Informed Branding Scales Heights

Published on 28th August 2007

Religion serves as a pillar of society, and inspires the moral fabric. It is held dear and near to the heart and soul of many. A brand-name that is “insulting” in a religious stronghold may be no easy task. to establish. How does a manager exercise  balance between two forces that may be hard in certain areas?

Successful brands have so much to do with strategic review of all factors. If management defies cardinal factors that the society holds, the public may agitate against the brand leading to anarchy and myriads of problems to the promotion and merchandising of the product.

Religion describes a set of beliefs and practices generally held by a group of people often codified as prayer, rituals, and religious laws. It encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writing, history and mythology as well as personal faith and mystic experience, stemming from conviction. There is a thin line between religion and lifestyle. That is why caution must not be thrown to the wind when branding a product. This is known even to the political elite. When personality branding is done, some even steer clear of religious soft spots.

“Is it proper for a Christian to drink Malta Guinness?” asked a scholar to a Christian broadcasting station. 

Guinness has always been one of the strongest alcohol brands in Kenya having an alcoholic content of 7.0 percent. Most of the brands linger around 4-6percent. In the line of the same, the perception and the positioning of Guinness has always been viewed as an alcohol beverage. 

Guinness Stout acquired its name from the founder Arthur Guinness (1725) but popped its first bottle in 1759.Learning the trade from the father, Arthur commissioned the brewing industry in Dublin with paltry forty-five British Pounds in Ireland as annual rent for 9,000 years. As a smart Father, he knew that if he did not teach his child a trade, he was teaching him how to steal.

Malta traces its history in the bible heydays when historical Saul turned to be Paul and even goes long before that - infact 5000 years BC. It has housed several ancient tribes like Goths, Nomads, Tunisians and Arabians. It was in Malta where Paul experienced a shipwreck. Today, Malta is an independent country with vast historical and tourist sites. 

Was this the strategy by the Guinness group fraternity? Were they relating a non alcoholic beverage to a biblical ancient place to bring Christians near? Was the branding done with religion in mind? Somehow, it seems that the bait is a little bit tricky to swallow especially from the lot that smells a rat in Kenya. Malta has gained wide acceptance and enjoys patronage in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

Ken-Chic fraternity knew better. The Halal product branding has gained acceptance hence carving a niche for themselves in the Muslim world. With its processed fish and chicken, it offers a parallel market that would be appalled by other brands. This sends the assurance cringe to the vilest pessimist who cast a doubt on its brands when it comes to them digging their teeth on the Ken-Chic range of products. It agreed with all Muslims that for meat of land animals to be “halal,” it must be slaughtered by a Muslim. 

Barclays introduced the “sharia compliant accounts” to comply with the pungent “riba” that was to the Muslim community. The first of its kind in Kenya, Barclays knew they had struck a gold-mine until Kenya Commercial Bank came for the catch. The major banks followed suit and it is a rat race for the Muslims share in the 70 percent of the non-banking lot in Kenya. This has seen Barclays opening branches in Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate- a strong Muslim business zone.

Nike has had its share of tribulations when coming to deal with the religious camp the wrong way. It had a face off with the Council on American- Islamic Relations (CIAR) in 1997(a profound Muslim movement). Nike –the goddess of Victory – found itself in bruising battle that left it a casualty. This transpired when it introduced its Nike air brand basket ball shoes. With stylized, flame logo of the word air on the shoes backside and sole, they came to realize that they were dealing with a perturbed lot. The elders at CAIR nonsensically declared the logo could be interpreted as the Arabic script spelling of Allah. Nike initially protested its innocence.

Muzzled by the grip of the protest Nike accepted and recalled 38,000 shoes (in June 1997), implemented the global recall of certain samples and diverted the shipping into ‘sensitive markets” among other measures. 

Religion has to be factored whenever brands are being coded. A market research and product testing may reveal these cracks before the unpleasant happens. Religion holds a special place in many people’s hearts and any brush with it may cause a repulsive and violent mood. Society will somehow choose religious beliefs. Branding must exercise caution and not throw the baby with its bathing water.


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