Researchers show religion and consumerism can go hand in hand

Sunday 24 April 2011, 10:54AM
By University of Canterbury

New research to be published in the Journal of Marketing Management shows that some Christians are happy to ignore some of their beliefs if they feel it is justified.

Dr Ekant Veer from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and Dr Avi Shankar from the University of Bath, UK, showed that although many of the people they surveyed believed it was wrong to be materialistic, they were still willing to acquire material wealth.

“It’s a really interesting case of being torn between the consumer driven world that encourages material wealth and one’s religious beliefs” says Dr Veer.

“We found that expensive luxury watches that were advertised as being showy or an item of envy were frowned upon by religious consumers. However, when the same item was advertised as being high quality and enduring, rather than having materialistic value, the religious consumers were significantly more willing to purchase the product.”

The study surveyed more than 400 people living in the UK who were shown an advertisement for a watch that was either advertised as being an item of desire and public recognition or as an item of functional value. Half of the people surveyed identified themselves as being religious and believing that materialism was wrong.

The results showed that non-religious consumers did not prefer one ad over the other. However, the religious consumers were 25 per cent more likely to purchase the watch if they saw the ad that didn’t portray it as a materialistic item.

The results of the study help to explain how many Christians acquire and store materialistic items for themselves and family, although many Biblical teachings discourage hoarding wealth.

“Although we focused our research on Christians, the results could explain the behaviour of many different religious and non-religious consumers” says Dr Shankar. “For example, it can help us understand how some mothers are able to justify spending more than they can realistically afford on baby equipment, such as prams, because they are convinced that it is a high quality item, rather than to show off; or how purchasing a new car can be justified as necessary for practical reasons rather than just to keep up with the Jones’s, which could be the real underlying reason.”

The researchers say that the results can be used by marketers, advertisers and sales forces to drive sales up. “But, you need to know what type of person you’re dealing with. If you are talking to someone who is clearly not averse to being materialistic, then it doesn’t really matter what you say. But, if you’re targeting a high end, expensive, flashy product to people who are put off by materialism, then you need to change your approach.”

It is expected that the results of the research can benefit advertisers in terms of creating messages to better target such consumers, but could also enlighten consumers who did not realise how easily they could be swayed by a simple argument that goes against their religious beliefs.

The full paper can be downloaded at:

Veer, Ekant and Shankar, Avi (2011) “Forgive me, Father, for I did not give full justification for my sins: How religious consumers justify the acquisition of material wealth,” Journal of Marketing Management, Vol 27 (5&6), pp. 547-560.