Unraveling religious advertisements’ effectiveness in a multi-religious society

Rajeev Kumra (Indian Institute of Management – Lucknow, Lucknow, India)
Madhavan Parthasarathy (University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA)
Shafiullah Anis (Olam International, Port Harcourt City, Nigeria)

Journal of Indian Business Research

ISSN: 1755-4195

Publication date: 1 January 2016



The key research issue addressed in this paper is whether individuals perceive advertisements featuring themes from their own religion more positively, and advertisements featuring religious themes from other religions less positively, than neutral ads. In the process, this paper aims to test whether the in-group bias theory (IGBT) and the polarized appraisal theory (PAT) apply in a religious context.


Respondents in a large Indian University were shown advertisements featuring Hindu and Muslim themes as well as a neutral advertisement in the context of pet adoption. Cognitive and affective response measures were used for evaluation.


Respondents did not evaluate advertisements with their own religion’s symbols any more positively than neutral advertisements but did evaluate advertisements with themes from other religions more negatively than neutral ads. In sum, religious advertisements did not have any positive effect on in-group respondents, but rather worked in antagonizing out-group respondents.

Research limitations/implications

Both IGBT and PAT did not work as predicted when tested on in-group respondents but worked as expected on out-group respondents.

Practical implications

In the Indian market, using religious themes has largely negative consequences in terms of alienating out-group members, with no commensurate advantage on in-group members. Firms are better off not using religious advertising, and this decision would likely have a positive impact on a firm’s bottom line.


Though, the general topic of religious advertising has been much researched, but this paper deals with the role of religious symbols in advertising in the Indian context, which is done for the first time in a multi-religious context. Further, the applicability of IGBT and PAT is also tested for the first time in religious advertisement context.



Rajeev Kumra, Madhavan Parthasarathy and Shafiullah Anis (2016) "Unraveling religious advertisements’ effectiveness in a multi-religious society", Journal of Indian Business Research, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 122-142

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: https://doi.org/10.1108/JIBR-07-2015-0083



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