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12/24/2008
11:22 AM
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iTunes Gives And Gets A Blessing

Apple's iTunes has received a unique endorsement in a marketplace populated by sports and entertainment celebrities: The Vatican has blessed an iPhone app.

Apple's iTunes has received a unique endorsement in a marketplace populated by sports and entertainment celebrities: The Vatican has blessed an iPhone app.Well, not quite blessed, but acknowledged and praised something called "iBreviary," which is a prayer book that tees up the daily mass and other bytes of holy goodness, saying that it "is learning to use the new technologies." Pope Benedict XVI is rumored to listen to classical music on an iPod, and has sent SMS messages to the faithful.

Talk about a holy sponsorship deal for the Apple brand.

Standard, old branding theology would have the association of a personality with a brand name delivering an absolutely benefit: "If we hire known quantity X to wax poetic about our widget, people will attach extra value to it." It's a simple pay-for-play arrangement, no different conceptually from Rod Blagojevich's imagined criminality ... and a nice deal for non-lawbreakers like Tiger Woods, who pocketed $56 million over the past decade for lending his visage to Buick (so it could not sell any cars).

Do endorsements benefit technology brands? I wonder. Anybody who gets tech is probably not swayed by a name or face, however popular, but rather adds brand attributes based on functionality. Maybe consumers care about endorsements -- Jerry Seinfeld tacitly approving the Microsoft name comes to mind -- but mental states like recognition, awareness, or even passing fondness do not sales prompt.

What I find most interesting about the Pontifical wink for iTunes is that it's not about a particular artifact of technology, or a technical function, but rather all about a larger utility. Experience. The context of real life. It's not a brand endorsement at all, but rather a statement of purpose.

Going forward, the Vatican probably isn't considering a lot of endorsements, although lots of companies and celebrities are likely maneuvering for such deals in 2009. I'd suggest that the model to follow is one of finding approvals of relevance and utility -- like iBreviary received -- and skipping the associations of name and face that are presumed to benefit brands.

Fewer sell-out endorsements might be the real blessing next year.

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog, and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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