Is Amazon a Cult Brand: Making the Case

In our ongoing conversation about identifying existing and emerging Cult Brands, it’s impossible to ignore the giant in the room: Amazon. 

Founded in 1994 as an online bookstore, Amazon quickly became the world’s largest retailer. Since then they have expanded exponentially in many directions. Amazon Prime was launched in 2005, changing the way Americans thought about online shopping and delivery charges. Subsequent other brand extensions include streaming video, grocery, pharmacy, and health care services, and most recently, a newer, better web browser. 

But are they a Cult Brand? Are people passionate about Amazon, or are they just so omnipresent that shoppers choose them out of habit? 89% of Americans report they will buy from Amazon before any other e-commerce site; is this love?

Is Amazon a Cult Brand? The Signs That Make Us Say Yes

Named for all-powerful, ever-conquering warriors, Amazon has positioned itself to capture a dominant place in the world of business and in the public’s imagination. Key to achieving Cult Brand status is conveying a story that the public can understand and identify with. Amazon chose the narrative that they’re unstoppable in every field – and they then set out to make this true. 

From a branding perspective, the smile-emblazoned cardboard box is brilliant. It clearly articulates the emotional experience Amazon wants its customers to have – even if they’ve just ordered some toothpaste and new socks. 

Amazon has gathered tremendous amounts of data and creates its offerings based on meeting real customer needs. Their expansions into grocery, healthcare and banking speak to their commitment to meeting consumer needs at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. Watch this recent ad – ( directed by Olivia Wilde and debuted during the Oscars – to see how Amazon strives to show its customers it can help them meet their higher order needs for love and self-acceptance. 

Perhaps one of the strongest signs that Amazon is a Cult Brand was the ease with which they established Prime Day as a major shopping holiday for the average consumer. In two days in 2022, Prime Day sales topped $12 billion. People plan their purchases knowing Prime Day is coming, in an effort to save money. There’s also a great deal of excitement associated with Lightning Deals and other timed discounts. 

Is Amazon a Cult Brand? The Signs That Make Us Say No

While Cult Brands certainly don’t do everything perfectly all of the time, they generally do exhibit a high degree of transparency regarding their operations. Amazon is engaged in long-term disputes about the working conditions in their facilities, and there are many credible allegations about Amazon’s efforts to prevent workers from unionizing. 

Amazon also gets a side-eye for its use of anti-competitive practices; poor policing of counterfeit and dangerous goods; and other environmental and social concerns. While some of these issues are addressed on a case-by-case basis, overall, Amazon tends to protect their own interests rather than putting customers first in these scenarios. 

What Do You Think?

If you’ve been reading my work for a while now, you probably have your own idea of what a Cult Brand is and isn’t. Under your definition, would Amazon qualify? I’d love to hear what you think!

The Newest Cult Brands: The Organizations We’ve Been Keeping an Eye On

Over the years that we’ve been researching and assisting Cult Brands – companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, and Kohl’s – it’s become clear that there’s a reliable process for identifying organizations that have the potential to achieve Cult Brand status. 

It’s this process – illustrated with examples drawn from the current class of emerging Cult Brands – that I’ll be writing about over the course of the next few weeks.  I’m doing this because while it’s relatively easy to spot Cult Brands when they’re on top, it can be challenging to discover them before that. 

Additionally, I think it’s important for leaders and brand managers to understand that Cult Brands are deliberately created. There’s a series of decisions that Cult Brands have to make and consistently implement in order to achieve and maintain strong customer relationships. Cult Brands don’t just spontaneously happen – they choose to exist. 

Then, Now, Forever, Together: The WWE’s 40-Year Legacy as a Cult Brand

Two years ago, the WWE updated its tagline. They changed “Then, Now, Forever” to “Then, Now, Forever, Together”. In Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon’s statement about the change at the time, we find the following language:

“WWE has always been about inclusivity. … We are all about bringing people together, putting smiles on people’s faces, and creating moments and memories that last a lifetime.” …  “No matter who they are, no matter what they do for a living, no matter where they live, no matter how much money they make, they belong, they are a part of WWE and that’s the inclusive nature of our community and the bigger WWE family.”

This focus on the customer relationship is at the heart of every Cult Brand. Without this aspect, achieving Cult Brand status is impossible. However, the WWE has over the years done many other innovative things to continually attract new customer interest & render their competitors irrelevant.

Are You Ready to Rumble: Wrestlemania & the Customer Experience

Prior to Vince McMahon founding the WWE – then called the WWF – watching professional wrestling was a somewhat fringe experience, held in cheap venues not generally of the sort you’d bring your family to. 

