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!

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