyes on it and putting up brand reinforcers at those places. Therefore the more viewership a TV show has, the more ads it trouble you with. Religion from those days itself started identifying such places. Where was human attention most likely to be in the olden times? Human civilisations came up around rivers. Therefore almost all rivers became holy. To capture the river completely as its own, rivers became a way of washing away your sins. (Yeah? So why put prisoners into jails when simply mass-bathing in rivers can do the trick?) Similarly mountains, trees, sun, moon, the positioning of the sun and the moon- all became religion reinforcers to create a strong brand presence. They continuously remind you of God and religion so that you keep availing religion’s services.
Some of these advertising strategies become irrelevant since times change. Therefore, why you cannot cut you hair on Tuesdays is a mystery. Yet, they carry on through the ages. This is the power of advertising. Check out the first five minutes of this video to understand why that happens: Brain Games
And tell me if these strategies haven’t worked? Religion is a great marketer. This post assumed religion is good. In a scenario where it isn’t, this marketing might be a dangerous thing. You can add to the list of strategies if you can identify more, in the comments.
Read the last part of this series here: Religion and You
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