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Uses of Religion in Advertising

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4145 words Published: 31st Jul 2018

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The way the message is presented, both pictorially and verbally, has a significant effect on the processing of the advertisement. However, it is acknowledged that attitude depend not only on the physical stimuli but also on the stimuli’s relation to the surrounding field and a whole range of factors within the individual, including the cultural background, experience, personality/cognitive style, values, expectations, and the context in which something is perceived (De Mooij, 2009; Usunier & Lee, 2005). Due to this, it’s widely agreed that when an audience encounters an advertisement, the reaction to it depends on the meaning they assign to it, which in turn depends on characteristics of both the advertisement and the members of the audience (Veloutsou & Ahmed, 2006). Advertisers need to understand their audience before encoding messages so that they are credible and generate positive responses. Otherwise the perception may be negative, disbelief or rejection.

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To ensure that a stimulus produces favorable response, advertisers have to analyze where attitudes stem from and what influences attitude. Positive attitude could result in positive response to a particular advertising stimulus and positive attitude toward the advertisement. This positive attitude could influence purchase intentions (Severn et al., 1990) and even lead to the audience’s brand choice without examination of beliefs on specific attributes, because it allows for the retrieval of an overall evaluation with minimal processing (Dotson and Hyatt, 2000).

Evidence suggests that advertisements are processed subjectively by individuals, on the basis of the group membership (Leach & Liu, 1998). Cultural groups differ in their values, attitudes and prejudices they possess, and thus each group will read the advertisement distinctly and develop its own shared reactions, interpretations and meanings of the advertisement (Leach & Liu, 1998). In a cognitively diverse world, a message that is sent is not necessarily the message that is received. Advertising could be more effective when it provides information and uses ‘language’ that is consistent with the preferences of the audience, because customized advertisements may be more successful than generic “one-size-fits-all” (LaBarbera, 1998).

Values guide and determine attitudes and behavior, which are the core of culture. Advertising reflects and influences cultural values. Therefore, advertising appeals that depict value orientations consistent with the intended audience is likely to be more persuasive than advertisements that depict inconsistent value (Leach & Liu, 1998), a fact that advertisers should take into account when creating their messages. Advertisers use cues, such as culturally similar actors, shared cultural symbols and preferred language to produce the intended meaning, in the hope that the cues will be “decoded” by the audience (Veloutsou & Ahmed, 2006). In the following sections the role of religion, as a factor that influences both the advertisement execution and attitude formation will be reviewed.

Religion and Advertising

Religion as an institution significantly influence on people’s attitudes, values and behaviors (Arnould, Price, & Zikhan, 2004) at both the individual and societal levels. According to Peterson and Roy (1985), religion provides a source of meaning and purpose for people; it makes life understandable and interpretable. Religion fosters established practices and provides a series of tools and techniques for social behavior (Hawkins et al.,1980; Schiffman and Kanuk, 1991) therefore, religion and its associated values and practices often play a pivotal role in influencing peoples’ everyday life. This role is activated and executed through rituals and symbols. Rituals and symbols are focal elements in transferring religious courses and meanings to people which consequently shapes their values, beliefs, and behaviors. Religious self-identity, formed as a result of the internalization of the role expectations offered by the religion, suggests the potential influence of religiosity on one’s behavior and consequently what is considered right or wrong in that perspective (Vitell et. al, 2005). Moral values of right and wrong define what is allowed and forbidden for marketing and consumption and how this marketing strategy should take place.

Hirschman (1983) points out that religious denominational affiliation may be viewed as “cognitive systems”. A cognitive system is a set of beliefs, values, expectations and behaviors that are shared by members of a group (Berger, 1961; Gurvitch, 1971; Merton, 1937). This perspective suggests that members of a particular religion may possess common cognitive systems, which may influence that group’s behaviour (Hirschman, 1983). In a series of studies, Hirschman (1981, 1982, 1983) found that religious affiliation had an influence on novelty seeking, information search and a number of consumption processes such as choice of entertainment, transportation and family pets. Hirschman (1983) concluded that few other variables have exhibited the range and depth of explanatory power offered by religious affiliation (Esso & Dibb, 2004).

Even though attitudes and behaviors are directly influenced by at least religion-rooted aspects of culture, religion’s impact on consumption-related behaviour have been only very modestly studied in the marketing literature (Mokhlis, 2009). According to Hirschman (1983) there are three possible reasons for this shortfall. The first reason for the slow development of literature in this area is the possibility that consumer researchers are unaware of the possible links between religion and consumption patterns. The second reason is a perceived prejudice against “religion” within the research community; once being a “taboo” subject and too sensitive to be submitted for investigation (i.e. the potential for inadvertent offence and the legal protection afforded freedom of religion). Finally, she claims that religion is everywhere in our life and therefore may have been overlooked by researchers as an obvious variable for investigation in the field. Although Hirschman made this assertion some years ago, it is still true today. To date, few studies have investigated religion as a predictor of attitudes toward advertisement.

