In the past, I used to feel hungry often; hungry to the point where I had to eat 2–3 times a day. One day I came across a TV programme where I heard that Angel Obinim’s stickers can perform wonders. I bought one and put it on my stomach. Since that day, I have not felt hungry [and hence no need to eat].
In the past when I would go to the brothel, the prostitutes there would charge me a lot – 200–300 Ghana cedis. Then I bought Angel Obinim’s stickers and slapped it on my member. Now when I visit the brothel, they compete for me and grant me their services at no charge.
It used to be that when I got online, I would see many potential clients and I would chat with all of them nicely. They would tell me they were big-time real estate people, some even had constructions firms and things like that. When it gets to the point in the conversation when I ask them for money, they become difficult. But, since the day I put Angel Obinim’s sticker on my laptop, I am able to defraud a lot of people; I can confirm that I get at least US$5000 every week.
These vignettes are social media trolls of a controversial Pentecostal pastor in Ghana by the name of Daniel Obinim. Obinim is a self-proclaimed Angel of God, who is living on earth. These incredulous claims are clearly false but are intended to satirize the gullibility of adherents to pastors and other self-styled spiritual experts—that we call spiritual consultants—in Ghana. We call them spiritual consultants because they promote themselves as experts of spiritual matters that are believed to principally affect material outcomes. Spiritual consultants like Obinim sell car stickers, posters, handkerchiefs, holy oils and other items, which are legendary in their purported ability to grant adherents all their wishes. Adherents seem to nurse a strong sense of hope that their material and spiritual needs will be met by using these objects and seeking counselling from the numerous spiritual consultants such as Obinim who produce these objects.
The success of the spiritual consultants rests in part in the average Ghanaian belief that s/he cannot exist without God and that eschatological salvation, as well as material pursuits, are all matters of the Divine (Meyer 2004). Many of these spiritual consultants employ mass and social media to market their services and products (de Witte 2003; Meyer 2004). The Ghanaian airwaves are thus filled with spiritual consultants of all sorts, including Christian preachers (Pastors), Muslim spiritualists (Mallams), traditional fetish priests (Akomfo) and juju men who broadcast testimonies of adherents to indicate their spiritual powers to heal all ailments and grant material wealth to supplicants. Each of these brands of consultants reflects an enduring world- view of spirits and supernatural powers that are believed to mediate in the material world (Onyinah 2002). Religious consumption and selling hope for material success through spiritual practice have become norms in contemporary Ghana—religion has been marketized!
Marketing and consumer research has only recently been considering the growing marketization of religion, with the consumption of religion and spirituality becoming very topical in the field in recent years (Husemann and Eckhardt 2019b; McAlexander et al. 2014; Rinallo et al. 2013). Inspired by Durkheimian sociology, this research interrogates how the marketization of religion is blurring the boundaries between the sacred/religion and the secular/market. This secularization of the sacred/religion and the sacralization of the secular/market have enabled religion to permeate and appropriate market(ing) processes and practices (Belk et al. 1989; McAlexander et al. 2014). It has also allowed religious objects, services, persons, practices and institutions to be branded, advertised and sold as a commodity in the marketplace (Carrette et al. 2015; O’Guinn and Belk 1989). Much of this research focuses on the processes of marketization, the practices and institutions that support marketization and how this affects consumption and consumers. However, we know little about the important role of individuals who market themselves as experts of religious (spiritual) matters—pastors, seers, astrologers, soothsayers, witches, necromancers, gurus and so on—and why consumers patronize their services. This is especially important in contexts like Ghana where religion has never been separated from the market, and people, therefore, have always accepted and consumed the services of these spiritual consultants.
In this chapter, we explore how the historicized marketization of religion has supported and been supported by the practices of contemporary spiritual consultants and the market in which they operate. We ask then, what specific value do spiritual consultants offer to authenticate their selling proposition and sustain their role in the marketization and consumption of religion (spirituality)? In a context like Ghana where spiritual consultants have always existed, we seek to understand how contemporary spiritual consultants marketize their services to sustain the continuity of their role and the faith of those who consume them. Using Horton’s (1997) shared teleological function between traditional African religion and modern science—to explain, predict and control, we argue that unlike the Western religious institution whose mere adoption of market logics defines its success (Twitchell 2004), spiritual consultants in Ghana succeed because they understand and use local cultural heritage within the marketing logics to offer hope to their adherents for competitive advantage.