When you stick a big Apple fan in an fMRI machine and show him Apple images, his brain lights up in the same areas associated with religious belief. And, according to a BBC TV show, one of the scientists associated with that study proclaims, “big tech brands have harnessed, or exploit, the brain areas that have evolved to process religion.” A typical example of the press coverage of this is this article from CNN.com: Apple triggers ‘religious’ reaction in fans’ brains, report says

This doesn’t merit a whole lot of discussion, but it’s worth a mention because of the press coverage it’s getting. Comparing Apple to a religion, and Steve Jobs to a Messianic figure, is simple and irresistible for the mainstream press.

First, I don’t doubt the fact that Apple “true believers” exhibit religious fervor. They evangelize for Apple, they demonize the (evil) competition, and reject even the mildest, most objective criticism as heresy. If you have any doubt, read the comments on my post, Revealed: How Steve Jobs Turns Customers into Fanatics.

Second, I don’t think that Apple (or any other brand) has found the secret to push some kind of “religion button” in the brain. It’s enticing to fantasize about how powerful that would be, but, like the rest of our brain processes, forming a religious belief is far to complex to accomplish with some clever ads.

Having said that, I think the point I made in my earlier post about Apple’s rivalry strategy does have parallels to organized religion. Religious fervor is often intensified when there is an enemy that can be demonized. The focus on the external threat and emphasizing the differences between the two groups solidifies the faith of the believers. For decades, Apple has exploited this technique, and its true believers spread the message with unrelenting zeal.

Sadly for marketers who want to be like Apple, though, their hunt for the religion button will be futile.