The Culting of Entertainment Brands

The Culting of Entertainment Brands

I’m fascinated by the way some people become fiercely loyal to certain entertainment properties. Their dedication is cult-like. The marketing guru Douglas Atkin, in his book The Culting of Brands, has a similar fascination with brand loyalists. He thought, why not study real cults?

It turns out that people become addicted to cult brands for more or less the same reasons that people become committed to cults like the Moonies. And that companies cultivate unshakable allegiance through the same basic techniques as those used by, say, Hare Krishna.

Asks The Culting of Brands: Does this make these companies unethical? Or have they simply found a way to attract and retain customer evangelists through the power of brand messages that say, “being part of my brand is being part of something special.” We all know these brands: Apple, Harley Davidson, Prada. Of course, it helps that their products are good, but is their marketing even better?

Ignoring the all-too-obvious link between Tom Cruise and Scientology, how can entertainment and digital brands capitalize on this approach? How can you use cult-building to your advantage?

Piggyback on existing fan communities:

  • Ebay is a cult that latched onto preexisting communities of collectors, co-opting the collectors wherever they congregated

Lurk and listen:

  • Lost producers used the web as an online audience focus group and took storylines in new directions and to new levels of complexity because of fan support

Launch and let go:

  • Second Life lets users create their own economies and democracies, rewarding both fans and shareholders

Absorb: Absorb competitive ideas into your own organization; co-opt the best ideas out there and make them your own — or just go whole hog and buy the company:

Cult yourself: Launch your own cult; establish a separate entity with its own theology and devoted followers and invest in it so that it steals share from newcomers:

Let the cult find you: Release something that you are passionate about and revel in the results; like-minded people are out there:

Love bomb: Overwhelmingly celebrate individuals who engage with your productions; give them their 15-minutes of fame:

It turns out that all of these approaches are practiced by the best cults. I believe that the accessibility of the Internet makes cult-building that much easier.

  • The doors are always open
  • The participation is global
  • The search engines promote you, and
  • The shared passions multiply

Of course, if you don’t want to be your cult’s guru, no worries. Fans will happily anoint one of their own.