The Effects Of Religious Orientation Cultural Studies Essay


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In the contemporary competitive world, advertising plays an important role in the success of organizations. Various kinds of advertising appeals are used by organizations today in the quest to lure the customers and gain maximum market share. In doing so, they often resort to advertising appeals that do not conform to the cultural values and norms of a particular country. For example,

Under the Islamic ethical system, it is not permissible to use emotional appeals, sex appeals, use of romantic language, use of half skirt girls and young model girls in advertising campaigns to please and attract customers to maximize profits and increase market share. Such types of promotional activities are fraudulent, deceptive and unethical in nature and are repugnant to the spirit of Shari'ah (Saeed, 2001)

Yet increasingly a number of advertisements are appearing that seem to go against the rules defined by the Shariah. This research report aims at analyzing how the religious perceptions of Muslims in Pakistan affect their attitude towards indecent advertisements which do not conform to the rules of an Islamic ethical system.

Problem Statement

What is the Impact of religious orientation on attitudes towards indecent advertisements?

Definition of Key Terms

Religious Orientation

Allport's theory on the Psychology of Religion being the pioneer of the field is taken as a starting point by most of the researches concerning religious orientation. (Kirkpatrick and Wood, 1990) 'Religious orientation', 'religiosity' or 'religiousness' are broad terms that have been used interchangeably by different researchers. The work of Allport and Ross has distinguished two broad categories through which this term is explained clearly, these are: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Religious Orientations. Intrinsic orientation is identified as the act of practicing religion and adhering to religious beliefs by treating religion as an end in itself and extrinsic religious orientation has been defined as using religion as a means to an end. (Kahoe, 1985; Kirkpatrick and Wood, 1990; Lavric and Flere, 2007).

Our research is focused on the effect of intrinsic religious orientation.

Indecent Advertising

As described by The Indecent Advertisements Prohibition Act of Pakistan 1963, indecent advertising refers to all those advertisements that make use of such images, words or any other cues that may induce sensuality or excitement of impure thoughts in the mind of an ordinary individual. A more specific definition of indecent advertising with respect to our research is given by Saeed and Beekun: Advertisements that are repugnant to the spirit of Shariah and make use of emotional appeals, sex appeals, use of romantic language, use of half skirt girls and young model girls in advertising campaigns to please and attract customers to maximize profits and increase market share. (Saeed 2001, Beekun 1997)

Importance of Advertising

The story behind any successful brand/product is rarely complete without the mention of an effective marketing campaign. Advertising is a marketing tool often used not only to communicate with the consumers in order to make them aware of the product rather to convince them to buy it. In order to achieve this objective, advertising agencies use advertising appeals such as sexist images, adventures and romantic language (Rice, G., 1999; Saeed, M., Z.U. Ahmed and S.M. Mukhtar, 2001)

While it is not always the case however some advertisements go against moral and cultural norms of a society. When this happens, the response of the public is often that of resentment towards the advertisement and they may feel offended. Marketers often use elements such as status, desire and sex appeal for their products especially when there is a lack of brand differentiation (Ghanimi).

Issues in Advertising

Jean J Boddewyn (1991) distinguishes between 'hard' and 'soft' issues in advertising. Hard issues surround o 'deceptive character' of advertisement and 'proper substantiation of advertising claims'. Soft issues on the other hand reflect values related to one's culture and subjectively held opinions, as a result of which it is difficult to have one generic definition for what exactly is classified as a soft issue. There are 5 categories of soft issues as listed below:

Sex and decency in advertising

Encouragement of unsafe behavior

Promoting materialistic believes

Exploitation of vulnerable groups such as children

Use of fear in advertising

Sex and decency in advertising can be further divided into 5 categories as follows:

Controversial behavior like gambling

Promotion of offensive goods like contraceptives

Promotion of cigarettes and alcohol or porn

Using offensive appeals and vulgar language

Finally 'sex in advertising' which includes sexism, use of sexuality and sexual objectification.

