In so many ways and for centuries, the Catholic Church has been master of the full branding toolkit. It has understood the value of creating a lighthouse identity with magnificent Cathedrals, often constructed at the highest point of the land where it resides. The Catholicc church has (along with with other faiths) the most recognised brand device in the world – the crucifix in all its many guises.
While brand owners around the world seek ways to introduce rituals into the life of their brands, the Catholic Church has a plethora of rituals integrated into the very fabric of its existence, from attending mass services, through to the sacraments and its full calendar religious celebrations. Brand theatre has also been top of mind with flowing robes, incense and choirs. And when every other brand owner in the Universe is turning their mind to building a ‘community’ of brand followers, the Catholic Church has been embracing the notion of a Church community since day dot. It even has a neat little ritual embedded into their Church services whereby parishioners turn to those near them, shake their hand and utter the wish that ‘…peace be with them’. On reflection not a bad little ritual for the major supermarket chains to introduce into the lives of those standing in the check-out queue.
The Catholic Church also understands the value of a brand book, by using the Bible to maximum effect. Perhaps it has a fair bit more content than the average brand book, but, at its heart, communication is through storytelling. This is a concept that other brand owners have only consciously embraced in the past decade or so. Regardless of how intuitively and intelligently the Catholic Church has used this full suite of branding tools over the centuries, it now faces the reality of all brands in that its ultimate brand equity resides in its deeds, and not its words or symbols. The current plight of the Catholic Church brand in Australia is the result of its inability to practice what it preaches. The recently announced Royal Commission into child abuse should have been something that was welcomed by the Church. Instead the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell adopted the instinctive response to defend the Church by declaring that the media had maligned the Catholic Church with a smear campaign and that the misdoing inside the Church had been exaggerated.
The insipid and defensive response by the Church to the many incidents of child abuse within its ranks is so off-brand that it is bewildering. It not only shows a total lack of respect and compassion for those who have been abused, it is also a symbolic slap in the face to those who have continued to be loyal supporters of the Church’s brand. Sadly its response is a reflection of how out of touch it has become. It may be a brand that has more than a billion members world wide, but it is a brand in decline and there is nothing to suggest that it has a strategy to counter this. In fact in many respects it appears ‘hell-bent’ on speeding up its demise.