Study: Religious Fundamentalists and Brand Loyalty

Study shows religious fundamentalists form strong attachments to product brands

Despite their differences, most major world religions warn that attachment to fleeting material objects is an obstacle to spiritual transcendence. Therefore, religious fundamentalists, who try to strictly follow the tenets of divine scripture, ought to care little for worldly possessions like cars and clothing, says Nancy Wong, assistant professor of marketing at Georgia Tech College of Management.

However, fundamentalists actually tend to form strong personal connections with particular product brands, according to a new study conducted by Wong in partnership with Aric Rindfleisch, associate professor of marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and James E. Burroughs, assistant professor of commerce at the University of Virginia.

The study's findings suggest that fundamentalists' brand connection stems from their need for predictability and certainty in a confusing world that is rapidly changing in ways that threaten their most sacred values.

"They seek cognitive security in the brands they buy and use," says Wong, who recently presented this study, titled "Religious Fundamentalism and Brand Connections," at the ACR Europe conference in Sweden.

Wong and her collaborators conducted their research in America first and then Singapore. While most of the 382 people surveyed in America were Christian, the sample of 300 Singaporeans was evenly divided among Buddhists, Christians and Muslims.

"Singapore is one of the few places with sizable percentages of adherents to three of the world's major religions," says Wong, whose research team wanted to see if the results of its American survey were replicable across other cultural settings and religious groups.

Their findings were consistent among all three religious groups in both countries for the product categories examined: cars and blue jeans in America, and cell phones and watches in Singapore. The researchers were careful to avoid products that might have religious associations, Wong notes.

Marketing scholars generally pay scant attention to religion, and companies often only acknowledge fundamentalists when faced with an organized boycott resulting from religious-based objections to a product, Wong says. However, the rise of fundamentalism among all major world religions is a movement that marketers can no longer ignore, she stresses.

"Based on our findings, firms may wish to take a much more proactive stance in terms of developing relationships with religious fundamentalists, as their need for predictability makes them a particularly attractive segment," Wong says. "Their ability to remain vigilant to a particular brand and shun competitive appeals is an increasingly valuable commodity in a hypercompetitive marketplace. Marketing campaigns that stress how a product or service delivers consistent and predictable performance should help attract these individuals to a brand and maintain them as part of its loyal franchise."