Analysis of statistic reveals that in the UK in 1989, 4 % of 8447 complaints received where due to offensive portrayal of women. In Canada, 11 out of 66 complaints related to gender stereotyping and use of inappropriate sexuality. The article identifies inappropriate placement of advertisement as the major reason for outcry: what may be acceptable in playboy magazine that has a particular audience is not acceptable outside schools.

David Waller, kim Shayam and B. Zafar identify the attitude toward advertising of controversial products and what exactly makes them offensive/ reasons for being offensive. They conducted cross cultural study across Malaysia (Muslim), Turkey(Muslim), UK(Christian) and (New Zealand(Christian). 17 controversial products were shown; Charities, cigarettes, alcohol, condoms, female contraceptives, female hygiene products, female underwear, funeral services, gambling, guns and armaments, male underwear, pharmaceuticals, political parties, racially extremist groups, religious denominations, sexual diseases (AIDS, STD prevention); and weight loss programs. Results show that UK and New Zealand shared 11 off 17 same answers whereas Turkey and Malaysia shared 7 similar answers. European countries of Turkey and UK shared only 3 same answers. Even though Turkey and Malaysia are further apart they shared more similar answers than Turkey and UK indicating that religion impacts perception of what is considered offensive. For example Both Turkey and Malaysia see gambling as offensive because Islam prohibits gambling. (Waller and Shayam, 2003)

The effects of religion on the advertising of controversial nature remain largely unstudied to date. Moreover, studies which did look at the influence on marketing focused only on how Islam influences advertising content and regulation in Saudi Arabia (Luqmani et al., 1987) and Gulf Co-operative Council countries (Michell and Al-Mossawi, 1999). Luqmani et al.(1987) claim that unconventional advertisements should get approval from religious authorities otherwise they can result in in large segment of 'conservative' Saudi public being alienated. Michell and Al-Mossawi's (1999) study of Gulf Co-operative Council countries shows that 'religiously strict Muslims' have lower recall to advertisements as opposed to ' lenient Muslims'. It indicates that there is a difference in perceived controversial elements in advertisements between a 'strict' and a 'lenient' Muslim.

Why is there a need for ethics in business?

By its definition Advertisement is a unidirectional and paid form of communication that is used to disseminate the product or services information, (Wells, et al. 2007). Companies invest heavily on advertisement campaigns. An estimate of spending on advertisement in 2005 around the world is $ 300 Billion (Laczniak, 2008). The primary focus of advertisement is to enhance the business profitability therefore companies ignore many social aspects while designing an advertisement campaign. In contemporary marketing practices, Advertisement means to create a need of the product in the mind of the consumers to influence its mind in a way that he feels thrust for that product weather he really needs that product or not (Singh, 1998).

Ethics can be defined as the moral principles that distinguish between right and wrong and between good and bad (Beekun, 1997: P 2). Beekun further explain that in case of business, ethics means what is right and what is wrong in doing a business. In Islamic context the Quranic World Khuluq is very near to the definition of ethics (Quran, 3:104). Also Quran uses different words to explain ethics e.g. Khayr (goodness), birr (righteousness), qist (equality), adal (equilibrium and justice), haqq (truth and right), m'aruf (known and approved) and taqwa (Piety) (Majid, 1991: PP 12-13).

Contemporary Advertisements & Islamic Ethical System

These advertisement practices are also being used in many Islamic countries including Pakistan (Akhtar et al, 2011). Islam on the other hand does not tolerate this act of deception as it is clearly mentioned in the book of Allah "Give just measures and cause no loss. And weigh with scales true and upright and withhold not things justly due to men" (Quran, 26:181). In Islamic business ethics honesty is the key to all business practices. Once a Bedouin questioned to the Messenger of Allah that when the dooms day take place, The Prophet replayed that "When honesty is lost, then wait for the doomsday"(Beekun, 1997).

In many Television advertisements of Pakistani media, this problem can be seen. For example in Motorcycle adds, it is frequently claimed that this motorcycle can run 70 to 80 KM in one letter but in actual it runs only 50 KM. This is the example of the exaggeration in the product, which is not acceptable in the Islamic way of business.

