The Intersection between Religion and Capitalism and What It Means for Brands
In it, he laments the effect that the intense drive for wealth has had on the world. He even goes so far as to say that this obsession with money is tantamount to idol worship: “We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf…has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money…”
I believe we can further interpret the Pope’s comments to mean ‘the idolatry of brands’ as well – BAV’s brand valuation data demonstrate that a company’s brand value can make up over 30% of a company’s overall valuation – a brand is indeed a company’s golden calf.
Central to the Pope’s argument is the idea that the traditional economic system is worsening social inequality, and that it is naïve to trust in the innate goodness of those at the helm of economic power.
The solution, Pope Francis suggests, is to enact a financial reform that takes religious ethics into consideration and includes the support of political leaders. The important thing to remember is that although these changes need to be made on a case-by-case basis, the process must start in order to create a better future.
In our last BAView, we highlighted the recent move by countless brands to incorporate social responsibility into their business models in 2014. In a similar vein, several large U.S. companies have moved toward including religious ethics into their core brand mission. Two such brands- Timberland and Tyson Foods- have managed to incorporate these values while remaining successful in a competitive consumer space.
Timberland founder, Jeff Swartz, has explicitly stated that his Jewish faith compelled him to sever ties with a Chinese factory where human rights violations were occurring, despite potential economic implications. The move boosted consumer’s perceptions of Timberland; it is categorized as a Leadership brand in BAV and has high Esteem and Differentiation. This means that customers respect Timberland and are more likely to purchase from them than from other brands selling similar products.
Similarly, Tyson Foods founder, John Tyson, has spoken openly about his religious beliefs, even going so far as to provide chaplain services in the workplace. The chaplains, who represent a variety of religious backgrounds, are tasked with the responsibility of guiding employees dealing with difficult life events and are part of a larger corporate pledge to act as a faith-friendly company. Tyson Foods enjoys extremely high Esteem and Relevance, meaning the company’s corporate pledge could be providing the brand with additional support – support competitive brands do not have.
As the Pope notes, companies need to make these changes on a case-by-case basis. There have been well-publicized examples of companies not striking the appropriate balance between religion and capitalism and the resulting negative consumer response (cue the high-profile controversy between Chick-fil-A and gay rights groups). However, as we’ve seen in the above examples, when corporate values reflect consumer values, the consumer response is largely positive.