If spirituality is to be the defining trend of the 21st century, as a host of best-selling contemporary business books have argued, then marketing needs to rise to the challenge.
Marketers can no longer shy away from it. We’re at the threshold of another quantum leap in the business, one where creatives will harness the transformational power of magic – and not a wand in sight.
Love it or loathe it, artificial intelligence is here to stay, and our sense of identity and self-worth is taking a battering, so embracing the spiritual may part of be our salvation.
When professor Stephen Hawking professed to believe that “some form of intelligence” was behind the creation of the universe, a lot of his peers thought he’d lost his marbles.
Was the scientist with a brain the size of our planet really saying he believes in a higher being? Time to retire, some said.
Hawking had been speaking at Cambridge University about his brother’s near-death experience. His sibling said he had seen the existence of a sentient being that we mortals are blind to, and that had led Hawking to question his understanding of scientific principles.
The multi-award winning physicist was quick to point out he didn’t mean we were all just planted here by some man in the clouds and left to get on with it. No, this is intelligence that’s all around us. He calls it the 'God Factor' and his thinking runs contrary to conventional physics.
Think of us as individual particles in one living organism, swimming around and interacting as part of this intelligence. Disney would call it 'The Circle of Life'.
Never mind AI, what about HI? What if this national treasure struck gold and there is a higher intelligence at work? And what if that intelligence applies to marketing just as much as it does to science and our daily lives?
If marketing is going to change the world somehow, then surely our human role must involve more than flicking a switch on the AI device that self-authors articles for newspapers, and creates content for TV and social media?
We need to understand and the complex relationship that exists between markets, commodities, spirituality, religion, identity, and branding.
Appropriating the occult
In 2008, the father of modern marketing, Philip Kotler, told the London Business Forum that when it comes to brand management, brands that have traditionally looked for mind and heart share, must now add spirit share into the mix to be successful.
Experts agree the most effective marketing campaigns create a cult around the brand, stimulate a flurry of DIY activity for fans. A great example right now is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour campaign, which has captured a social media zeitgeist and has the Tories in a spin.
But despite the advice contained in popular management books on how to create brand cults and ‘turn customers into believers’ (Atkin, 2004; Ragas and Bueno, 2002), marketing academics like Elife Izberk-Bigin have only recently started to unpack the processes involved in brands’ co-option of religious ideologies.
So much for a cult. How about the occult in modern marketing? I use the word in its purest sense, meaning knowledge of the hidden, of that which lies beyond the realm of human comprehension.
Assuming there is indeed another realm, is it possible to engage with it and benefit from it? After all, that urge to influence the unseen is why read our daily horoscopes. We can tell ourselves it’s 'just for fun', but we secretly hope there might be something in it.
Throughout history, the great and the good have engaged with the 'hidden realms'. Queen Elizabeth I consulted psychics, spiritual séances were also held for Napoleon III and his empress by Daniel Dunglas Home, a Scottish medium and a clairvoyant of the 19th century. Noted genius Albert Einstein believed in the power of psychics and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair regularly consulted spiritual advisers and psychics.
This century has kicked off with a marked trend toward spirituality. Hollywood films such as The Truman Show, The Matrix, Avatar and even The Devil Wears Prada all are based on Joseph Campbell's seminal work on the hero's journey toward spiritual transformation.
It’s not just reflected in films, pop culture is full of it from the late David Bowie to Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy but what is fact and what is fiction? We’re not talking about waving magic wands here, much as I’d love to cast the odd spell, Hogwarts-style.
There’s a space in the place where magic meets science, where we can create the perfect environment for what we want to flourish. Here’s where the magic cauldron sits, waiting for the right ingredients to make the marketer’s perfect storm.
Top of the list is a comprehensive understanding of every element that makes up the whole. It calls for a forensic examination and understanding of the sum of all a brand’s parts, warts and all.
No turning a blind eye to what’s uncomfortable or what you don’t like. It may hurt to see everything in your brand stripped down and laid out before you, but, raw as it may make you, there’s no place for the modern culture of distraction here. You are meeting your maker.
The God factor
All marketing activity, all databases are designed to be able to predict and control human behaviour. But the God Factor takes hold once you release the reins and let go of the quest for control.
The trick is to take your foot off the pedal and stop pushing.
Joe Vitale outlined how to do it back in 2001 in his book Spiritual Marketing, penning a list of steps you need to take to manifest your desires from a deeply rich and rewarding place. They are:
- Know What You Don’t Want
- Select What You Would Like to Be, Do or Have
- Get Clear.
- Feel How Exciting It Would Feel To Have Be or Do What You Want
- Let Go.
It’s what some people call luck, as Richard Branson once said: “Anyone who wants to make the effort to work on their luck can and will seriously improve it.” However, success is nonlinear: we can’t know how something will turn out at its outset. Not even Google can predict how employees will perform at the point of hire.
As David Lee observes, the savviest entrepreneurs cooperate with the unpredictability. When Jeff Bezos is talking about going down “blind alleys” that turn into “broad avenues,” he’s really talking about exploring unproven trajectories can yield high-flying business – like Amazon Web Services, the cloud arm that’s now eclipsing bookselling in sales.
You could say that Bezos is lucky, but it might be more accurate to say that he’s co-operating with chance.
The same goes for viral campaigns. They take planning, strategy - and a fair amount of good luck. In the social media world, there’s no way to ensure success. All you can do is launch a great idea where it has a good chance of flying and let go.
For an example of how luck sells, look no further than Lucky Charms cereal in the US. This brand was launched in 1964 and is one of longest running successful cereal brands.
It wasn’t the first product to have been marketed using the concept of good luck, of course. Horseshoes, rabbit’s feet and white heather have been around for centuries. Classic examples of marketing appropriating the occult as a strategy with staying power. We could learn a thing or two from the past.