The fairness of the advertisement is also an important thing in the Islamic ethical system. By fairness it means that the features and quality that is being advertised and perceived by the people, should be there in the product. Islam believes in equality of rights where justice has a key importance, misleading the people by showing them the overrated features are considered as injustice. Islam doesn't tolerate to do injustice with the people even if there is a risk of loss in the business. It is clearly mentioned in the book of Allah that, "Standout firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourself, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor…." (Quran, 4:135). Selling a product by telling a lie is totally against the Islamic way of doing business. The prophet of Allah said "The sign of a hypocrite are three 1. Whenever he speaks he tells a lie. 2. Whenever he promise, He always break it. 3. If you trust him, he proves to be dishonest" (Al-Bukhari, 1.32)

This ethical way of advertisement leads to another crucial issue of women involvement in the advertisement. In many western influenced countries like Pakistan, the role of women in an advertisement campaign is just to enhance the glamour by exposing their body parts. On the contrary it is mentioned in the Quran " Say to the believing men that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts. That is purer for them, And to say the believing women to restrain their looks and to guard their private parts. (Quran, 24:31,32).

Islam doesn't restrain women to participate in business activities, but the purpose behind should not deceive people by emotional stimulation. For a woman in Islam is not allowed to show any part of the body except face, hands and feet (Karande and Kiran, 2000). Showing any part except the mentioned is considered as a sexual stimulant and thus inappropriate for the public presentation (Chachula, G. et al., 2009)

Nudity of body parts in the advertisements is a critical issue that currently dominated the whole world including Muslim countries. However its intensity is varying within the Muslim countries. In Saudi Arabia the whole advertisement campaign has to be changed as it is strictly prohibited to show body parts except face and hands, While in Dubai, UAE the same version of advertising campaign as designed for the USA or Europe is used due to the more liberal nature (Kiran and Karande, 2000)

This ethical dilemma leads towards the issue of advertising controversial products is Muslim countries like Pakistan. Controversial products are those products that have a sense of aversion in the mind of the customer while advertise them publicly (Waller, D.S. and K.S. Fam, 2000). They are also called " Un-Mentionable" and socially sensitive products (Usmani, 2006). For example the customers because of the social as well as Islamic norms of the society do not like the free advertisement of condoms on television and print media.

Currently many companies in Muslim countries advertise such product that appeals the sexuality. Waller et al. (2005) categorizes controversial products in three types, Products, Services and Concepts. Alcohol, cigarettes, female contraceptives, male and female under garments are in the product category in Waller's categorization. The services category includes the ads of sex dieses such as STD and AIDS. In the concept category there are such ideas that are not compatible with the social norm such as unconventional sexual practices.

Contrary to Islamic ethical system, currently in many Islamic countries including Pakistan, sexual appeals are used in advertisement to promote the products (Akhtar et al., 2011). These sexual appeals are used in different ways for example by the use of good-looking models and by depicting a level of nudity in the advertisement (Severn, Belch, and Belch 1990). Severn et al. also pointed out that these appeals might also be included suggestive verbal sentences. For example the use of such words on TV that are un-discussable publicly will create a social problem.

Islam, on the other hand, does not allow selling the product by using unethical means that harms the social norms of the society. In Islam everyone is accountable to Allah for his actions, Individuals are not at all free in their will rather they are bound to do everything including business by keeping themselves in the limits of Sharia'h (Rice, G. 1999). Islam does not tolerate to sell a product by using sexual appeals or un-discussable concepts. Prophet Muhammad (PBUM) said, "God likes that when someone does something; it must be done perfectly well" (Rice, G. et al., 2002)