McMahon was the first promoter to put the event focus on the customer experience. Everything became much more theatrical. Entrance music, pyrotechnics, and a consistently high caliber of ring talent delivered an exciting experience people wanted to be part of. The first Wrestlemania was revolutionary, putting the fun right in the middle of Madison Square Garden.

Pay Per View was another innovation the WWE made good use of. Giving the fans a way to access the fun while removing the need to travel a great distance or spend lots of money was very smart. Fan groups gathered to watch PPV matches, strengthening their bond to each other and the brand.

Flash forward twenty years, and the WWE still has a loyal, strong fanbase. After launching a fairly successful independent WWE network, they’ve recently made the migration to Peacock, one of the largest streaming platforms. The fanbase is now global – India in particular has many fans – and a widely reported yet currently uncompleted sale to the Saudi government is in the works. 

What’s next for the WWE remains to be seen, but if they maintain their focus on the customer relationship, providing a superior level of entertainment, and remaining flexible and adaptable as new technology becomes available, we see no reason why they shouldn’t be considered fully as a Cult Brand. 

What do you think? Do you consider the WWE a Cult Brand? Can you name any of their competitors? How would you explain the multi-generational nature of their fans? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A Community of Collaboration, Connectivity, and Capital – SCALE Global Summit 2023

A few years back, I had the pleasure of meeting Victor Oviedo, one of the co-founders of the SCALE Global Summit. During our conversation, he shared an innovative idea that he, Kelly O’Connor, the CEO of SCALE Global, and Tony Hsieh had been working on. This idea aimed to create a community where people from diverse backgrounds could unite and foster growth in their personal and professional lives.

Their vision was to create a conference that would foster connections and provide the necessary resources and support for individuals to thrive. In this community, attendees could learn from industry experts, exchange ideas, and gain insights to fuel their growth.

Why today, I wanted to share some exciting news with you. 

Here is something that, as CEO and leader, you should consider attending. The upcoming SCALE Global Summit brings together some incredible speakers who will provide invaluable insights into the current economic landscape and what lies ahead. SCALE is a global ecosystem that brings together investors, thought leaders, and business-builders to discuss the macroeconomic conditions, geopolitical trends, and investment opportunities for the year ahead. 

This community fosters collaboration, connectivity, and capital within the alternative investing and entrepreneurial ecosystems. The connections that you will foster are unlike any other event. My good friend Tony Hsieh used to say this is where the top and elite investors let their hair down. 

One thing I love about SCALE is that you’ll sit amongst your peers, including market-moving CEOs, investment icons, and industry luminaries, who are transforming today’s ideas into the innovations and investments of tomorrow. You’ll engage in conversations with solution-orientated, intellectually-curious, and purpose-driven game-changers coming together to address critical issues.

The platform at SCALE is designed to inspire learning and innovation, catalyze growth and opportunity, access meaningful sources of deal flow and capital, and network with the world’s brightest minds. You’ll have access to a community of like-minded individuals who are all working towards the same goal: building their capital – financial, strategic, social, and human.

SCALE is more than just a gathering; it’s a movement that promotes the democratization of access, ideas, and opportunities. It’s about breaking down barriers and creating a level playing field where anyone can succeed. By joining this community, you’ll be able to scale your business to new heights while positively impacting society.

SCALE is the perfect platform for CEOs and leaders looking to take their businesses to the next level. It’s a global ecosystem that provides access to capital, innovation, and purpose while fostering collaboration, connectivity, and community. So, if you’re ready to join a movement that promotes growth, opportunity, and positive change, then SCALE is the place for you.

Some of the notable speakers at the event include:

  • Michael R. Pompeo, 70th U.S. Secretary of State (2018-2021)
  • Hillary Clinton, 67th Secretary of State (2009-2013)
  • Boris Johnson, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2019-2022)
  • John Sullivan Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia (2019-2022); Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State (2017-2019) and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce (2007-2009)
  • Sheryl Sandberg, Founder, Lean In
  • Jewel Kilcher, Singer/Songwriter; NY Times Best Seller; Mental Health & Mindfulness Advocate
  • Margaret Hoover, Host, Firing Line
  • Mark Wahlberg, Actor, Producer & Entrepreneur
  • Joshua S. Friedman Co-Founder, Co-Chairman & Co-Chief Executive Officer, Canyon Partners, LLC
  • Howard Marks Co-Chairman, Oaktree Capital Management

It’s an awe-inspiring list; you can see all the speakers here.

Each speaker brings a unique perspective and wealth of experience to the table. Their insights will help you connect the dots and move markets, whether you’re an investor, entrepreneur, or business leader.

