Ground Zero Mosque: Lessons in Brand Marketing

Last Updated Sep 9, 2010 8:54 AM EDT

All the discussions about the so-called "ground zero mosque" focus on law and morality. One side is all about constitutional rights; the other side is all about moral outrage. Well, those folks can argue until the sacred cows come home, but one thing is undeniably certain: the "ground zero mosque" is a effective marketing concept.

From a marketing perspective, a place of worship most resembles a retail store front, identified by a unique logo and a particular style of architecture, all of which create a "brand promise" that its customers will receive a certain type of product. And from a marketing perspective, there is no better location for a mosque in New York City than close to ground zero. Here's why.

As with other branded entertainment products, the revenue stream for a religious brand depends upon its ability to create emotions -- either positive or negative. Positive emotions are obviously valuable, because that's what gets customers to fork over cash to get more of the same. Negative emotions are nearly as valuable, because the negative emotions from customers of the rival product strengthens the commitment of the true believers.

From a purely marketing perspective, then, the "ground zero mosque" is effective because it creates intense emotions in almost everyone. As a "beacon of religious freedom," it will attract visitors and tourists who are, of course, potential converts and contributors (i.e. customers). As the imaginary "symbol of Islamic victory," it will engender furious protests, which will create still more publicity, which will further irritate the faithful, who will give still more to ensure it stays open.

This is smart branding, since the more emotional people get, the more publicity (and revenue) results. It's like the cross-town rivalry between two sports teams which result in higher attendance on both sides whenever they're playing head-to-head. (Historical note: in the early Byzantine empire, sports teams had religious affiliations, making for some truly epic stadium riots.)

Another interesting example of this type of "counter-campaign" marketing recently emerged in Ohio, where a pastor had been sending his congregation to protest at a local strip club. That was a good business move on his part because it kept his flock charged up about fighting smut -- the kind of emotion that no doubt pays off big time in the ol' collection plate.

That ploy turned out to be even more brilliant when the strip club owner started sending his strippers to protest in front of the church. The result has been international publicity for his church as well as for the strip club. In a news report, the pastor said: "I'm glad that they are here." Hey, no kidding. I'm sure the strip club owner is just as pleased. That's the kind of publicity you can't buy at any price.

Now don't get me wrong. It's unlikely that the pastors and imams generating all this publicity are thinking in such openly crass terms. But a curious thing about the religion business (which I know from the inside, having grown up inside of it) is that its most effective purveyors have the ability to make shrewd business decisions while being entirely certain that their personal motives are pure.

Rest assured, if the "ground zero mosque" is actually built, it will be a HUGE money maker for both proponents and opponents alike. With that in mind, here's what this situation can teach us about marketing:

  • Rule #1: Location, Location, Location. It's so corny, but so, so true. For retail businesses and real estate alike, there is simply nothing more important.
  • Rule #2: Get the Juices Flowing. When it comes to marketing, the more emotion that you generate, the more effective your marketing becomes.
  • Rule #3: Create brand rivalry. Brand messages sometimes stand out best if contrasted with a competitor. Example: the "war" between the Macintosh and the PC.
  • Rule #4: Piggyback the Competition. The best time to run a counter-campaign is when your competitor is in the news. Make the other guy's PR work for YOU!
READERS: Comments welcome, as always.