Existing studies on advertising and religion mainly examined the influence of religion on attitude toward advertising of controversial products (De Run, Butt, Fam, & Jong, 2010; Fam & Grohs, 2007; Fam & Waller, 2003; Fam, Waller, & Erdogan, 2004; Michell & Al-Mossawi, 1995). However, a review of the pertinent literature showed that most of these studies observed this influence from the point of marketing communications. Examining whether religion and intensity of religious belief has an effect on the attitudes towards the advertising of controversial products, Fam, et al. (2004) found a significant difference between the four controversial product groups (gender/sex related products, social/political groups, health and care products, and addictive products) and the four religious groups (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and non-religious believers). Their results revealed that Muslims found the advertising of gender/sex related products, social/political groups, and health and care products most offensive relative to the other three religions. In addition, the religiously devout respondents were more likely to find advertising of gender/sex related products, health and care products, and addictive products more offensive than the less devout followers (Fam, et al., 2004).

Second area of research in the field of advertising and religion has primarily focused on the presence of religious values in advertisements(Al-Olayan & Karande, 2000; Kalliny, 2008). For example, in a cross cultural content analysis of magazine advertisements in the U.S. and Arab countries, Al-Olayan and Karande (2000) found that in Arab advertisements women tended to be portrayed in advertisements in which their presence was related to the advertised product. This was indicated to be in compliance with accepted Muslim religious tenants (Henley Jr, Philhours, Ranganathan, & Bush, 2009). In another research to investigate the impact of religious differences on advertising execution in Arab world Kalliny (2008) found that there were major differences among the Arab countries where Egypt and Lebanon were found to depict women who are dressed less modestly than Saudi Arabia and U.A.E.

Developing alongside the literature focusing on the two above-mentioned of the research area is another cluster of studies that explores the consumers reactions to ads containing religious cues or symbols (Dotson & Hyatt, 2000; Henley Jr, et al., 2009; Lumpkins, 2007; Taylor, Halstead, & Haynes, 2010). These studies tried to shed the light on the advertisement processing through measuring Taylor and his colleagues’ research examined consumer reactions to the use of a Christian religious symbol (the Christian fish symbol: Ichthus) in advertising by running two experiments. Their controversial findings revealed that consumers have varied reactions to Christian messages in the secular marketplace and that responses depend on their religiosity levels. The results of their follow-up field experiment with adult consumers indicated a significant Christian symbol by evangelical religiosity interaction on perceived quality and purchase intentions such that the Christian symbol enhanced consumer evaluations and the effects were stronger as evangelical religiosity increased. They have also found that consumer’ source perceptions of the marketer in terms of attitude similarity, trustworthiness, expertise, and skepticism mediated these interaction effects. But their second study which was a lab experiment conducted with young adults revealed an unusual backlash effect of the Christian symbol on purchase intentions for some consumers and contrasting mediation results (Taylor, et al., 2010).

In another study to investigate consumers’ responses to ads with religious cues Henley et. al (2009) examined the effects of Christian cues or symbols on relevant and irrelevant symbol product ad evaluations. The study indicates that religiosity of the respondent has a significant moderating impact on the evaluation of an ad (Aad, Ab, and PI) that has a relevant Christian symbol Moreover, and possibly most significantly, the interaction effect between relevancy and religiosity indicate that this interplay combines to significantly affect the diagnostic efficacy of the ad including attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the brand, and purchase intentions for higher religiosity respondents under relevant conditions (Henley Jr, et al., 2009). The finding of this research corroborates Dotson and Hyatt’s (2000) findings.

Dotson and Hyatt (2000) specifically studied the use of religious symbols as peripheral cues in advertising in a replication of the elaboration likelihood model (ELM). In ads for pet health insurance, the authors manipulated argument strength and the presence or absence of the Christian cross as a peripheral cue. Product category involvement and level of religious dogmatism were found to be related to attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the brand, and purchase intention, however, not in the expected directions. Low involvement subjects who were high in religious dogmatism had a less favorable attitude toward the brand and lower purchase intention when exposed to ads containing the cross. High involvement subjects who were also highly dogmatic had more favorable feelings toward the product when the cross was present in the ads. ELM suggests that the low involvement subjects would have responded more favorably to the cue (Dotson & Hyatt, 2000).