The perspectives shared at SCALE will be precious to you and your business. Please consider attending this year’s event and take advantage of this unique opportunity.

I hope you can join me there.

Onwards and Upwards! 

Bolivar J. Bueno 

The Cult Branding Company – Founder

How One Brand Revamped Their Appeal with an Immersive Metaverse Adventure for Gen Z DIYers!

As a top business with a passion for growing your brand the right way, I wanted to share with you a recent innovation from The Home Depot that has caught my attention.

The Home Depot, a household name in the home improvement industry, has launched a new Virtual Kids Workshop experience in Roblox’s Redcliff City. This immersive metaverse experience challenges young gamers to collect materials to build projects, introducing them to the joy of building and home improvement.

This investment in the future of interconnected experiences combines The Home Depot’s in-person Kids Workshops with the discovery, problem-solving, and fun that Roblox is known for. By meeting their young audience where they are and embracing new technology, The Home Depot is building a loyal customer base for the future.

As a top CEO, I know that you understand the importance of innovation, adaptability, and customer engagement in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. This new metaverse experience provides an excellent opportunity to connect with younger audiences and ignite your brand in a whole new way.

I encourage you to explore this exciting new development and consider how it could apply to your own brand. You never know where your next breakthrough idea might come from.

Are Cult Brands Recession-Proof?

With leading economists fairly confident that the recession will occur in the US during 2023, it seems prudent to discuss what brands can do to stay strong and vibrant during economic downturns. My work with Cult Brands goes back over twenty years now, and in that time, we’ve witnessed the following:

Brand Loyalty transcends economic circumstances. Organizations that stay loyal to their customer by delivering the best possible experience even when those customers aren’t necessarily in a position to buy are rewarded with customers who love them. When the funds are available to make a purchase from a favorite Cult Brand, it’s often seen as particularly meaningful or as part of a personal comeback.

During times of hardship, people need something to believe in. Right now, with trust in government and media at very low rates, the public is transferring its need to believe onto brands. The relationship between the individual and the brand can feel fairly equal, especially given the instant reach social media gives both fans and critics. Cult Brands thrive by meeting this need for trustworthy consistent performance. When people are uneasy about their finances, they’ll pay more for a brand they know won’t let them down. They will be less willing to take chances on lesser-known brands, even if those brands offer lower pricing. 

Cult Brands thrive by staying the course. Economic pressures can lead brands to consider cutting corners or cheapening the experience, but that’s not how Cult Brands do it. Instead, Cult Brands navigate recessions by doubling down on those aspects of their operation customers love the most. Focus on the best, most essential portions of the customer experience – this allows for cost control while maximizing customer retention. 

Cult Brands may not be entirely recession-proof, but they do a good job of weathering tough times. 

So what if you’re not a Cult Brand right now? It’s not too late to start shifting to the mindset and techniques that help strengthen the love and loyalty your customers have for you. We know a recession is coming, soft landing or not. Anticipating and planning a strategic response to this recession can result in a stronger and more resilient organization in the long run.

We Won’t Say We’re Trustworthy on the Record: Red Ventures Squanders CNET’s Excellence

We all have our favorite news sources, and over the years, I’ve come to appreciate CNET’s excellent, in-depth coverage. But recently, things have changed, and now, distressingly, I know why.

Red Ventures acquired CNET in 2020. At that time, CEO Rick Elias told the staff that there’d be a red line separating advertising from editorial. 

However, that has not proven to be the case. As reported by the Verge, reporters have been pressured to alter reviews to be more positive in cases where Red Ventures has a financial relationship with the products in question. Additionally, journalists have been asked to create sponsored content – a request that directly calls their integrity into account. 

On top of that, CNET’s early adoption of AI-written content has led to more than 70 articles needing correction. The AI not only plagiarizes, but it also makes errors in fact – things you would think would be unacceptable in a publication devoted to truth-telling. 

Consider this in Context: Americans Don’t Trust the Media

Reuters, one of the stalwarts of the news business, commissioned research in 2021 to see how the public felt about the media. At that time, the US ranked last among 46 surveyed countries in terms of trusting the media. Political polarization was thought to be a significant cause – 75% of respondents who identified as right-leaning felt the news did not reflect reality accurately, for example – but it’s not the only issue. 

The introduction of AI-generated content complicates an already messy situation. And the fact that people in general don’t want to pay for their news content puts additional pressure on media outlets to find ways to boost revenues. Sponsored content and maintaining lucrative business relationships are not unique to CNET, which highlights the trouble they’re currently in: by participating in behaviors thought to be inherently untrustworthy, Red Ventures has thrown away what made CNET special.

