Are Politics and Religion Fair Game?

Last Updated Dec 29, 2009 7:11 AM EST

In "10 Worst Branding Blunders of 2009," I pointed out that the Republican party attempted to use Michael Steele's race to help re-brand itself. To my surprise, this rather obvious observation resulted in some angry reactions, including one that warned me that it was a standard practice to "avoid two topics when discussing business -- religion and politics."

I can see the point of not getting into an argument about either of these subjects when trying to sell something, but I think it's ridiculous to put a taboo on business analysis when it comes to politics and religion, but because both politics and religion are businesses that intersect with business on many levels, including B2B sales.

Politics, for example, is very much a business. It sells candidates, generates income (contributions) and presents a value proposition (favorable legislation legislation, protection from outside enemies, protection from government regulation.) If you think that political parties aren't "brand aware" or that they don't think about branding when choosing a party chairman, you're simply not thinking clearly.

Every political campaign is a sales campaign, will all the elements of a sales process, from prospecting (finding contributors) to closing the deal at election day. Since that's the case, why in the name of heaven should I avoid applying the same analysis to the political "industry" as I apply to every other industry?

In the case of Michael Steele, for example, I would have said the same thing if he had hired as a spokesperson by a private company that was trying to overcome a racist brand image. Tokenism is an ineffective branding ploy, regardless of whether it takes place inside a political party or a corporation. I thought the same thing back when I worked in a Fortune 50 firm and the only black in the boardroom was the "Chief Ethics Officer."

The same thing is true about organized religion. If you define the "entertainment industry" as "the business of providing experiences intended to create emotional states," then it's clear that organized religion is effectively a branch of the entertainment business.

People who attend worship services are provided with various events and sights intended to produce emotions, ranging from those that are arguably beneficial to the rest of the world (e.g. good will towards all men) to others that are not (e.g. self-righteous anger at non-believers). People attending these entertainments enjoy themselves, and are therefore willing to pay money for the privilege of continuing to feel those emotions.

As a branch of the entertainment business, organized religions develop brands, marketing strategies, sales processes, and all other elements common to every other business. They also have sales reps -- usually in the person of a religious leader or a cadre of leaders -- whose job it is to "sell" the value of the entertainment.

And organized religion is big business, too. Were I to guess, I'd say that the religion business, in terms of economic activity in the United States, is probably somewhere between the size of its two largest entertainment industry competitors: pornography and professional sports. That's a lot of selling and marketing going on.

In short, both politics and organized religion are industries, similar to charities in the sense that they use an accounting method that makes it impossible to show a profit on paper. But in all other respects, they're businesses and, as such, are fair game for analysis, praise and criticism.

I refuse to put them off limits, simply because some of their customers like to pretend they aren't dealing with a business.