At last a tech CEO comes clean: cer­tain brands re­ally are like re­li­gious cults

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Have you ever thought, ‘Hmm, some tech brands are more like cults’? Yeah, Dun­can Bell is pon­der­ing the same this month

In church, you’re told what to think and promised sal­va­tion. Or is that Ap­ple key­notes?

It’s long been said that cer­tain tech brands are rather like your more mod­ern kinds of re­li­gion. Usu­ally, that’s been seen as a bit of an in­sult, but now one CEO has just come out and said it: “Yes, we are mod­elled on a cult.”

OnePlus, as you prob­a­bly know, makes ex­cel­lent flag­ship-type mo­biles at low, low prices. Nowa­days it’s a fairly stan­dard phone busi­ness, but when it started out as a thrust­ing young ‘dis­rup­tor’, you had to all but beg per­mis­sion to be al­lowed to buy one of their hand­sets, then await de­liv­ery when you be­came a cho­sen one.

In a very in­ter­est­ing re­cent in­ter­view, OnePlus CEO Carl Pei told Wired: “We won­dered if there was a pos­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing a brand that also feels more like a club or like a re­li­gion.”

To this end, in one no­to­ri­ous pub­lic­ity stunt named Smash The Past, would-be OnePlus acolytes were en­cour­aged to smash their phones and send ev­i­dence, for a chance to buy a OnePlus for $1.

So, of course, while some true be­liev­ers duly did re­ceive the sal­va­tion of an even cheaper flag­ship-grade blower, plenty did not and were left to con­tem­plate the man­gled wreck­age of their pre­vi­ously beloved iPhone. Or, okay, if they pos­sessed a brain, the man­gled wreck­age of some crappy old phone they’d had idly sit­ting in a drawer for a few years.

Sil­i­con Val­ley­lu­jah!

As Carl ex­plains it, “If you al­ready sub­scribe to a re­li­gion and you want to change re­li­gions, there’s a switch­ing cost or an ini­ti­a­tion rit­ual… If you’re al­ready sub­scribed to an­other brand, then to join us, you have to sac­ri­fice that brand.”

I’m pretty sure most es­tab­lished re­li­gions don’t re­quire any such thing; it’s just a bit of dip­ping in wa­ter and learn­ing some old books.

Many cults, how­ever – even the rel­a­tively harm­less ones – cer­tainly do like to ask for a bit of fi­nan­cial sac­ri­fice. I thought it was re­fresh­ing that Mr Pei was so open about this, although he was at pains to say that this ap­proach was borne out of his brand’s youth­ful ar­ro­gance, thus sug­gest­ing they’ve moved on since then to be­come more, well, nor­mal.

You have to say that there is a lot about tech wor­ship that is awash with culti­ness – yes, I said culti­ness. The more ex­treme dis­ci­ples of An­droid and Ap­ple are like the wild-eyed devo­tees of cer­tain faiths that you tend to find hang­ing around shop­ping cen­tres hand­ing out flow­ers. And some of the more hard­core OS both­er­ers are head­ing in a de­cid­edly mil­i­tant di­rec­tion.

Plenty more of us are more com­pa­ra­ble to foot­ball fans or lovers of cer­tain rock and pop bands. You know, the types who re­ceive fan­let­ters writ­ten in bod­ily flu­ids, or who can­not be heard over the screech­ing of their au­di­ences.

Once we get be­hind a cult/team/band, that loy­alty is might­ily hard to shake.

Lo, the black sea could turn to desert, and the moun­tains crum­ble, be­fore I give up my de­vo­tion to my Naim Mu-so, the blessed Ap­ple iPhone and my aptly named Sage cof­fee maker.

There are rit­u­als/cup matches/ gigs for us to at­tend – or at least watch – as well. In a church, you will see con­ser­va­tively dressed men with no sense of hu­mour telling you what to think and promis­ing sal­va­tion. Or am I think­ing of Ap­ple key­notes? You see, it’s so easy to get the two con­fused, isn’t it?

As with re­li­gion, tech de­lights and chal­lenges us with moral co­nun­drums, charis­matic prophets (okay, maybe not usu­ally all that charis­matic. Hey, there’s Elon Musk!) and as­tro­nom­i­cal prof­its.

You get the feel­ing that some brands de­sire the con­tents of, if not your heart or your im­mor­tal soul, at the very least your bank ac­count and all of your data, yay ver­ily, unto the very size of your shoes and when you last used the khazi.

In the hands of the cun­ning mis­ter Pei, this be­comes a play­ful and amus­ing way of mar­ket­ing tech. But let’s not fall too far into blind obe­di­ence to higher pow­ers and mind­less zealotry, eh?

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