15 classic Buddhism-and-advertising collisions

Following Don Draper’s meditation-based epiphany in the finale of “Mad Men,” 14 examples of meditation and commerce colliding.

Rod Meade Sperry
19 May 2015
lucky buddha beer advertising mad men don draper buddhism lion's roar news culture

“I’d like to buy the world a Dharma-Burger”?

Don Draper’s meditation-based epiphany, as seen on Mad Men‘s finale, is all but immortal now. Though we’ll never truly know what came next, one thing’s for sure: the relationship between meditation and commerce wouldn’t, for better or worse, be just fiction. Advertisers and marketers have been trading on it for decades, and Buddhism’s become part of the mix. There’s a name for these collisions of Buddhism and advertising and marketing: Dharma-Burgers. Sometimes these “Burgers” are juicy, sometimes they’re cheesy, and sometimes they’re rotten. Here’s a handful of some recent classics.

1. You’ll never think of those sodas you see at your local bodega in the same way again.

2. Did you take your Zazen today?


“Calm your mind,” read one of the ads for this product, which even dares to put the little “TM” next to the product name. Sorry, Zazen Sleep Formula, I think you’re the ones infringing here. Another day, another lazy co-optation of Buddhism. I’m going to pass out from boredom just thinking about it. Hey, that stuff really works!

3. Viral Dharma!

Non-harming went commercial in this Fall 2006 spot for Kleenex:

4. Tuft’s “Zen” ad

This current commercial from Tufts is perhaps emblematic of how people think of meditation as it heads into the mainstream: it’s kind of a normal thing to do, but also not quite.

The ad’s also notable, of course, for its punchline, which makes me think of those old Palmolive commercials with “Madge,” the talky manicurist…: Zen — You’re soaking in it!

5. Selling Red Bull with “Buddhism and Badminton” (video)

Via Red Bull China comes a lavishly made new video that uses Buddhism’s cultural cachet to move those skinny little cans of liquid speed — while also giving us a glimpse of the monastic mindful life. The question is: while this is quite obviously a promotional video, is that all it is, or does it present some nice points about the dharma? Watch it here.

This is not the first time Red Bull has played the Dharma-Burger card. An earlier ad took place in a sort of stand-in for the Potala Palace, completing the scene with prayer wheel, devotees and a levitating semi-Dalai Lamaesque figure. Meditation, it seems, is not necessary when you have Red Bull.

6. Thirsty Buddha

Though it seems to depict Budai, the “fat Buddha” so often mistaken for Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, Thirsty Buddha” Coconut Water does away with accuracy altogether, renaming him after the product and creating a new legend for him.


“Thirsty Buddha,” reads the can, “believes that adequate hydration is essential to life, so much so that he has spent the better part of his in search of Mother Nature’s ultimate hydrator. With his lifelong journey, comes the success of his quest: Thirsty Buddha 100% Pure Coconut Water.” …And then, the kicker, at the top of the package: “It’s Buddhalicious!”

7. Lucky Buddha Beer


From the various “Buddha Bar” lounges found around the world to style-biting spirits like “Zen” liqueur, alcohol sellers have found that cashing in on Buddhism’s mystique works. Lucky Buddha (slogan: “Enlightened Beer”) actually comes in a bottle shaped like Budai. “It’s not actually THE Buddha and therefore not religious but cultural,” LB’s website tells us, somewhat defensively. In January, the brewer stepped things up, peddling the beer as a Super-Bowl bettor’s good luck charm.

8. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2’s big, fightin’ Buddha

Yep, a big Buddha fights in this 2008 video game.

9. (Sock)Monkey Mind:

Ellen Degeneres’ first of three meditation-centered Amex commercials from Fall 2006. The spot is actually enjoyable and non-offensive. Don’t know if Ellen actually meditates, but she seems to know how the ol’ mind might wander.

10. The “cellphone for Buddhist monks”?

Sometimes “an app for that” isn’t enough. You need a whole phone. Even if you’re a Buddhist monk! According to the copy published with an article about it on tech-site Trendhunter.com, “This rotatable Nokia phone is made specially for Buddhist Monks… this Tibet Nokia phone is perfectly in harmony with the universal law of life and death. The red saffron color is traditional for Buddhist monks and makes this phone even more religious.” (I’m glad they avoided hyperbole.) Though actually a couple of years old, the phone does seem to be real and have various Tibet- and Buddhism-related features. You can read more about those here.

11. The True Origins of Pizza

Thanks, to blogger Scott Mitchell (The Buddha is My DJ)  for this one. And thank you, Mr. Pizza!

12. Richard Gere’s Tibetan Buddhist-flavored TV spot for Fiat

This ad caused quite a stir: Is it cool? Is it uncool? I… don’t… know!

13.  Wii Fit’s “Zazen” game commercial:

A few years back, reader Frank Dries sent me news of “Wii Zazen,” made for the game console. Its Japanese ad won’t do much for quieting your mind.

14. “Stop. Please. Thank you.”

In this groanworthy ad I just had to shoot right off the TV, a semi-anthropomorphic aerosol spray can takes the words right out of my mouth.

15. That Yoplait ad

A last-minute addition. I thought this classic had been lost to history, but Zen teacher and author Brad Warner sent me a link, and here it is. It’s one of Brad’s favorites — he even took the name of his third book from it. Listen for its classic line early in the clip.

Rod Meade Sperry. Photo by Megumi Yoshida, 2024

Rod Meade Sperry

Rod Meade Sperry is the editor of Buddhadharma, Lion’s Roar’s online source for committed Buddhists, and the book A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his partner and their tiny pup, Sid.