Business Society

Book review: selling products to atheists

Do you know any openly atheist politicians?  We have had openly gay ones for some time now.  Even a black president.  Yet, despite the fact that atheism is probably one of the major global trends to watch in 2013, atheism isn’t selling much other than itself.  This insightful book helps you open up the opportunities for any brand or product to this excited and exciting new market.   No, it’s not just for sellers of cheesy videos, candles or other “traditional” religious products.  This major shift is changing marketing for every product.

How to sell to the Godless generation: the critical thinking obstacle” is an excellent handbook for anyone in sales and marketing interested in finding a new communication channel to brand new customers.   Here’s the book’s anatomy in brief:

Chapters 1 & 2 don’t waste too much time going over the “why faith died” timeline.  This has been done pretty well before.   We have read about religion as an economic activity or from a branding perspective.  Here the author puts it all together succinctly for anyone who hasn’t read “Acts of faith”, “Selling God” or “Faith no more”.  This is because he uses the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” angle.   Were you making money selling faith or on the back of religious ideas?  Probably not.

Chapter 3 then proceeds to give you a kick in the butt!  Just in case you fell in the trap of simply agreeing with yourself and not really shaking up your thinking enough, the author really dives into why religion sells in the first place.  It is all too easy to make fun of Christian diets, or bumper stickers without deeply feeling the human need they are fulfilling.  Everyday habits are massive opportunities but also very hard to change.

Chapter 4 continues peeling away layers of understanding by dissecting many examples of faith products and what opportunities they are leaving behind as they subside.  Who is going to be the new TV evangelist?  If they aren’t buying Tshirts that write “I love Jesus” what will they buy?  The Tshirt argument is actually where the book really starts because so far atheism has only really sold witty slogans.

Chapter 5 retrospectively pays due to the author’s real idols, the religious and business leaders that used religion in the past centuries to sell.  They followed popular culture in order to sell religion and they used religion to sell products.  The “sneaky beaky” marketing, or what the author calls “social engineering” (don’t confuse it with what hackers use the term for) on a grand scale and with a long term view.  World changing stuff.   Which is why the books reaches it’s dizzying climax here with…

…chapter 6 where we are inundated with ideas!  “If you were the CEO of General Motors, here’s what you need to do” followed by “and if you are the guy at the corner shop, here’s what it means for you.”  The collapse of religion, as with every major societal shift opens huge opportunities.  The closing chapter is a ray of happy hope in a financially depressed world and you are all too likely to drop the book here and run out to start a new business venture.

Which would be a shame for two reasons.  One is that chapter 7 has some serious words of caution.  Human beings have eschewed critical thinking for most of their history; this is unlikely to change now.  And – more importantly – the author closes with the real ethical and moral underpinnings of a world without religion.  We aren’t out to game the system just to make money.  A world with more atheist products will actually be a much better world.

P.S.  This book doesn’t exist.  I doubt I will find time to write it.  However like all good consultants I throw my ideas out to the world.  If any of you reading this actually get around to writing it some day, please let me know, I can probably help you sell it…



Twice a stranger: the children of Lausanne

Whether we like it or not, those of us who live in Europe or in places influenced by European ideas remain the children of Lausanne; that is to say, of the convention signed on a Swiss lakeside after the First World War which decreed a massive, forced population movement between Turkey and Greece.

A bold opening, to what is one of the best books I have ever read by Bruce Clark.  Put it on your list for understanding the modern history of Greece and beyond.  …there are still many people inside and outside the Balkans who would like to see the ‘Lausanne principle’ reapplied; for example, by allowing Bosnia to break up into one or more states, or by dividing up Kosovo.

It is a serious legacy.

For the remainder of the century, the memory of the giant Greek-Turkish exchange was a powerful influence on policy makers all over the world. It was taken as proof that it was possible, both practically and morally, to undertake huge exercises in ethnic engineering, and proclaim them a success. Massive population exchanges, agreed by governments over the heads of the ordinary people, became a conceivable and often attractive option for world leaders. As the history of the 20th century shows, the temptation to use such methods is especially strong in certain types of political or geopolitical situation. For example, it can arise where one form of imperial authority (from Soviet communism to British colonial rule) is collapsing; or when a new nationalist power wants to consolidate its authority; or when a new strategic order is being created in the aftermath of war.

The beauty of the book is that after shooting off these bold claims, the author takes a quite different tack.

All over Turkey and Greece, you can see the physical remnants of a world whose component parts seem to have been broken apart, suddenly and with great violence. On remote hilltops in the heart of Anatolia, there are gutted shells of stone whose original, sacred purpose is revealed only by a few streaks of ochre paint on an inside wall; the last remains of a Christian fresco. In a nearby village, amid the wandering livestock and muddy tracks, you can often find a sturdy building of two or three storeys, now used as a hayshed or stable but clearly designed for some nobler purpose. On enquiry this turns out to be the remains of a school where Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christians were taught to be a little more Greek by teachers dispatched from Istanbul or Athens. And in the stark, featureless towns of northern Greece, the evidence from buildings is equally startling and puzzling. 

