Pope Francis and corporate branding

The pope's little black Fiat got a lot of attention last week, but will Fiat sell more cars because of it? And do other brands stand to make money from Pope Francis's U.S. trip? James Fox of brand strategy firm Red Peak thinks there will be a pope effect on brands, but it will be limited and potentially short-lived.

Fox believes Fiat will be the biggest winner. He expects the automaker will see a spike in sales of the Fiat 500, the model the pope used in the U.S. When the pope visited Brazil in 2013, the pontiff rode in a Fiat Idea and the company saw a jump in sales shortly after he left, Fox says. In spite of this, Fiat was careful not to use social media outlets to promote its brand while the pope was in town. The company quickly removed the few tweets it sent out about the pope. Fox believes Fiat realized that big brands tweeting about religion is risky, particularly with a pope who is so anti-capitalism.

Loom and Leaf, however, let everyone on Twitter know that the Pope was sleeping on its eco-luxury mattress, sending out a photo of a bed with the pope's hat on the nightstand and the caption "O Holy Night." Fox says this worked because Loom and Leaf chose not to use the pope's image, and because they're a small brand. He believes that it is difficult for large brands to use the Pope's likeness or his name in a commercial message.

Another big winner during the Pope's U.S. tour: American Airlines. Fox believes the airline got it just right by flying the pope on the newly rebranded "Shepherd One," showing the world it can transport the pontiff safely and on time. American Airlines tweeted about the honor of flying the pope, but Fox says the airline did it respectfully. He believes it will have positive brand associations going forward.

But the best brand in all of this? Pope Francis himself.

Fox believes the fact that the pope has always remained humble, and that he came to America to see the people, not just the big leaders, helped reinforce his real brand essence of humble goodness.