Brand advertising is ubiquitous, brilliant and subversive. It taps into our deepest fears. Take L'Oreal's slogan: "Because you're worth it." In a world where you can feel just another faceless statistic in the bureaucratic machine, where you can feel yourself teetering on the edge of worthlessness, where no amount of consumer rights or technological innovations can conquer the anomie at the heart of societies that fail to generate spiritual depth and personal meaning — who wouldn't want to feel that you are being given something "because you're worth it"?

Although this is the message that traditional religions once promoted — that you were a unique human being, with a soul, a divine spark within, that you were precious and valuable, of infinite worth just because you were here on earth, suffused with the spirit of being, alive and vital — we can now get that sense of worth over the counter. In a world where human life itself is disposable (see the daily news), the message that you can buy your sense of worth soothes disturbing inner doubts about our purpose here on earth.

Brands have moved on from being simply about the qualities of the product or service they sell. They are now promoted as a set of values, a philosophy, an ideology of life. Orange represents a bright, optimistic future in which there can be real "communication" between people. Nike is about individuality and personal achievements. Traditional religious values of honesty, dedication, friendship, human connectedness have been co-opted, secularized, repackaged and sold back to us. We no longer gain our integrity through a lifetime's work on our souls, but by buying Benetton.

Howard Cooper, The Alphabet of Paradise