The appearance of Christian religious symbols in secular advertising is becoming more common, and marketers are aware of the potential persuasiveness of these religious cues in advertising. Prior research suggests that Christian symbols in advertising can trigger both positive and negative reactions from consumers. Thus, understanding the nature and influence of religious symbols is crucial for marketers who use them in their marketing communications. Prior theorizing and interpretive results support a backlash effect of a Christian symbol for certain consumers, yet evidence of this backlash effect is thin. Consequently, this research further investigates this backlash hypothesis using a consumer sample most likely to hold the lower levels of religiosity needed to produce the effect: Millennial consumers. A field experiment was conducted with a sample of Millennial adults. Results indicate that the Christian symbol significantly reduced perceptions of service provider quality for those with weaker religious beliefs. This backlash effect on perceived quality is interesting and important as it suggests that the use of religious symbols in advertising has the potential to turn off certain groups and is therefore not without risk. Further, results show that the Christian symbol significantly enhanced perceptions of service provider quality for those with stronger religiosity levels. This finding is consistent with prior research showing that the Christian symbol enhanced quality perceptions as religiosity levels increased. Finally, different patterns of mediation are found in the two religiosity groups. For those holding lower levels of religiosity, the Christian symbol resulted in perceptions of increased skepticism of the marketer, and these perceptions mediated the backlash effect on perceived quality. This result indicates that these Millennial consumers holding lower levels of religiosity viewed the service provider with greater skepticism as a result of the Christian symbol in the advertising, and this perception impacted their evaluation of perceived quality of the service provider. These results are discussed and suggestions for managers are provided.
Taylor, V, Halstead, D and Moal-Ulvoas, G (2017), "Millennial Consumer Responses to Christian Religious Symbols in Advertising: A Replication Study", Journal of Empirical Generalisations in Marketing Science, Vol. 17, No. 1
Christian symbols, consumer religiosity, millennial consumers, replication