Where Brain Science and Marketing Meet

Apple Fanboy = Religious Fanatic?

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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.

9 Comments
  1. Jennifer (Verilliance)
    Twitter: verilliance
    says

    Curious, is the BBC documentary citing the same studies as Martin Lindstrom in Buyology? Or were there new studies done? I wrote about this from Lindstrom’s book even though it had to be taken with a grain of salt considering the source. http://www.verilliance.com/2010/01/26/apple-brand-cult-or-religion/

    It’s true, most businesses won’t be able to come near to inspiring this kind of reaction in their customer-base, but a few will. Those luxury brands that create products that in themselves inspire awe by their design and usability, creating an exclusive “in” crowd who “gets” it (thereby creating the “other” by which the boundaries of the group are established), etc.

    Apple is a fascinating study in branding, and I’m in no hurry to see Steve Jobs leave, but I am intensely curious if Apple will be able to hold on to what they have without him at the pulpit.

  2. Roger Dooley
    Twitter: rogerdooley
    says

    I shouldn’t say this the day before the Rapture, but the Messianic Steve Jobs leaving might be no problem for Apple. Christianity didn’t go global until after You Know Who left the scene… 😉

    Roger

  3. Mani says

    I entirely agree. I studied their marketing approaches and their fan-base in action and the “evangelical” approach is named that for a reason.

  4. Jennifer (Verilliance)
    Twitter: verilliance
    says

    @Roger, lol. True.

  5. Mehernosh Malia says

    one dimension of religion is it exists exclusively in a worshippers belief system (u usually are not a fanatic worshipper of two religions at the same time)… the question to be asked is — can the so called “religion” button be pressed twice in a person’s lifetime ? if a person is an “apple fanatic” would it be possible for him to show the same “faith” simultaneously in another brand .,,, and do these brand “worshippers” have a weak belief in their actual religions …. and does this mean that individuals who have a strong (almost fanatic) belief in their actual religions are more difficult to convert to brand worshippers ?

    1. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      That’s a very interesting question, Mehernosh. Can a person hold multiple fervent religion-like commitments at one time? I think the answer is yes, though there is likely a limit at which these commitments lessen in individual intensity. It’s easy to imagine, for example, a religiously devout person who’s also a huge fan of a college sports team. Some sports fans may have strong commitments to, say, a college team and a pro team, although I think it doubtful that many would approach the “fanatic” level for both (e.g., attending games in costume or painted in the team’s colors). You may be right – the stronger the commitment to one, the weaker the commitment to any others.

      Roger

  6. Cheater Butler
    Twitter: TheButlerCo
    says

    Ok, I have a Blackberry, Iphone, Ipad, Kindle and an office full of Dells. Just call me… Pi

  7. Wes Man says

    Religion is a vast topic indeed.
    Considering the all said (posted) and the response on the topic, there is meeting points between marketing and religion. A strong bond can be created.

    I wonder, is the non-common assertive person, susceptible to such fanatical behavior to a topic, compared to average masses (no offense is meant here)?

    What I mean is, the most smart people and mentors I know, are very agnostic in their way of seeing things. For example, they might have affinity to certain object or topic and invest a lot in it, but by no means they will identify themselves as “them”.

    I’ll stop since it’s getting way over the topic 🙂

  8. Robin Jennings
    Twitter: explainafide
    says

    I couldn’t agree more with the findings from the study.

    I have several associates that are true Apple fanatics- they are all highly educated, have anti-big business tendencacies but when the word Apple is mentioned they have the warm glow of a new mother about them.

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