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The cult of consumerism

How consumers bind together to religiously worship a (sometimes deceased) brand

University of Chicago Press Journals

Everything that is crucial to religion--shared values and beliefs, community interactions, storytelling, and an acceptance of the supernatural--can also be found in the worship by consumers of many marginal brands to hit the marketplace, propose Albert Muñiz, Jr. (DePaul University) and Hope Jensen Schau (Temple University) in their published in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Our findings reveal something about the nature of the types of brands that foster brand communities. Clear examples of brand communities have been found in cars (Bronco, Jeep, Saab, Volkswagen), computers (Macintosh, Newton) and even science-fiction (Star Trek, Star Wars, Xena: Warrior Princess, X-Files). All of these brand communities have been demonstrated to be capable of producing transformative experiences in their consumers and all have traces of magic, religion or the supernatural," write the authors.

The researchers examined the intense relationship that certain groups of consumers forge not only with a specific brand but also with each other. As a result of this research, Muñiz and Schau argue that the true underlying principle of this behavior stems from "followers" of a brand demonstrating cult-like worship--a consumer culture driven form of modern religion. In particular, for this study they focused on the now defunct brand, the Apple Newton.

"The consumers of the forsaken Apple Newton brand are now charged with the responsibility for the entire brand-sustaining experience: modifying, repairing, and innovating the product, writing brand promotions and performing the brand experience," the authors explain. "As part of this brand performance, they engage in consumer-to-consumer narrative interactions that bind the community together and reify its values and beliefs. Supernatural, religious, and magical motifs are common in these stories, including the miraculous performance and survival of the brand, as well as the return of the brand creator. We see traditional religious stories, players, and parts played out in the marketplace."


Religiosity in the Abandoned Apple Newton Brand Community. By ALBERT M. MUÑIZ, JR. and HOPE JENSEN SCHAU. © 2005 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. - Vol. 31 - March 2005

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