At last a tech CEO comes clean: certain brands really are like religious cults
Have you ever thought, ‘Hmm, some tech brands are more like cults’? Yeah, Duncan Bell is pondering the same this month
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.
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?
In church, you’re told what to think and promised salvation. Or is that Apple keynotes?