The question is simple enough, but the answer is not. Religion is perhaps the world's most powerful driving force. It has been at the heart of monumental acts of goodwill and charity, as well as monstrous acts of war. It influences leaders, redraws borders, dictates every day life, or is completely ignored – and one could argue that atheism is a religion in its own right, at least in the sense that its “beliefs” are fervently held by those who claim its title.
No matter what your beliefs are, you must agree that religion is powerful. But for marketers, it is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have the world's most powerful motivator at your fingertips. Use it well, and you will influence the masses and fuel sales. On the other hand, if you make mistakes, you risk offending a large customer base – or even the customer base you intend to target. And I won't even get into the potential ramifications of using religion to turn a profit at all. For this reason many marketers have shied away from marketing with religion. Merry Christmas has been replaced with Happy Holidays. Think Wal Mart. But understand how a business such as Wal Mart has so many demographically different customers it would be nearly impossible to market with religion without offending some. On the other hand, I live in the Bible Belt where a Christian bookstore is found in nearly every town. Said bookstores have an easy go of using religion in their marketing materials. But that doesn't mean one has to run a religious business in order to employ religious ideals in one's marketing strategy. To me, it's all about targeting. If you have a sound demographic mailing list, you can target different customers in different ways, each in one that speaks to him. Thus, a gym might send a postcard to Christians that plays on the “My body is my temple... (1 Cor. 6:19-20)” theme and a similar postcard to Jews that says “Let God transform you into a new person... (Romans 12:1-2).” Atheists might receive a postcard that simply says “Get stronger, look better, starting today.” Beyond targeting, some marketers decide to stick to the most prevalent religion in a given society. Thus, Christian-themed advertisements are prevalent in the United States. And others decide to play it safe by staying away from the topic altogether. Ultimately, the decision is yours, as well as the inherent risk. You know your customers best – how will they respond? Will taking a religious angle earn more sales? Are they worth the potential backlash? Those are questions for you to answer. In the end, however, I think perhaps Linus van Pelt said it best: “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.” Sage advice, indeed.