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27 April 2012

Genericizing the Christian Brand

Sociological Images has a thought-provoking post on whether the cross is really Christian anymore or whether, as some legal authorities are suggesting, it has become a miscellaneous symbol for religiosity. This got me thinking. Marketers are always worried about brand genericization, the process by which a trademark for a specific product becomes synonymous with the entire class of products. Here are a few examples:

  • Aspirin™ for acetylsalicylic acid
  • Escalator™ for the moving staircase
  • Heroin™ for diacetylmorphine
  • Kerosene™ for paraffin oil
  • Thermos™ for the vacuum flask
  • Yo-Yo™ for the children's toy
  • Zipper™ for the mechanical fastener

From a religious economies perspective, this is bad for Christianity. If in the same way that Kleenex is now synonymous with all facial tissue, regardless of brand, once-specific things like the cross simply equate to "religious," this does not bode well for Christianity as a unique brand in a competitive religious marketplace. It'd be like ordering a "coke" down here in South, where the waitress would likely ask you, "What kind of coke? Pepsi? Coca Cola? 7-UP?" Product differentiation matters.

When Justice Scalia implied that the cross was no longer specifically Christian, I think he was making a bit of a Devil's bargain. It is safe to assume that he doesn't really want Christianity not to be a religion. After all, he is a conservative Roman Catholic (with pre-Vatican II leanings) whose son is a priest. Getting religion in through the backdoor may not be the best strategy for those who would like their religion to be in the public square.

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