P 2 Existing studies of advertising suggest that cultural values either influence the production and execution of advertising or are reflected in the content itself (Chang, et al., 2009). religious – rooted aspect of culture directly or indirectly influence attitudes and behavior

Islamic values and Advertising

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Muslims consider Islam to be a complete way of life (Kavoossi 2000, Lawrence 1998). Indeed, one of the characteristics that distinguish Muslims from followers of some other faiths is that the influence of religion is very clear in every aspect of the Muslim’s life (Rice & Al-Mossawi, 2002). The Shari’a is a comprehensive code governing the duties, morals and behavior of all Muslims, individually, and collectively in all areas of life, including marketing and commerce (Luqmani, Yavas and Quraeshi, 1987). It completely describes the values that Muslims should hold, such as truth, justice, honesty, social obligations, collective responsibility and the roles of men and women (Al-Olayan & Karande, 2000).

It is beyond the scope and scale of this study to discuss the whole characteristics of Islamic values. But we refer to some of which implies more attention in advertising industry. According to Islamic social philosophy all spiritual, social, political, and economic spheres of life form an indivisible unity that must be thoroughly imbued with Islamic values. This principle informs such concepts as “Islamic law” and the “Islamic state” and accounts for Islam’s strong emphasis on social life and social duties (Fam, et al., 2004).

The Islamic law, Shari’a, which sets all that one should do, derives from four main resources of Islamic teaching. These resources are Koran (Muslims’ holy book which is God’s wording), Sunnah (the divinely inspired conduct of the Prophet Mohammad), Aghl (reasoning), and Ijma (consensus of opinion) (Coulson, 1964, p. 55-59).(Al-Olayan & Karande, 2000). Islam has not addressed many of modern phenomena such as marketing and advertising explicitly, but it’s comprehensive value system explicates should and shouldn’t which consequently influences advertising content, execution and evaluation.

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In an attempt to relate basic Islamic values to advertising implications Rice and Al-Mousavi (2002) elucidated these values and their advertising implication. Some of these values which Muslims should follow are truth, honesty, politeness and social and collective obligations and responsibilities. Muslims should keep away from falsehood and deception everywhere in general and in trade and financial dealings with others in specific. They could not tell a lie and should avoid exaggeration. This suggests that advertisers should strive for excellence as an end in itself, in addition to communicating truthfully about products and services (Rice & Al-Mossawi, 2002).Therefore Muslims process exaggerated messages in advertising as lie which intends to mislead them.

Muslim activities are categorized as lawful (halal) and prohibited (haram) (Rice and Al-Mousavi, 2002) which constitute a system of values for assessing other’s speaking and behavior as well. Eating pork ,carrion, and carnivorous animals , gambling, drinking alcohol, nudity and idol worship (statutes inclusive) are prohibited (Chachu a, Kucharski, Luba, Ma achowska, & Martinovski). Advertisements which portray some of these prohibited elements make people feel offended or be perceived as offensive. advertisement that ignore these implications will not be effective and have the adverse affect on the sale (Michell and Al-Mossawi, 1995).

Regarding the globalized hegemonic content and form of advertisements which was somehow contrasting with Islamic values, Muslims tend to the negative evaluation of advertising. Research in Saudi Arabia has shown that over 70% of Muslim respondents think that advertising is a threat to culture of Islam (Al-Makaty et al., 1996). (Keenan & Shoreh, 2000). In a global survey of attitudes towards advertising in 22 countries, conducted by the International Advertising Association in 1993,results indicated that: ‘Egypt was the only market where respondents were consistently anti-advertising’ (Wentz, 1993, p 1, cited at Keenan & Shoreh, 2000). Keenan and Shoreh (2000) conducted a research which shows that Muslims think that advertisements present western values and ignore Arab history and customs. Their investigation into the Egyptian main media (Al-Ahram) content in the period of 1975 to 1995 revealed that around 50 percent of items focusing on advertising had a negative, anti- advertising tone (Keenan & Shoreh, 2000).

According to Fam et.al (2004), Muslims found the advertising of gender/sex related products, social/political groups, and health and care products most offensive relative to the other three religions. Moreover, the religiously devout respondents were more likely to find advertising of gender/sex related products, health and care products, and addictive products more offensive than the less devout follower. (Fam, et.al, 2004).

To overcome this shortfall, in addititon to further consideration of Islamic values, some advertisers utilized Islamic elements to produce a favorable feeling among Muslims. For example some advertisement utilized Qur’anic words to enhance the influence of the ad and make it more appealing to Muslim consumers. Examples are the words “Bismillah” (in the name of God; a phrase used by Muslims before beginning any action) or “Allahu akbar” (literally, God is greater)(Rice & Al-Mossawi, 2002). Luqmani et al. (1989) provide an example of a manufacturer of water pumps that uses a verse from the Qur’an in advertising: “We made every living thing from water.” In another example a distributor of Royal Regina honey capsules in Saudi Arabia successfully ran a contest that included a question on how many times bees are mentioned in the Quran, along with questions and information about the product (Luqmani, Yavas, & Quraeshi, 1993).

