Understanding consumers’ responses to spiritual advertising
This dissertation sets out to advance the field of spirituality and advertising. It first discusses --the Spirituality in Advertising Framework (SAF) -- used as a platform for research of spirituality and advertising. Next, it explains how the SAF is used to study the spiritual message in advertising. These previous advancements have led to the main study of the current dissertation, which focuses on consumers and their reactions to spiritually-dense commercials (which are television ads rife with spiritual themes). Twenty nine semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with students from three different types of student organizations (New Age, religious and Sports), at the University of Texas at Austin. Three main areas of findings were suggested: the presence of spiritual themes in the commercials, the personal meaning participants derive from the commercials and some relevant advertising/branding issues. It was found that participants not only captured the SAF spiritual ideas, but also offered some new themes, including hope, embracing life, destiny vs. free will and the concept of a Higher Power. Moreover, it was revealed that the use of nature, a strong human factor and inspiring ideas in the commercials elicited the most meaningful reactions from participants. The final set of findings, which focused on advertising and branding issues, revealed the following points: 1) authenticity is a major construct in the field of spiritual advertising; 2) more so than the other groups, the New Age group tends towards predispositional skepticism of advertising; 3) the spiritual message created a boomerang effect under certain conditions; 4) the spiritual message triggered questions about brand identity and personal identity of the consumers; and 5) only certain product categories mesh with a spiritual message. Finally, the dissertation ends with implications for practice that could potentially change the face of the advertising industry.