Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers Into True Believers

When a member of a cult or a cult brand makes a commitment to the cult or cult brand, they're investing a huge amount. They're often giving up, often for brand cults, their family, their time, their money, their reputation. It's a massive, massive cost -- not just money cost -- to join the cult. That feeling or that investment must be felt to be reciprocated by the people who run the cult. There must be feeling amongst the membership that the people who run the cult feel as committed to them as they are committed to the cult. If there's any inequality in that sense of responsibility, the cult will break apart, often violently. For example, in one cult I investigated called the Fellowship of Friends in California, a classic cult based on the teachings of [Peter] Ouspensky, people gave up their whole lives and lived in a commune to follow [Robert Earl] Burton. Burton was then accused of molesting some of his followers and embezzling money. The moment that was discovered, that lack of trust was revealed, that lack of commitment was exposed, the cult began to disintegrate. 

Similarly, The Body Shop crashed from its dizzying heights in the mid-'80s when there was one small article that then became widely distributed that essentially [said] The Body Shop was a lie; that its ingredients weren't all natural; that they weren't harvested from the mountains of the Himalayas; that, in fact, Anita Roddick had ripped off the whole idea from a friend of hers. In other words, for all the high-mindedness and all of the very laudable meaning system of honesty that Anita Roddick had created, she basically let down her membership. She lied to them. And the membership drifted away, at least the committed members.

- Douglas Atkin, author of The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers Into True Believers (excerpt from interview linked below)

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 29, 2008:

Here is a great PBS (Public Broadcasting Service in the U.S.A.) interview in 2004 with a person who has been in advertising for his entire adult career. He talks about the similarities between brands and cults, the good and the bad, and how marketers use this knowledge of human psychology. There is a brief mention of the Fellowship of Friends and Robert Earl Burton as an example.

Interview with Douglas Atkin

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