Can CNET come back from this? Re-establishing trust is hard, and frankly, once the staff is talking about the pressures they’re under, I’m dubious that the brand can thrive again without a change of leadership. But what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Power of Inclusivity in Marketing: Lessons from Nike’s ‘Beyond’ Ad

The most important lesson a CEO can learn from Nike’s Jordan Brand portrayal of an aspiring female baller in their “Uncommon” ad is the importance of inclusivity and representation in marketing.

The ad features a young girl who dreams of becoming a basketball player, despite the odds stacked against her. By highlighting her struggles and triumphs, the ad sends a powerful message about the potential of all athletes, regardless of their gender or background.

In today’s world, where consumers are increasingly demanding more diversity and representation in the brands they support, the lesson for CEOs is clear: inclusivity and representation should be a core component of their marketing strategies.

4th Down & Long: Is The Super Bowl Ad the Ultimate Hail Mary Play – Or Is It Something Else Entirely?

According to FOX Sports, Super Bowl LVII drew an average viewership of 113 million. And of those 113 million, more than three-quarters said they were looking forward to the ads. For some, the ads are far more of a draw than the game itself. 

Not everyone loves the sports ball, after all. But everyone does love to laugh.

The best Super Bowl ads are funny, entertaining, and memorable. People often have a favorite Super Bowl commercial – personally, I love eTrade’s dancing monkey bit – but somehow, inexplicably, the industry seems confused about what Super Bowl ads are for.

You’ve seen the conversations – what’s the ROI on these high-profile, incredibly expensive commercials? Sales cycles are tracked against the ad timeline, looking to see how much interest was created during the game and what that meant for the brand in the subsequent days, weeks, and months to come. It has been said that these ads are brand vanity projects – just a way for the largest brands to spend money to feel important.

Way to miss the point. 

Super Bowl ads are, when done properly, an amazing way to build up the levels of love people have for your brand. In a very short time frame, brands provide a beautiful, compelling experience that touches viewers’ hearts and minds. With smart storytelling, brands can say “We understand who you are, and we care about you.”

This year, for example, has Melissa McCarthy – a funny, relatable celebrity – in several funny scenes talking about her need to go on a trip “somewhere, anywhere” – a feeling familiar to everyone who’s just gone through a couple of years of pandemic restrictions. 

GM & Netflix partnered up to promote electric vehicles – an idea not everyone loves – using the shows and movies everyone does love, via the talents of comedian Will Ferrell, while Hellman’s trusted in the power of the Dad joke in their ad. 

These spots are all designed to entertain the viewer and make them feel good. It’s a little bit of fun, courtesy of a trusted brand. At this point, customer expectations of the Super Bowl ad are fairly high – so brands that can meet and exceed those expectations earn a greater benefit. 

Super Bowl ads are a tool for generating love. It’s that simple. That’s the only meaningful metric: does the public love your brand more after the ad than before it? All of the creativity, all of the over-the-top spectacle, all of the celebrity appearances, and WOW moments are happening because brands want the customer to love them best. It doesn’t matter if the brand is relatively new or if it has been around for 100 years. The battle for customer affection never stops – not even for the football game. 

“Lessons from the Ice: How Apple Canada’s Commercial Skated into the Hearts of Canadians”

The Apple Canada commercial featuring PK Subban and Joe Thornton is a great example of how brands can leverage the power of sports to connect with their audience. Here are a few things that Brand Builders can learn from this commercial:

Know your audience: Apple Canada clearly understands its Canadian audience’s love for hockey and uses this insight to create a memorable and relatable commercial. By featuring two popular hockey players in the ad, the brand connects with its audience on an emotional level and creates a sense of shared identity.

Collaborate with influencers: The use of high-profile sports influencers like PK Subban and Joe Thornton is an excellent way to add credibility to your brand and create a stronger connection with your target audience. Working with influencers who have a large following in your target market can help you reach new customers and build trust with your existing customers.

Highlight product features: The commercial also showcases the new features of the iPhone, including its water resistance, camera capabilities, and A14 Bionic chip. Brand Builders can learn from this and should ensure that their marketing efforts highlight their products’ unique features and how they can improve their customers’ lives.

Focus on storytelling: The commercial’s creative storytelling approach is another insight that you can take from this ad. By weaving a narrative that features humor, emotion, and a compelling message, the ad becomes more memorable and impactful. You should aim to tell a story that resonates with your audience and aligns with your brand.

Marketing teams can learn from Apple Canada’s commercial that using relatable influencers, highlighting product features, and focusing on storytelling can help build an emotional connection with your audience and make your brand more memorable.