And he doesn’t just cover the topic with flowery prose.  It is the human stories that make it real for the reader:

Believers in a traditional Hellenophobia-Turkophobia would have stared at the sight of the Mytilene Greeks spreading farewell meals for their departing neighbours, and later accompanying them to the quay, where Christians and Mohammedans, who for a lifetime had been plowing adjacently and even sharing occasional backgammon games at village cafes, embraced and parted with tears. Then, seated on their heaped up baggage, with their flocks around them – the women weeping, the children hugging their pets, the gray-bearded babas all dignity, as is their wont – the Mytilene Muslims set forth for unknown Turkey.
– National Geographic magazine, November 1922

The book has the magical ability to transfer us from the touching episodes between people, to international diplomacy in the same page:

At the beginning of October 1922, a young Turkish officer called Kemaleddin went down to the harbour of a deserted Aegean port and bade an emotional goodbye to a distraught Greek woman. As he did so, he murmured the name of one of his three sisters who had been killed recently by the Greek army in his home town of Bursa. He also promised the Greek woman, Agape, that he would do whatever he could to ensure the safety of her eighteen-year-old brother, Ilias, who was one of the 3000 Greek men and boys from the town who had been taken prisoner, supposedly to engage in forced labour. This encounter between Kemaleddin and Agape, recounted by her many years later, was the culmination of a poignant human story which unfolded against the background of the momentous, and for many people, unspeakably painful events which took place that autumn on the western edge of Anatolia.

If schools in both countries were serious about education, this book would be compulsory reading.  For a Greek it is shocking to read about the masses of Muslim populations and their expulsion, yet:

In today’s Ayvalik, there are not many people with detailed knowledge of that period. If a local person wants to talk history, it is more likely to be the history of Crete, and of what it was like to be a Muslim there. Among Cretan Muslims, the memories they cultivate most strongly are almost a mirror image of those cherished by the Orthodox Greeks. The moments which official Greek history celebrates, they lament – and vice versa. In their collective memory, the advance of Greek nationalism is an unfolding tragedy.

Clark not only has a great understanding of modern Balkans but a unique capacity for empathy:

These deportees were given no choice in the matter. Nobody asked them whether they would have preferred to stay put, with all the attendant risks of being a small minority in a state where the majority was bent on affirming its domination. Nobody asked them how they felt, or to which nation or community they felt most attached. The personal feelings of the people involved were the last thing considered by the politicians who decreed the population exchange. What they wanted – and this was not an ignoble desire – was an arrangement that would be durable and minimize the risk of further war, either in the immediate future or in a subsequent generation.

As if this coctail was not good enough, the author also has an uncanny ease in attaching the past events to current developments:

Religions, languages and national traditions that used to co-exist now live separately, because no new terms of co-existence could be found. For better or worse, the Sultans provided a sort of shelter under which Muslim sheikhs could receive the faithful in Salonika, and Christian mystics could work their miracles in the villages of Cappadocia. When that authoritarian roof collapsed, people on both sides of the religious divide had to flee for their lives.

The sad fact is that multinational empires have given way not to multinational democracies but to sharply defined nation-states; and the process of redefinition has often been a violent one. 


Ouzo around the world

Ich trink Ouzo, was trinkst du so? – I drink ouzo, what do you drink?

It has been called “The book on the crisis” and “A love letter to Greece”.   The journalist Stella Bettermann has written a real “feel good” book.   Even the longer stories leave a nice taste in your mouth as the author describes her childhood summers with parents and brother every year in  Greece. The magic, the exotic and the violent collide in this unusual holiday she describes in “I drink ouzo, what do you drink? “. The result is a love letter to Greece, the Greek people, to the warmth of her grandmother and an impressive and unusual family that the reader will not quickly forget.

With a fine sense of humor Stella Bettermann tells of the adventurous three-day drive from Munich to Piraeus, dust and heat and the great reception that the lost daughter and her family receives annually on arrival.

The author evokes the scent of anise and cinnamon, the greeting kisses of aunts, uncles, cousins, the joy of his grandfather and the soft hands of the grandmother, the smell of basil.Grandmother and grandfather –  Yiayia and  Pappous – and her  cousin Anna are the most important people in the holiday world of the girl from Germany. The almost blind Yiayia Stella goes every day to the market to buy fruit and vegetables. With Pappous they visit the playground and learn that Greek girls are not allowed to get dirty and are always perfectly presentable. With cousin Anna Stella she has a real adventure, expedition, like those the hear of in the coffee house, the traditional domain of the males.

Stella BettermannAt this point an important warning: Do not read this book on an empty stomach, for the enjoyable and detailed description of the mountains of delicious food, prepared every night by the grandmother will have you reeling. Even Stella’s better ouzo warning will be forgotten by the next summer vacation in Greece: While you drink it, you don’t feel anything, but when you try to get up, your legs give in…

Sensitively and with great humor, the author also deals with the cultural differences between Greeks and Germans, which shape their everyday life and can lead to entertaining misunderstandings.  Greeks  overprotect their children well into their adulthood.  And the Germans? Who let their dogs make piles everywhere, even on the playground. And they do not wash dishes by hand but rinse them with a cloth – how unhygienic!  But they are neat and industrious, the Germans, and what a beautifully green country they have.    Stella’s uncle said Michalis impressive, what is his view typical Greek: “The Greeks have to say just nothing, not even the boss. Where there is no matter whether one is wealthy or influential. That makes no impression on them. The only think: Who are you on, you have me do nothing to command. That’s the problem with Greece – that every little clerk, the instructions of his boss in question. They say, however, Yes, Sir! ” and bow too. And the Germans say, I won ‘work hard and when the chief asked. That is why they have become rich countries. ” ISBN 978-3-404-61666-4 / Publisher: BASTION LÜBBE

Click here for the song from the musical.