Islam strictly forbade exaggerating in the product features. Islam considers this exaggeration as bluff and cheating. The gist of Islamic business ethics is Honesty. Islam does not allow cheating the customer even ifthere is a fear of loss in the business. Anas Bin Malik (R.A) reported, "Prophet Muhammad (PBUM) forbade the sale of fruits till they are almost ripe. Anas was asked what is meant by "are almost ripe" He replied, "Till they become red" Allah's Messenger (PBUM) further said, " If Allah spoiled the fruits, what right one would have to take the money of one's brother."(Al-Bukhari, 3.403)

With the split of secular and sacred, religion becomes a private matter and in this so-called "value-free society" the focus is exclusively on development of economic mechanisms (Rice, 1999). There are two main economical systems that currently dominated the whole world, Capitalism and socialism. Rice, G. (1998) argues that capitalism encourages the free market economy, which is governed by individuals. The gist of capitalistic system is profit maximization that becomes the life goal of individuals in that system. On the other hand communistic system encourages the buorocacy that leads the imbalanced allocation of resources (Akhtar et al, 2011).

Country to these economical systems, profit maximization is not the only and ultimate goal of Islamic way of business. It is mentioned in Quran, "Wealth and sons are attractiveness of the life of this world; but the things that endure, good deeds, are the best in the sight of Allah, as rewards, and best as the foundation for hopes." (Quran, 18:46)

The Islamic Law - Shariah

Arabic word "Islam" literally means "to surrender", but as a religious term in the Quran, it means "to surrender to the will or law of God". One who practices Islam is a Muslim. According to the Quran, Islam is the universal religion, because everything functions according to the laws God. For human beings, who possess free will, practicing Islam does not involve automatically obeying, but rather freely accepting God's commandments (Von der Mehden, 1986). Islamic social philosophy is based on the belief that all spheres of life: spiritual, social, political, and economic 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.

Even the cardinal religious duties prescribed in the five pillars of Islam have clear social implications. Islamic law, known as Shari'ah (which is sourced from the Quran) is a code that prescribes and governs the duties, morals and behavior of all Muslims, collectively and individually, in all aspects of life (Coulson). Olayan and Karande (2000) go on to explain that the Shari'ah describes the values that Muslims should hold, including truth, honesty, social and collective obligations and responsibilities, the role of men and women, and the role of buying and selling. Muslims are not allowed to eat pork, gamble or drink alcohol, and nudity is prohibited. In addition, Muslims must not do idol worshipping (statues inclusive), must conform to sexual codes and adultery is strictly prohibited. Children should not deceive or disrespect their parents (Newland). Islam is more than a religion. It is a way of life and controls the ways of society and factors associated with family, dress, cleanliness and ethics. Muslims are required to live and think in the way that Allah has stated.

The Islamic economic system as opposed to the communist or socialist system focuses on the ethical character of man. In this system the economic progress and materialistic development are not condemned however they are also not the ultimate objective (Hatcher, L., 1994 & Usmani, M.I.A., 2006 ). Hence the rules of the Islamic economic system heavily guard the consumer against any unlawful, immoral or exploitative behavior of other forces in the market. For this purpose the shariah has set limits on the behavior of organizations when they sell their product. Consequently, advertising appeals such as sexist images and nudity are considered immoral, and unethical.

Shariah's Stance on Advertising

An advertisement is found to be offensive on the type of appeal and the manner of presentation. Objections include use of sex or fear, and silliness of presentation (Greyser, 1972). These emotions can lead to general consumer irritation (Sin & Cheng 1984). Sexuality in advertising creates high attention value (LaTour, 1990); but sometimes excessively offensive advertisements will generate a physiological arousal response and corresponding negative cognition (Belch et al.) especially towards those advertisements that adopt sexual appeals or nudity. Several studies have found that advertisers can maximize the involvement and persuasiveness of an advertisement via the use of a fear appeal (al. N. e., 1999). But the use of fear appeal may "expose a person against one's will to harmful or seriously offensive images" (al. H. e., 1993).

