God is a very abstract concept. Religion’s job is selling you on God. Metaphysical marketing, if you will.
The marketing of abstracts and afterlives comes to mind as I slowly consume the pages of Mencken’s Treatise on the Gods. Regardless of your faith or lack thereof, we all agree that God is beyond human conception, which makes most religion a null program since its first job is to conceptualize God. Its second job is selling God, which in the realm of selling abstract products has been both the biggest project and one of the most successful. The success of religion comes from thousands of years of refined marketing, segmenting the market into a few million different sects, and following Seth Godin’s advice to agree with what people already think.
Marketing new products into new markets is a bit like preaching to aborigines — they (the buyers/infidels) have no idea what you are talking about, and if you waste too much of their time doing so, they’ll shrink your skull and dine on your leg. To make any abstract or new product desirable, you have to connect it to what the buyer/believer/voter understands in their personal frame of reference. Hence, the earliest of Gods were attached to fire, rain, lightning, fertility and every other aspect of what primitive people called modern life.
Monotheism is merely market consolidation.
Selling the concept of God is not all that removed from selling iPods (and no, I am not a worshiper in the Church of Jobs, though the puns concerning Steve’s divinity and how an Apple fit into original sin are endless). An MP3 player is basically a gizmo, that on outward appearances does nothing. But the joy of music is concrete to everyone that likes the stuff. Thus, advertisements with happy, dancing silhouettes was a way of connecting the abstract (music and these new fangled gadgets) to something very real in the hearts of every music fan, though my Johnny Cash collection oddly doesn’t make me want to undulate down the sidewalk.
When marketing abstracts, you must tie it to something real in the buyer’s mind or heart. The most common means of doing so include:
Using a physical simile: Anything you can see, touch or smell is something real (unless you are off your medications, in which case everything unreal is real). Connecting the abstract product to real and familiar physical things sells. Prudential Insurance perpetually uses big rocks to sell the concept of safety and stability.
Experiences: Any widely common experience is a good option for connecting abstract concepts. No experience, save breathing and bathroom breaks, is universal. But if you segmented your market, odds are some experience has been shared by all buyers, even indirectly. “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” is understood very well by every CIO.
Emotions: Emotions are internalized experiences, yet the most powerful of the bunch. That is why the Lie of Fear is so popular with politicians and theologians, since it is universal and intense. Connect a product to a positive emotion (iPods and musical bliss) and buyers have an emotional predisposition to the product.
Selling abstracts requires talking and visualizing the real, the familiar. No amount of feature and benefit copywriting will overcome aboriginal indifference. Connect the concept to something definite unless you want to be dinner.