Ten Questions for Mara Einstein on Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age (Routledge, 2008)
What inspired you to write Brands of Faith? What sparked your interest?
I wrote Brands of Faith because it allowed me to research two of my favorite topics—religion and marketing. Prior to becoming an academic, I worked in advertising and marketing for almost 20 years, including stints at numerous advertising agencies, MTV Networks, and finally as a marketing executive at NBC in New York.
While there, part of my job was to stay on top of popular trends. One day in the piles of research on my desk, there was a packet of articles about trends in religion—baby boomers going back to church, the advent of megachurches, religious institutions exploring the online space, and so on. That’s what got me started questioning if there was a corollary between my personal religious search, which was scattershot and expensive, and broader trends within our mass-marketed culture.
What’s the most important take-home message for readers?
Marketing religion is a necessary evil in order to religion to remain part of the cultural conversation in a society where we see more than three thousand marketing messages a day.
Anything you had to leave out?
I wanted to do a larger section on the impact of celebrities on religion. There’s a little bit in the book about Madonna and Kabbalah and all the celebrities who are Scientologists—and there’s lots of information about Oprah, but I could have written a whole lot more.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?
Most people think that marketing is simply advertising and promotion. Those things are just the tip of the iceberg. When marketers think of their jobs they think in terms of product, price, place, and promotion.
Therefore, marketing is about how you package your product, how you price it, where you distribute it, and then how you tell people about it. Fundamental to your product identity is branding, a means by which you make your product different through a combination of name, logo, and mythology.
In religion that used to be denominations, now it’s Joel Osteen and Willowcreek.
Did you have a specific audience in mind when writing?
I was trying to reach a broad audience with this topic. Believe me, when you start people talking about religion and marketing, everyone has an opinion.
Are you hoping to just inform readers? Give them pleasure? Piss them off?
Mostly the book was about informing readers about why marketing religion is so prevalent. It has to do with first, not being tied to the faith of our parents, and second, the ability to be able to find out about alternative beliefs. This is possible through the proliferation of a ubiquitous media that provides a myriad of opportunities to find out about and practice, or even combine, belief systems.
I suspected, however, that I’d piss some people off with the chapter on how marketing religion has had a considerable impact on American politics. I was right about that.
What alternate title would you give the book?
How do you feel about the cover?
It looks good, but I’m afraid that it communicates only a small portion of what the book is about. I don’t only write about Christianity, in fact there’s a whole chapter about Kabbalah.
Also, marketing religion is not only about selling Christian products, which Colleen McDannell covers very well in her book Material Christianity, but also about the process of branding, the concepts of marketing and similarities between those processes and religion itself.
Is there a book out there you wish you had written? Which one? Why?
Can I say three? The Overspent American by Juliet Schor, A Generation of Seekers by Wade Clark Roof and Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. What these three scholars share is the ability to take complex ideas that have wide-ranging implications and present them in a readable fashion accessible to an audience outside the ivory tower. I strive for that every day and keeping focused on their work helps me do that.
What’s your next book?
Service Nation? The Corporate Takeover of Social Justice.