Don’t Just Sell. Inspire A Cultish Movement.

Copywriter, Nathan Archambault, writes Maybe I’m Gravy, a blog about the sport (not to be confused with his sports blog). On said blog, he posits that ad agencies are shifting (or need to be) from making ads to creating cults.

Ad agencies will still be idea factories. But creating ads is going to become a side dish to advertising’s main course capabilities.
Ideas are going to be used to create something every brand wants, but few brands have. Something that takes advantage of the collective thinking, immediacy and transparency of Facebook, Twitter, smartphones and everything else that’s bringing people together.
That’s what brands need. And that’s something ad agencies can provide. Cults that empower a brand’s biggest fans, produce greater brand differentiation and increase market share. Cults full of passionate, deeply loyal consumers who do a better job at selling a brand than ads ever did. Cults that convince people to opt in, unlike most ads that force people to opt out.

My friends at Brains on Fire call these groups of passionate consumers “movements,” not cults, but the thinking is the same.
Of course, ad people helping to inspire cults, or movements, is not foreign to insanely great brands like Apple. Everyone knows about the “Cult of Mac.” And that cult was clearly created by stellar advertising and exceptional product design (a killer combo, if there ever was one).
I wonder though, will a cult, or movement, ever rise up around an average product? Maybe. A lot of people classify Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese as average products, but all three have cult followings.
Whatever the answer, I like the concept that agencies aren’t in business just to makes ads that promote product. Rather agencies (and freelancers like me!) are generators of big ideas that attract a passionate audience.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. I have a fun presentation I give on this topic called, Inspiring Belief.
    I maintain (as does Nathan) that the highest order of business for agencies would be to create devotion to brands, not unlike Religions do for God: People treat their morning Starbucks (or similar) like a devotional. People think a pair of Air Jordans will allow them to walk on air -like Michael…like God.

  2. “Cultish Movement” You should coin that one.
    I see where you’re going (and thanks for the shout out), but if I may take it a little further, I think that cults are a part of a movement. Culture is definitely something we work with when we’re igniting movements. And movements grow out of community, so they go hand-in-hand. But I think they are also two separate things.
    Great post, as always David.

  3. I appreciate your clarification, Spike. If I was a real journalist, I would have called you for a comment ahead of time ;-d

  4. Whitney Shada says:

    I recognize this cultish following you are describing and I appreciate your honesty in presenting this point. I believe this “cultish following” you speak of is already present as well. The name itself is not something most people recognize them as, but this is because the term “cult” often provokes less appealing associations.
    Society is undoubtedly characterized by social movements and trends that could be defined as a cult because of the inter-connectivity the internet has provided them. This point you make is interesting to consider in it’s effect on the future. Because our society has developed “cults” with devoted members, I am curious the effect these cults may have on the future of advertising. Where advertising was once exclusive and narrowly defined, it is becoming equally psychological and journalistic.

  5. I agree that the term ‘cult’ is used more as a negative connotation rather than positive. Especially when it comes to a ‘brand’s passionate audience’. As I have learned in my advertising courses, positivity is a key element in creating an advertising message. When I am personally passionate about a brand, I will consider myself a part of a movement. The thought of considering myself as part of a cult allows me to be associated with a bad stigma.
    Social movements need to be considered nothing less than radiating positivity (especially in the world we live in today). I think so many consumers opt in situations because it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel positive and good. Since advertising is not as exclusive as it once was, it is important to refined modern advertising with positivity.

  6. Are all cults equal? How do you compare the Walmart or McDonalds cult to one that is following the latest trend du jour among the technocrati, or even the Apple cult? Why is that considered a good cult, but Walmart less good?
    I was just getting used to being in some tribes and now I find out I have to be in cults, too.