Faith Popcorn's spiritual cocktails

Way back in the 1990s, Faith Popcorn had a sports car with a driver's seat that could be programmed to fit three different people, making each feel comfortable with a simple click.

This perfectly symbolized what the hip market analyst calls "Egonomics," which is what happens when Information Age consumers feel swamped and depersonalized and demand products that let them wallow in "me, myself and I."

"We Americans are the most self-analyzed and self-important people on the planet," argued Popcorn, in "Clicking," the bestseller that summarizes her work. "We know ourselves and we want to define ourselves -- not to be told how to live and what to buy. We demand choices."

But at the same time, her BrainReserve company is convinced consumers want spiritual roots -- a trend she calls "Anchoring." So what happens when "Egonomics" collides with "Anchoring," pews that adjust to fit the individual worshiper? You got it.

"The future will be so radically different from anything we've known before, that having a spiritual connection will become more profoundly important," claims Popcorn, answering questions on her Web site. "Spirituality and religion, however, will become much more self-defined. In essence, people will mix and pour their own religious cocktails.

"There will be a morphing of traditional religious practices and denominations. ... We'll see some people at the center of organized religions react to this by becoming more and more fundamentalist."

Popcorn has always used sweeping, almost messianic language -- pushing TrendBank themes such as "Icon Toppling," "S.O.S. (Save Our Society)," with its call for "moral transformation through marketing," and her modern believers are now seeking meaning by "Clanning" in informal "Mystical Tribes" that unite around shared joys or pains.

This kind of talk comes easy for a Jewish girl who spent part of her childhood in Catholic schools in Shanghai, with a father who was a lawyer who worked for what became the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. As a young woman, the future futurist dreamed of a career New York's theaters, but ended up as an ad copywriter. One mentor couldn't pronounce her name -- Faith Plotkin -- and christened her Faith Popcorn. In 1974 she helped start BrainReserve and, in 1991, wrote "The Popcorn Report." The rest is the opposite of history.

In the upcoming book "EVEolution," Popcorn and co-writer Lys Marigold dissect the role women are playing in the marketplace and culture. The key is that Americans, led by female consumers, don't shop for particular brand of product just to buy it. Instead, they want to "join a brand" and make it a source of identity. This is even true in religion.

In other words, Americans are not just shopping on the Internet, at the mall or in mass media. They are defining who they are and who they are not. This is political, this is spiritual and this process becomes especially important when consumers believe their lives are not "clicking."

For Popcorn, the essence of our age is contained in that word "click," which she describes with born-again fervor. People have to let go and take little leaps of faith -- including at home and work. When enough people begin to leap in the same direction, the result is a cultural trend, one solid enough to last for a decade or longer.

To the individual consumer, this feels highly personal.

"Too many of us spend our lives feeling slightly off-kilter, slightly out of step and out of synch with our expectations," notes Popcorn. "Something isn't clicking: a job, an idea, a product, a place, the sum total of what we're doing and where we're going. We fumble around trying to find the right combination to break into a new life."

Then something clicks and people find "control, focus, clarity, success." This is not a merely secular process.

"We're all at the start of a great awakening, a time of spiritual and religious revival," insists Popcorn. "What's different about this awaking is that there's very little agreement on who or what God is, what constitutes worship and what this outpouring means. ... The need to Anchor has found expression in all of the world's religions, whether they celebrate the Old and New Testament God, Buddha, Allah, Brahma, unnamed higher powers or self-discovery."