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Is sport the new religion?

Which do you think is the odd one out of these three? Following a sport, a brand or a religion…

Well, contrary to popular belief, the answer is actually sport. Despite what we may feel about the parallels between sport and religion – the regular worship with dedicated followers at a site of major significance – our brains do not respond in the same way in each case.

However, recent research has found that when people with faith view religious icons and images, their brains react in precisely the same pattern as when we view images associated with strong brands. So, as we embark on a Summer filled with sporting events, what does this new knowledge mean for us?

Most faiths share a number of common characteristics and it is these that enable us to refer to them collectively as a religion. According to Martin Lindstrom in his book ‘Buyology’, they are a sense of belonging, a clear vision, power over enemies, sensory appeal, storytelling, grandeur, evangelism, symbols, mystery and rituals.

So, think of a strong brand – who or what comes to the front of your mind? Nike? Virgin? Coke? Each of these can be seen to demonstrate a significant number of the above ten characteristics.

If you buy a brand you frequently have a sense of belonging to something specific. Whether it is designer clothes or a Landrover, you know that those of you who have made that purchasing decision share something which separates you from the rest of the population.

Good brands have a really clear vision so you know what it is you stand for when you buy or support it eg Bang & Olufsen’s is ‘Courage to constantly question the ordinary’.

Power over enemies is a constant battle for brands – Coke vs Pepsi, Visa vs Mastercard – strong brands are all about what makes them better than their competitors. It is about persuading us to become loyal to them rather than other providers.

An undeniable characteristic is sensory appeal – the ease with which we recognize the Nokia ringtone or the distinctive shape of a Toblerone bar. By appealing to our senses, brands can access our emotions rather than the logical decision making areas of the brain.

Many advertising campaigns are about telling you a story regarding the brand. Storytelling allows brands to take us on an adventure, away from our reality and into the realm of what could be!

When you think about premises that companies operate from, you will see the grandeur in many of them. Created by lighting, architecture, interior design or simply a few well placed plants, the effect needs to be congruent with what we already know about the brand. But here too the internet has helped all of us to have a potentially global business, creating brand grandeur as never before.

Some brands have created tremendous presence and market share based on the notion of evangelism. The Facebook feature which encourages you to invite your friends to join created one of the fastest growing brands of all time.

Symbols are often what clearly identifies a brand to us, whether they are golden arches, a rearing horse or the famous tick. As market places get ever more crowded, it is even more important that companies create a truly strong identity and symbols or logos are often the means of doing that.

Who can doubt the brand power of the mystery created by Coca-Cola regarding its secret formula…or the Colonel’s secret recipe…or Google’s secret means of operating? Mystery draws us in and it makes us feel that whatever it is associated with must be good if it is so secretive.

Finally, rituals. Brand loyalty is frequently about ritual. Having the same brand of crisps in the pub, or the same range of shampoo makes us feel safe, comfortable and in control.

So, if the sporting events don’t produce the outcomes we want, we can always rely on our favourite brands to maintain our sense of pride, continuity and direction after all.