I’ve been thinking since last night about an article I read at futurity.org, about the relationship between brand reliance and religiosity. A study shows that religious people care less about brand names than non-religious people. Even asking people to spend some time thinking about religion makes them temporarily less influenced by the appeal of name brands.
The correlation between religiosity and caring less about brand names does not surprise me at all. What struck me as odd was the explanation given by the people who did the study, that brand names satisfy a desire to express self-worth, and that religion apparently satisfies that same desire – thus reducing the religious person’s inclination to use brand names for that purpose.
They do say that it is a sub-conscious rather than conscious effect, which makes it hard to confirm or refute. But I would explain the correlation in a rather different way. Religion is all about ultimate reality and ultimate meaning. I would think anyone looking for ultimate meaning would see choosing products for the brand names they carry as fairly superficial.
Growing up, I went to church every week, but I never thought of myself as particularly religious. I developed a bias against brand names, but that was due to my mother’s teaching about how to spend money wisely, and in her opinion it was almost always preferable to get a less expensive no-name product.
Brand names mean advertising, and advertising costs money – a cost which is passed on to the consumer. So buying a brand name means you are paying not only for the product itself, but also for the advertising, which is of no benefit to the consumer. There may be times when a brand name is the better purchase, but that is only when other criteria (e.g. quality of materials, availability of service/repair) show that the product is genuinely a better value.
The study focused on products likely to be chosen for their “self-expressive” nature, such as clothing, rather than more functional products, where reliance on brand names is less likely to play a role. That means they’re about image, and people interested in ultimate reality will naturally have less interest in projecting a particular image.
Perhaps the people who did the study would say that I’m saying the same thing they are, but in different words. I don’t know anything about them, but I would tend to hazard a guess that they are not themselves particularly religious. I simply don’t think in terms of “expressing self-worth”; perhaps they do not think in terms of ultimate reality and ultimate meaning.
(If you should happen to be interested in a fuller explanation of their study, you can read their paper.)