I was asked the following question. What research have you come across that would be helpful for youth workers to better understand how the systems and events of this culture are affecting us?
Great question. A paper entitled Brands: The Opiate of the Nonreligious Masses?, has been published in Marketing Science. [i] The research team was made up of scholars from Tel Aviv University, Duke University and New York University. According to their data they claim that religiously minded people are less interested in consumer products that are branded by a major brand name. In the study those who claim to be non-religious are much more reliant on well-known brand products, especially when they have the financial means to afford major brands.
The research team theorizes, “Brands and religiosity may serve as substitutes for one another because both allow individuals to express their feelings of self-worth.”
"’Brands are a signal of self-worth,’ Fitzsimons[ii] said. ‘We're signaling to others that we care about ourselves and that we feel good about ourselves and that we matter in this world. It's more than I'm hip or cool, he said: ‘I'm a worthwhile person, and I matter, and you should respect me and think that I'm a good person, because I've got the D&G on my glasses.’"[iii]
The Christian faith is to be lived within a community of practice. Being connected to a faith community says a lot about who a person is and what they value. If we don’t know who we are in Jesus Christ and if we struggle to make meaning out of life through faith then, certainly Apple, Juicy Couture, Gap or Urban Outfitters more than willing to help fill the void by providing some sense of meaning or self-worth, right? Some marketers are actually attempting to attach religious overtone to some brands in order to attract consumers looking for meaning, identity and purpose in life – think True Religion.
Andy Root pointed out, at a youth worker training day at Youthfront, that young adults are selecting and creating identities for themselves. One can create their own profile and craft an identity based on what they buy, wear and consume. This raises the importance of a renewed and vigorous emphasis on Christian formation and an intentional theological exploration of what it means to help adolescents form an identity rooted in Jesus Christ. I believe a theology that focuses on what it means to live a cruciform life is essential in the midst of our consumerist cultural realities.
I think this study is very interesting for those of us who are involved in ministry to adolescents and young adults as we engage in dialogue about what brings meaning to our lives. The researchers claims that those who are identified as “religious minded” people are less likely to be enslaved by major status brands is encouraging to me. Embracing an ethos that Jesus Christ is enough will help us counter the script that suggests we find meaning through the creed I consume, therefore I am.
[i] "Brands: The Opiate of the Non-Religious Masses?" Ron Shachar, Tülin Erdem, Keisha M. Cutright, Gavan J. Fitzsimons, Marketing Science, articles in advance, Sept. 24, 2010. DOI: 10.1287/mksc.1100.0591
[ii] Gavan J. Fitzsimons; R. David Thomas Professor of Marketing and Psychology; F.M. Kirby Research Fellow; Duke University