To juxtapose the words consumption and spirituality may seem an oxymoron: the authors of (Routledge, 272 pages, forthcoming) argue, instead, that in the postmodern age the two concepts, afferent to the antithetic fields of the sacred and the profane, are linked by a more complex relationship, in which the search for spirituality, which has always distinguished human beings, might be shaped by the market. In the opinion of Diego Rinallo (Università Bocconi), Linda Scott (Oxford University) and Pauline Maclaran (University of London) in fact, consumers look for spirituality also inside mundane products, such as consumer electronic or fashion; conversely, religions and spiritual movements more and more often adopt promotional techniques which have nothing to envy to big multinational companies’ marketing strategies.
The book will be presented this summer on the occasion of the 7th edition of the Consumer Culture Theory Conference, that this year for the first time will be held in Europe, at Oxford University. The main focus of the perspective session of August 17th, entitled ‘Marketers, Spirituality & Religion: Branding by Contrast and by Alignment’ and chaired by the authors Rinallo and Maclaran, will be to investigate the ways brands can call upon the sacred to enhance their products and services value, referring to some contributions from the book.
To the extreme, we can say that some brands create value for the consumer placing themselves within specific religious or spiritual beliefs: this is the case, for example, of kosher or halal food producers or sellers or the case of holistic therapists who embrace new age views of the world.
In other cases, the relationship with religion occurs in more complex ways. In the second chapter of the book, Diego Rinallo, Stefania Borghini, Gary Bamossy and Robert Kozinetz consider a highly provocative example of marketplace appropriation of religious symbols: Dolce & Gabbana’s launch of a collection of rosaries as fashion accessories. Through a series of interviews, the authors show how, against the predictable reaction of some consumers who find the initiative inadequate or even ‘blasphemous’, there is also the opposite reaction of the consumers who see the branded rosaries as merely decorative objects and the response of those who recognize instead in these products a dual nature, sacred and profane at the same time. This last response reveals itself to be the most interesting for the investigation, as far as it shows that sacred products “partake of the transformative power of fashion but at the same time they draw consumers near to God”, the authors write.
In conclusion, the book aims to highlight the significance of spirituality, which since the Sixties has gained ground at the expense of formalized religion, in contemporary postmodern consumer culture and therefore its influence in current market researches. What at the beginning of the twentieth century Max Weber called the ‘disenchantment of the world’, indeed, has resulted into the loss of the institutionalized Churches monopoly on religious practices, not in the suppression of the demand for spirituality, sought in more and more private and individual forms. Parallel to the phenomenon of secularization of society, Belk (1989) says, is the one of the sacralisation of the profane: within the context outlined by the two complementary processes which have characterized the postmodern evolution of western societies, brands place themselves as new means that can shape the practices of sacred consumption.