MARKETING AND RELIGION: Catholic Consumption and Sin Management

I a recent conversation with a client we stumbled over an interesting insight. His business is still quite weak across Europe – with the exception of a few markets which seem to have nothing else in common than being predominantly catholic.
After some discussing, we came to the conclusion that this might actually be his recipe for success as there are many more catholic countries that he hadn‘t previously recognized as focus markets.
What‘s the story?
The product that this gentleman is dealing in is a line of functional food which is supposed to balance the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. Now, this is a concept that sounds very familiar to catholics: commit a sin, then confess and pay an indulgence fee. Whereas it runs counter to any protestant ethics that is all about having the strength and discipline not to commit a sin in the first place.
So, from a marketer‘s point-of-view, catholics may well be the hotter target both for products offering „forbidden pleasures“ and for „compensatory consumption“ because of their superior sin guilt management.

Update: The comment from David below urges me to make one thing clear: My point is not a theological or ethical argument nor do I suggest that catholics are more frequent sinners than protestants. What I am making here is a psychological point, namely that the catholic faith offers those who are raised in its tradition better ways of coping with feelings of guilt and finding inner balance again. To benefit from this, they don’t even need to be practicing their faith if they have acquired the coping strategy, as psychology calls it, in the development of their personality.

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  1. David

    Well, that’s just a wrong idea of what Catholics do when they sin. When you sin, you recognize the sin, if you’re sorry for it, and don’t want to do it again, you can confess it, and resolve not to do it again. There’s no such thing as an indulgence fee.

    It’s apparent that sometimes we eat too much or drink too much. It’s only a sin if you do it on purpose with the knowledge that it’s wrong. So, if you go to the pub, and hand your keys over to a friend so you can get plastered to the wall in alcohol, you’ve committed a mortal sin. If you go to the pub, have a couple too many without the planning part, you might have a problem, but it’s not a mortal sin. To confess it, you must be sorry, and commit to never doing it again, in order to go to confession and be free of it. Otherwise, you’re still burdened with that sin. One act of penance might be to give money you’d spend on drinking (in this case) to the poor, but it might be just to abstain from the practice of drinking for a month.

    I know some Catholics think they can just sin and confess, sin and confess, but that’s not the case.

    • lokomotivebreath

      Thank you for your comments which show that I need to clarify a few things in my post. I don’t mean to hurt any religious feelings nor do I want to caricature the ethics of confession and penance. My point is purely psychological and it is based on my experience with myself, a protestant baptized and raised in that faith, and with my wife who is catholic and has a huge family in that faith. The psychological point is that catholics, if they commit a sin, have established procedures to get it off their conscience and re-establish their inner balance. The sins of protestants, in contrast, keep nagging them, sometimes for the rest of their lives because only the creator can forgive you.
      This is, to emphasize, not a theological argument, which I would be totally incompetent to make, but just a description of the emotional side of these two faiths.

      • David

        Not having read further and not knowing what you know or don’t know, I’m sorry. I wasn’t attacking you, but trying to make sure that people understand what the confessional is all about. While there are the caracatures of Catholics who get drunk on Saturday night and go to confession on Sunday EVERY WEEK (and sadly, there are lots like this), that’s not a modern understanding of it.

        I agree though, for those that use confession for what it’s good for, there is that feeling of being washed clean by shining the light into the darkness of sin.

        Thanks for your clarification.

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