Experiencing offensive advertising on the web may negatively affect consumers' buying decisions. Ford et al. (1997) hypothesized a model to examine female response to portrayal of offensive sex roles in advertising. The model suggested that potentially offensive advertisements damaged company image and are proportional to the purchase intention of the consumer. Once the customer feels uneasy or has a negative impression of the advertisement, he or she might not buy the products of the companies that are perceived to use offensive advertisements.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said,

"You are not better than people with red or black skins unless you excel them in piety." Once a Bedouin asked the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) "When would the Hour (Doomsday) take place?" Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) replied, "When honesty is lost, then wait for the Hour (Doomsday)." Bedouin said, "How will that be lost." Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, "When the power or authority comes in the hands of unfit persons, then wait for the Hour (Doomsday)"

As evident from this hadith there is no leverage for lying in Islam. Lying could be in the form of hiding defects in your product form the seller, or exaggerating characteristics in order to convince the buyer. (Rice, G., 1999)So advertisements that exploit consumers by cashing out on consumer vanity, sex appetite, and envy and tell lies about the product are not shariah compliant.

Even though an element of resentment towards obscene advertisement is found in both genders, the results of a survey conducted by Waller showed that the response of females compared to males differed in both level and reasons for resentment. The females especially found sexist and indecent language as the most disturbing aspects of an obscene advertisement. (15)In another study done on Malaysian Muslims it was found that there is a strong correlation between religiosity and attitude towards indecent advertisements. ( Run, E.C.D., M.M. Butt, K.S. Fam and H.Y. Jong, 2010)

Ethical issues hence have been studied in depth regarding advertising campaigns of controversial products from a shariah perspective (Waheed Akhter, Ethical Issues in Advertising in Pakistan: An Islamic Perspective, 2011)

Islam not only guides Muslims with respect to the relationship between the Creator and His creation but provides teachings on the relationship between men themselves too and man with the entire universe. (Modudi, 2003) To no extent is any kind of room provided by the religion for the kind of indecency portrayed by advertisements today (Waheed Akhter, Ethical Issues in Advertising in Pakistan: An Islamic Perspective, 2011)

A survey conducted by Waller in an Australian business school revealed that female students are offended by controversial advertisements majorly because of the sexism involved and the indecent language they contain. (Waller, 1999) Those who extended on Waller's study concluded that marketeers need to work on making less offensive advertisements to capture a larger target market (Waller, D.S., K.S. Fam and B.Z. Erdogan)

Research conducted by Waheed Akhter in COMSATS provided evidence that there is discontentment with ads using nudity and sexist images along with the use indecent language, anti-social, behaviour and western images and hence there's a need for marketers to remain conscious of these elements. Religious intentions were found to be high in the society and in such a society sensitivity to indecent advertisements is highly likely.

Attitudes towards Advertising

The level of effectiveness of advertisements is found to have been influenced by attitudes towards advertisements (Purvis, 1995). Advertising exposure medium is controlled by the consumers. They decide the time they will spend on a specific ad. They may simply decide to flip the page (Purvis, 1995) or switch the channel. As Ducoffe (1995, 1996) identified, the factors contributing to consumers' valuation of ad values and hence their attitudes toward advertisements include perceived levels of entertainment, informativeness and irritation (Chingning Wang)

Zannot's (1981, '1984) public opinion surveys on advertising revealed that attitudes toward advertising in the 1960s were generally mixed and by 1970s the attitudes had becoming increasingly negative. Further studies were done on the matter, focusing on specific nations and these results too were consistent with the data obtained in 1970s (Prabhaker, '1992, 1994; Andrews, 1989; Mittal, 1994; Muahling, 1987). Advertising has been criticized for presenting deceptive information, promoting undesirable values, making wrong claims, depicting females as "erotic objects" and convincing people to buy things that are no longer needed by them (Katona, 1964; Pollay, 1986; Pollay and Mittal,1993). Coulter et al. (2001) found that consumers appreciate the informational and entertained value given by advertisements but disapprove its intrusiveness and overuse of fantasy. Chung-Chuan Yang's (2000) findings suggested advertising to have negative effects on students' attitude towards advertising who believe that advertising is misleading and deceptive. Penny M. Simpson, Gene Brown and Robert E. Widing II (1998) proposed that unethical perceptions of the advertisement significantly and negatively affect all advertising response variables like ad credibility, attitude toward advertising, attitude toward the advertiser, pleasure and ethical judgment. Reid and Soley (1983) found that despite of doubtful effectiveness sex appeals remain to be a major method employed in catching consumer's attention to an ad.