His work gives an evidence of the influence of Islam in advertising

Authors also have reckoned that the most important Muslim’s religion characteristic is that the influence of religion is very clear in every aspect of live. This influence is fortified in some special time like Ramadan; the fasting month of Muslims. The month of Ramadan is the holiest time of the year in Islam. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the frameworks of Muslim life, along with faith in one God, prayer from the Koran five times daily, charity for those in need, and making the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. It entails a list of prohibitions between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Beyond the fasting that is central to Ramadan, the entire month is a period of increased spirituality and religious contemplation for Muslims. As a result , this empowered spirituality affects the whole sphere of Muslims’ life including their consuming behavior and marketing communication. Keenan and Yeni (2003) compared ads run during Ramadan and those run during a non-Ramadan period in Egypt. Findings show fewer ads during Ramadan, more emphasis on charity messages during Ramadan, and more conservatively dressed characters in ads during Ramadan. According to Keenan and Yeni (2003) advertisers intentionally tone down the way they present women in their commercials. This might be interpreted as a form of respect for the Islamic principles and values of Ramadan (Keenan & Yeni, 2003).

Representation of Hijab in advertisements

In the symbolic space of communication, identities have to be constructed through language and pictures and cultural symbols of identity such as the hijab take on enormous significance (cf.Dholakia and Zwick, 2001; Schau and Gilly, 2003). Relogious symbols, notabely, take on a sacredness that gives them a very strong presence and power in many people’s daily lives. The wearing of religious dress and symbols is an important expression of an individual’s religious identity. It may reflect the wearer’s understanding of the requirements prescribed in their tradition or their belief that wearing this form of dress or these symbols as a mark of their religious commitment helps to enhance their spiritual life. It may also reflect a desire publicly to affirm the identity to which these are linked. This interpretation and affiliation might emerge in information processing among Muslims when they encounter a message carrying this religious symbol.

Hijab as a symbolic expression of Muslims clearly symbolizes a woman’s religious affiliation; it also shapes Muslim women’s independent identities standards (Macdonaldi, 2006). Hijab , further to religious identification, functions to perform a behavior check, resist sexual objectification, afford more respect, preserve intimate relationships, and provide freedom (Anderson, 2007). According to Bullock (2000) Muslim women in west who cover their head, see hijab as a way of projecting a Muslim identity and refuting an imitation of the west.

France’s controversial new law banning the overt display of religious symbols in school, directed at the wearing of the hijab, brings to the forefront the enormous contemporary significance of the veil as a historically and culturally constructed symbol of female Islamic identity (Zwick & Chelariu, 2006). Westerners often regard the hijab as a symbol of backward cultural and gender politics and even fundamentalist extremism (Brenner, 1996)(Zwick & Chelariu, 2006), but the practice of hijab among Muslim women is based on religious doctrine.

Islam stresses that women should dress modestly and encourages women not to show too much of their bodies in public. Surat Al-Noor-Aih-31 in The Koran, the Muslims’ holy book addressed the issue of women’s modesty by stating: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers” (kaliny, 2008). Scholars have interpreted this Koran passage differently, but most scholars take this message to mean that women may show only their hands and face to men outside of their immediate family (Rice & Al-Mossawi, 2002).

The guidelines provided in the Koran might not be strictly followed in the contemporary Muslim countries. A range of practices exists among Muslims regarding the times and places -ranging from prayer only to all the time – that women are expected to be veiled. This different perception influenced advertising industry among Muslims’ world. While in Saudi Arabia and Iran it is forbidden to show other than the above-mentioned body parts, in Dubai in United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Egypt, the most liberal outdoor advertising is presented in the European version (Karande and Kiran, 2000).

In a content analysis of pan-Arab, Egyptian, Lebanese and Emirati magazine advertisements, Al- Olayan and Karande (2000) found that in 83 percent of Arabic advertisements showing women, they were wearing long clothing, compared to 29 per cent in US advertisements. Furthermore ,Arabic advertisements show women in advertisement if their presence relates directly to the product and if they are appropriately dressed, that is, wearing long dresses and a head covering that does not expose any hair (Al-Makaty et al. 1996). Luqmani et al. (1989) describe how, in Saudi Arabia, advertisers of cosmetics refrain from picturing sensous females. Instead, in typical advertisements (an example is the Dove cleansing bar), a pleasant-looking woman appears in a robe and headdress with only her face showing.

In Malaysia, Islam also exerts great influence on advertising regulation. The Islamic principle of covering the aurat (i.e., private body parts) for women and the prohibition of using women as sex symbols in advertising are strictly enforced (Wah, 2006). For instance, the Malaysian advertising code stipulates that female models portrayed in advertising must be fully clothed up to the neckline. The length of the skirt should be below the knees. The arms may be exposed up to the edge of the shoulder without exposing the underarms (Advertising Code forTelevision and Radio, 1990).


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