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The Culting of Brands : When Customers Become True Believers Hardcover – Bargain Price, June 3, 2004

4.0 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Atkin, a strategy director for a New York ad agency, believes the process through which consumer brands build customer loyalty is equivalent to the way religious cults recruit members—and, he says, that's a good thing. To him, cults are little more than well-defined affinity groups engaging in a few activities outsiders find unusual because they believe something different. Yet his superficial consideration of groups like the Unification Church and the Landmark Forum rarely gets into the specifics of those belief systems, instead presenting a fuzzy image of people bonding together to give their lives meaning. (Obvious negative examples, like Waco and Jonestown, are cursorily dismissed as badly managed.) Atkin then takes this broad definition and applies it to the commercial realm, making a reasonable case that Harley riders and Apple users, among others, follow similar behavioral patterns. But he overuses the term "cult" to the point of meaninglessness: it's one thing to compare Marine Corps training to an initiatory ritual, quite another to label eBay or JetBlue customers cult members just because they use the product repeatedly. While little argument can be raised against Atkin's proposition that "few stronger emotions exist than the need to belong and make meaning," more conservative readers may balk at his notion that the decreasing power of our culture's traditional institutions is an opportunity to exploit those emotional drives for profit. Perhaps would-be cult leaders will be able to use Atkin's marketing strategies to repackage themselves for broader mainstream appeal.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Atkin, an advertising executive, examines the techniques to develop extreme buyer loyalty and discusses cults and cult-brand members' motivations, desires, and attitudes. The elements common to brand definition (used by companies such as Harley Davidson and Saturn) and to cult definition are ideas of community and belonging, ideology, devotion, and advocacy. Atkin researched many cults, including established religions, fan clubs, current and ex-marines, AA, and numerous CEOs of cult-brand companies and cult leaders. With the growth of sophisticated consumerism and the reality that institutions are increasingly inadequate sources of meaning and community, Atkin believes that alternative religion and brands that offer these benefits will flourish. His advice for establishing a cult brand includes understanding that people "buy" people and not things and ideas alone and investing at least as much into developing a cult brand as your members do in emotional and financial commitment, energy, and creativity. This is an insightful and challenging perspective on marketing for everyone, even those who may not agree with the author. Mary Whaley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover (June 3, 2004)
  • ISBN-10: 1591840279
  • ASIN: B000CC496W
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,953,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Atkin is quite correct when suggesting that a cult brand is one "for which a group of customers exhibit a great devotion or dedication. Its ideology is distinctive and it has a well-defined and committed community. It enjoys exclusive devotion (that is, not shared with another brand in the same category), and its members often become voluntary advocates." A cult brand attracts certain customers for a variety of reasons and rewards them in a variety of ways but it is important to keep in mind that few brands possess the power to do so. Also, that a cult brand is not necessarily a consumer product nor even a physical object. It can also be a uniquely enjoyable experience (e.g. Starbucks) or even a way of life (Harley-Davidson). Atkin is convinced (and I agree) that the same dynamics are at play behind the attraction to brands and cults: Both offer membership in a community of shared values and interests, both give unique and satisfying personal identify, and both inspire uncommon loyalty.

According to Atkin, what he characterizes as the "cult paradox dynamic" is best understood in terms of a four-step process:

"1. An individual might have a feeling of [in italics] difference, even [in italics] alienation from the world around them.

2. This leads to [in italics] openness or to [in italics] searching for a more compatible environment.

3. They are likely to feel a sense of [in italics] or [in italics] safety in a place where one's difference from the outside world is seen as a virtue, not a handicap.

4. This presents the circumstances for [in italics] self-actualization within a group of like-minded others who celebrate the individual for being himself."

Atkin asserts that the same paradox can be found at the heart of cult brands.
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Format: Paperback
I must admit, I was at first immensely intimidated by the concept of this book and would not typically have picked it up were it not for my sacrificial duties towards work. I was fortunate enough to have heard Douglas Atkins speak, and was immediately intrigued by the power of his language in referencing consumers devotion towards certain brands. This book sheds an incredible amount of light on modern day cults and the brands you would never imagine would reside beneath that category.

Kudos to Atkins for a well researched book. He draws very compelling parallels between typical cults and brands. The book is very easy to follow and is extremely engaging especially because a lot of the examples he uses are common to our everyday lives, and draw from classic human needs and behaviors. This is definitely an interesting book for anyone inhabiting the marketing/branding bubble although I must say; I did not find his philosophies and recommendations to be a far throw from rudimentary loyalty/CRM principles. It is the perspective and not the solution that wins the four stars.
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Format: Paperback
The title of this book makes it sound creepier and more duplicitous than it is. First of all, forget all the negative connotations you have when you hear the word "cult." Atkins broadly defines a cult as a "group exhibiting a great devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing." A cult brand, then is when the group or community is built around a brand.

This, of course, is not a new idea. Marketers have always tried to get people to love their products with religious devotion. But Atkins articulates the similarity between brand cults and traditional cults and does extensive research into both, with the end goal being that marketers can apply the techniques of traditional cults to build brand cults. The traditional cults he uses (again, remember he has a broad definition) include the Catholic Church, Mormon Church, Unification Church, Hell's Angels, and a few more. On the brand side of things are the usual suspects: Apple, Ebay, JetBlue, Mary Kay, Saturn, Harley-Davidson--brands that have communities built around them.

The comparisons are interesting, but there is nothing shocking in his findings. People gain some of their identity from the groups, social or otherwise, to which they belong. Groups are formed around shared causes, interests, or philosophies. Therefore, it is only natural that as brands have come to create their own stories, characters, and philosophy (oftentimes independent of the functional benefit of their products), groups start to form around them.

I always find the case studies to be the most interesting part of these kinds of books. There's a lot to learn from brands that have done it right. Where the book falls a little short for me is when Atkins tries to define the rules for creating a cult brand.
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Format: Hardcover
first an admission: i not only know the author, but bear a striking similarity to a certain "shaved-head (bald) mid (late) thirties (motorcycle) rider in the media business" mentioned on p. 91.

what i love about the book, having read tons of them over the years, is 1) it talks to you, not at you and 2) it's not just an idea, it's evidence based. on the first point, so many latter day brand experts are brilliant but also have brilliant egos. they write dogmatically as if they love their own ideas more than their readers. this book is written in almost a conversational style that makes you part of the dialogue not a prisoner to it.

to the second point, this book is based in research, not just a new paradigm or metaphor for much of the same old thinking. the author spent several years studying and interviewing his subjects. hearing (reading) cult members talk in their own words, makes them less scary and more relevant than i could have thought.
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