Researchers for long have been in the attitude of consumers towards advertising practices. Those focusing on advertisements that are not in conformance with the norms and value system of the society found that religiosity has a great impact on the attitude of people towards controversial advertisements which are controversial and religion-sensitive. (Run, E.C.D., M.M. Butt, K.S. Fam and H.Y. Jong)

Religion and Consumer Behavior

The impact of religion has been a major topic of study in behavioral sciences and these have provided evidence of relationship existing between religion and consumer behavior (Hirschman 1982, 1983; Bailey and Sood 1993). Though advertising leads to a key change in values, beliefs, behavior and buying patterns of the peoples influencing the lifestyles of people (Polly and Mittal, 1993), religion significantly affects choices and has a major impact on the culture, value system and the lifestyles of people. Lifestyle then dictates what, how and why people consume (Delener 1990, Hirschman 1982, Wilkes et al. 1986).

Islam is a complete way of life for muslims and the Quran guides them in all aspects of life, hence influencing consumer behaviour as well, guiding muslims on what to consume, why and how. (Bailey and Sood 1993, Rice and AlMossawi 2002).

Religion and Advertising

Religion acts as a strong factor in determining how one interprets or understands advertisements thus there is a dire need for comprehending the link between religion and advertising (Al-Mossawi G. R., 2002). Religious association, also, greatly contributes to one's attitude (Hirshman, 1981), values (Yang, 1993) and purchase intention as well as consumer behavior (Hirshman, 1981). Controversial advertisements, whether in terms of the nature of product or content, are unsuccessful in bringing about the desired results; in fact, such advertisements may even have negative effects and may hamper sales (Al-Mossawi G. R., 2002)

According to Rice and Al Mossawi, 2002 advertisements should show women in appropriate attire and a decent way. (Haque, 2011). Female endorsement in advertisements of commodities and goods which have little or nothing to do with women is humiliating as it devalues their intellect and their role in society. (Portrayal of Women in Advertisements and the PEMRA Ordinance, 2009)

Many religious authorities also object to advertising explicitly and they strongly advise to consider Islamic principles related to decency, business transactions and nature of consumption when designing any advertising campaign (Rice and Al-Mossawi 2002).

Following the religious recommendations, advertisers have used different tactics that use nature and use of music, sex appeal or nudity in Iran and Saudi Arabia have been avoided at times, and were care taken of women's dressing (Rice and Al-Mossawi 2002).

Pakistan being an Islamic country, it seems reasonable to anticipate that all advertising agencies should have e a good understanding of the target audience and how its consumption and perceptions of advertising are affected by Islam.

The attitudes towards advertising among adult consumers (Zanot, 1981; Mittal, 1994, Ghanimi, 2008) and among student samples (Duninsky & Hensel, 1984; Larkin, 1977; Muehling, 1987, Petroshias, 1986; Sandage & Leckenby, 1980; Waheed Akhter, 2011) have been measured, the perception of advertising of controversial brands with respect to religious orientation has also been studied (Waheed Akhter, Ethical Issues in Advertising in Pakistan: An Islamic Perspective, 2011) but the influence of religious orientation on reaction to indecent advertisements have less commonly been studied worldwide and never so in Pakistan, especially from the consumer perspective.

Research Gap

The existing literature shows that a significant amount of work has been done on the role of religious orientation of marketers on the kind of advertising they choose to take however the forward linkage with end consumers is the gap in nearly all these researches. The focus of our research therefore, is on the end consumers because while considerable research has been devoted to the factors that make an advertising influencing, little research has been dedicated to understanding the consumer-related factors that may influence the success of advertisements.

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