If spirituality is to be the defining trend of the 21st century, as a host of best-selling contemporary business books have argued, then marketing needs to rise to the challenge.

Marketers can no longer shy away from it. We’re at the threshold of another quantum leap in the business, one where creatives will harness the transformational power of magic – and not a wand in sight.

Love it or loathe it, artificial intelligence is here to stay, and our sense of identity and self-worth is taking a battering, so embracing the spiritual may part of be our salvation.

When professor Stephen Hawking professed to believe that “some form of intelligence” was behind the creation of the universe, a lot of his peers thought he’d lost his marbles.

Was the scientist with a brain the size of our planet really saying he believes in a higher being? Time to retire, some said.

Hawking had been speaking at Cambridge University about his brother’s near-death experience. His sibling said he had seen the existence of a sentient being that we mortals are blind to, and that had led Hawking to question his understanding of scientific principles.

The multi-award winning physicist was quick to point out he didn’t mean we were all just planted here by some man in the clouds and left to get on with it. No, this is intelligence that’s all around us. He calls it the ‘God Factor’ and his thinking runs contrary to conventional physics.

Think of us as individual particles in one living organism, swimming around and interacting as part of this intelligence. Disney would call it ‘The Circle of Life’.

Never mind AI, what about HI? What if this national treasure struck gold and there is a higher intelligence at work? And what if that intelligence applies to marketing just as much as it does to science and our daily lives?

If marketing is going to change the world somehow, then surely our human role must involve more than flicking a switch on the AI device that self-authors articles for newspapers, and creates content for TV and social media?

We need to understand and the complex relationship that exists between markets, commodities, spirituality, religion, identity, and branding.

Appropriating the occult

In 2008, the father of modern marketing, Philip Kotler, told the London Business Forum that when it comes to brand management, brands that have traditionally looked for mind and heart share, must now add spirit share into the mix to be successful.

Experts agree the most effective marketing campaigns create a cult around the brand, stimulate a flurry of DIY activity for fans. A great example right now is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour campaign, which has captured a social media zeitgeist and has the Tories in a spin.

But despite the advice contained in popular management books on how to create brand cults and ‘turn customers into believers’ (Atkin, 2004; Ragas and Bueno, 2002), marketing academics like Elife Izberk-Bigin have only recently started to unpack the processes involved in brands’ co-option of religious ideologies.

So much for a cult. How about the occult in modern marketing? I use the word in its purest sense, meaning knowledge of the hidden, of that which lies beyond the realm of human comprehension.