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Brands are new religion, says advertising agency

Belief in consumer brands has replaced religious faith as the thing that gives purpose to people’s lives, according to one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies.

“Brands are the new religion. People turn to them for meaning,” declared Young & Rubicam as it announced its latest league table of global consumer brands.

“The brands that are succeeding are those with strong beliefs and original ideas. They are also the ones that have the passion and energy to change the world, and to convert people to their way of thinking through outstanding communications.”

Y & R’s claim follows a report last year from Fitch, the London design consultancy, that also deified consumer brands. Fitch said many people flocked to Ikea instead of church on Sundays. Since 1991, it added, 12,000 people had been married at Walt Disney World, and it was becoming common in the US for Harley-Davidson motorcycle aficionados to be buried in Harley-branded coffins.

Y & R said today’s brand builders could be compared to the missionaries who spread Christianity and Islam around the world.

“It was the passion with which they communicated those beliefs that led to people responding in their millions, because the religions were based on powerful ideas that gave meaning and purpose to life,” said Jim Williams, Y & R’s European strategy director.

In the same way, Y & R said, the most successful brands today were those that stood not just for quality and reliability but for a set of beliefs that they refused to compromise.

The agency named Calvin Klein, Gatorade, Ikea, Microsoft, MTV, Nike, Virgin, Sony Playstation and Yahoo! as examples of uncompromising “belief brands”. Paradoxically, Nike is the subject of controversy over labour practices in its subcontractors’ factories overseas.

The Church of England said Y & R’s findings were “good news” if they meant companies would come under more pressure to incorporate social responsibility into their brand values. It also said that the Christian faith had one of the oldest and most recognised branding devices in the world, in the form of the cross.

Y & R’s league table measured brand strength, defined as a combination of growth potential and favourable perception. The agency questioned 45,444 adults and teens in 19 countries.

The top 10 brands were Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, Nike, BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Adidas, Rolls-Royce, Calvin Klein and Rolex.

“Financial Times” 2001