Branding Advice for Branded Judaism

It has come to my attention that Judaism is for sale now, or so reports Jennifer Miller at Bloomberg in her profile of several young entrepreneurs literally selling out the Jewish faith and culture. Well, as a former brand and advertising strategist, I thought I would give the three most exciting founders a little bit of advice – on the house – as they set out to Orientalize, commodify, and profit from their Americanized view of our entire identity.

If there ever was a moment when Shabbat was poised to become the new yoga practice, it’s now.” – Jennifer Miller, Bloomberg

Meghan Holzhauer, Canvus

Ms. Holzhauer, I am really glad you enjoyed your trip to Israel, and I am so inspired by your non-religious connection to the religious tradition that is considered the crux of all Jewish practice. When you said non-Jewish people adopting Shabbat is like non-Buddhists that go on meditation retreats to primarily Hindu and Muslim India, or practice “yoga” ( a very spiritual $250 a month at Equinox), I totally forgot your German Christian surname and LOVED the idea to completely secularize and whitewash a Jewish ceremony into…dinner with friends and family. What a new, exotic concept!

Alas, your product, that being the Sabbath, has been around for over 5,000 years, and breaking into that market with a travel company for upper-class white women isn’t really going to bring in the hardcore fans that you need to build a solid revenue stream — it’s about revenue in the end, right? If you want to build a loyal base that loves Shabbat as much as you claim to, you have got to pivot towards the only logical demographic: the Orthodox..

Orthodox Jewish people already use your product every week and they are incredibly brand loyal. I suggest you pivot away from a hip-hop Shabbat, (great job turning holy brachot into English rap lyrics by the way, totally smart geo-targeting for Atlanta), and see if, by chance, there is anything that people in the Orthodox community can connect with Sabbath-wise, like books or something. If you can’t find one, you should stock your online store with titles like The Secret and Eat, Pray, Love, which will surely serve as a great marketing tool as well.

New Tagline: Canvus — You’re Going to Like the Way You Appropriate!

P.S. How do your participants feel about Israel and the Holocaust? Just wondering. Probs the same as your yoga class feels about the British Raj and Partition, right?

Danya Shults, Arq

Jewish culture is in the mainstream, it’s popular, and that’s something any brand would want to jump on.” – Danya Shults, Founder of Arq

Mrs. Shults, you got this girl. You grew up in an observant household, have a mixed faith household, AND have a background in brand strategy. You were made to convert a culture into a popular American brand! I do want to add just a couple of other small thoughts that could really excel your business of taking precious, historically, ethnically, and religiously informed practice and objects and selling them as luxury commodities.

You’re right when you said Jewish culture is popular. You’ve had big designers and lifestyle brands for Arq so far, and I know all-American brands like the alt-Right movement are eager to jump on us these days, not too mention the longtime customers of Hamas, ISIS, and Hizbollah who have been cashing in on our popularity and mainstream perception for years. The future of Arq is in partnerships!

Teaming up with any young, overpriced coastal-chic outlet store is definitely wise, and as we saw with your adult summer camp endeavour, a brand like Urban Outfitters is perfect for that mix of cultural appropriation, irony, nostalgia and infantilization you’re getting at. There are tons of “Jew-curious” people out there, says Miller in the Bloomberg piece, and I know both you and I see lots of opportunity in that market once we get past the clear dehumanizing of people.

You’ll get some pushback from the Christian industry though. Big Jesus is pretty certain everybody is solely Christian-curious. A partnership with them is probably on your horizon if you’re not looking to simply get bought out.

Your current tagline, “the best way forward is a compromise,” is really good though my Jewish mother and non-Jewish father who raised me in a warm, loving, inclusive but distinctly Jewish home would probably disagree. I’d tweak it only slightly.

New Tagline: Diluting culture in the name of marketing, er, diversity.

Ashley Albert and Kevin Rodriguez, The Matzo Project

The Matzo Project has taken as its task getting unleavened bread out of the ethnic food aisle. “We want it to be more than something that very pious Jews eat at Passover,” says co-founder Ashley Albert. The company’s offerings include matzo flats and chips in salted, everything, and cinnamon-sugar flavors, as well as a matzo butter crunch bar.” — JM, Bloomberg 

Dear Ms. Albert and Mr. Rodriguez,

Ya, I’ve got no parody for this start-up. It’s gross.

One, because it’s matzah, which is not appetizing and not really a healthy choice to eat besides when mandatory, and two because it is a food that LITERALLY REPRESENTS SLAVERY AND SUFFERING.

Current tagline: Would it kill you to try something new? (Not a joke. Me, I’d ask the first born sons from Exodus and all the dead slaves.)

New Tagline: Jewish slavery and suffering. Yum.

Gregory Uzelac is a writer, artist, and comedian from Brooklyn, NY. Hate or love him on Twitter at @greguzelac.

About the Author
Gregory Uzelac is a writer, comedian, and artist from New York City whose plays, films, and essays range in genre from science fiction to satire, but mostly focus on culture critique and identity politics. He holds B.A in Radio, Television, and Film & Asian Studies from Northwestern University.
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