Cult Branding seminar in Mumbai a thumping success

MUMBAI: Cults. They are common as gardens in India and globally. Almost every few years a cult crops up, balloons into a movement, only to diminish quickly.

Agencyfaqs, BusinessWorld and Alchemist group, got together to organise a seminar around a phenomenon as fascinating as cults, namely that of cult brands. And holding centre stage to an audience of 100 plus was 28-year-old Matthew Ragas, the co-author of the book (along with Bolivar J Buneo) The Power of Cult Branding.

The seminar, held at the JW Marriot in Mumbai's western suburb of Juhu, and titled Beyond Advertising: The Phenomenon of Brand Cultism, was sponsored by Amity School of Communication, Hav-A-Tampa Jewels Birchwood Tip Cigars, Altavista, Cutty Sark, and Express Colour Scan. Among the big names who attended included: Arvind Sharma of Leo Burnett India, Times of India's Pradeep Guha and Bhaskar Das, Chandy of Malayalam Manorama, ace promotions professional Pradeep Narashima.

Ragas elaborated over two sessions why cult brands are crucial today, what goes to make a cult brand and how it is sustained, and the seven golden rules of cult branding. His belief is that because of product and advertising clutter, brands are getting commoditised and competition is getting fierce, with decreasing consumer loyaty. Cult brands help marketers to ensure repeat consumer purchase because of the intense customer loyalty. Cult brand consumers are hooked and happy.

Ragas explained that there are destructive cults (a La Hitler) and benign cults (a la Harley Davidson biker groups). He added that cults are not bad, rather their members are normal people, who want to improve their lives and be different, and want to feel like they belong. He elucidated that cult brands offer their customers love, attention, and to many of their consumers, they are a living surrogate family with like minded individuals.

According to Ragas, Abraham Maslow who postulated his heirarchy of human needs is the father of cult branding. Maslow's pyramid placed physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem and self-actualistion needs as a gradually narrowing group of human needs with self-actualisation being at the peak. Ragas says that cult brands primarily fulfil the higher level human needs of esteem, social interaction, and self-acutalisation. "Once a brand fulfils the higher needs, it becomes irreplaceable in the mind of the consumer," he says.

He then went to throw light on the seven golden rules of cult branding which were drawn up after two years of researching for his book. These are:

*Consumers want to be part of a group that's different.

*Cult brand inventors show daring and determination.

*Cult brand sell lifestyles.

*Listen to the choir and create cult brand evangelists.

*Cult brand always create customer communities.

*Cult brands are inclusive.

*Cult brands promote personal freedom and draw power from their enemies.

He then went to illustrate how each of these golden rules apply to four cult brands: Apple Computer, Linux, Volkswagen Beetle, Harley Davidson (the other five that Ragas has studied in his book include: Oprah Winfrey, Jimmy Buffet, Vans Shoes, WWE, Star Trek).

His session was followed by a session by former BBC veteran and Indophile Mark Tully wherein he tried to give his perspective on what India truly is and how it has changed over their years. His biggest regret was that companies are paying lip service to the rural market.

Last on was Alchemist Consulting founder Samit Sinha who elaborated on Indian cult brands such as Old Monk, Enfield Bullet, Thums UP, Khadi, comedian Ajit, and the Ambassador.

Ragas will be working closely with Alchemist Brand Consulting for the Indian market. Those wanting to get in touch with either Ragas or Sinha can send an email to

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