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Attitudes towards offensive


advertising: Malaysian Muslims
views
Ernest Cyril De Run and Muhammad Mohsin Butt

Offensive
advertising

25

Faculty of Economics and Business, University Malaysia Sarawak,


Kota Samarahan, Malaysia

Kim-Shyan Fam
School of Marketing, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington,
New Zealand, and

Hui Yin Jong


Faculty of Economics and Business, University Malaysia Sarawak,
Kota Samarahan, Malaysia
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate the Malaysian Malays attitude towards
offensive advertising and the reasons that make these advertisements offensive. This paper aims to
explore the role of religiosity on attitudes towards controversial advertisements and the reasons why
they are controversial.
Design/methodology/approach This paper consists of 279 randomly selected Malay
participants. Data were analyzed using means, correlations, and ANOVA.
Findings Results indicate that those high on religiosity differ on the nature and manner of
controversial advertisements from those of low religiosity. Malay Muslims when compared on their
degree of religiosity differ in terms of their evaluation of offensive nature of advertisement. More
important they differ more on the reason that make these advertisement offensive compared to the
nature of the products.
Research limitations/implications Respondents are somewhat more skewed towards a younger
population causing concern that the results might not be a true indication of all Malaysian age groups.
Originality/value The original value of the research lies in its effort to examine the results from
the lens of religious theology and respondent degree of religiosity.
Keywords Advertising, Advertising effectiveness, Public opinion, Religion, Islam, Malaysia
Paper type Research paper

1. Introduction
It is an established fact that religion plays a significant role in human behavior and
attitudes (Armstrong, 2001; Arnould et al., 2004). Religion affects our goals, motivation
and satisfaction by influencing how we live and experience life (Ellison and Cole, 1982).
However, a universal application that religion dominates human attitude towards life is
not appropriate. First and foremost it is the degree of religious affiliation that dictates the
influence of religion on individuals attitude and subsequent behavior. Second, religions
have different degrees of social impact on different societies. Third, different religions
have different degrees of influence on the social fabric of a society. For example, how
religion affects food consumption differs across religions. Fourth, religions differ in their
emphasis on values and vices.

Journal of Islamic Marketing


Vol. 1 No. 1, 2010
pp. 25-36
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1759-0833
DOI 10.1108/17590831011026204

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Although a global message of goodness for humanity underlines all religious


teaching, the execution, strategies and symbolic rituals usually differ. Also, within the
fabric of religion lies religiosity, the personal amount of adherence to religious callings.
Religiosity impacts the effect of religion on individuals and their consumption behavior.
Past research affirms that degree of religiosity is a better predictor than religion, when it
comes to investigate individuals consumption behavior.
One of the distinctive characters of Islam as a religion is engraved in its political
ideology that religion is the integral part of statehood in Muslim societies, making it
almost impossible to incorporate secular ideology in a Muslim society (Kavoossi, 2000;
Lawrence, 1998). Many countries in the Islamic world, including Malaysia have
established their legal framework based on Sharia laws. The implementation of Sharia
law has a profound effect on the consumption behavior of Muslim societies. These laws
can seriously hamper the promotion, sales, and consumption of certain products while
giving birth to new products and services unconceivable in traditional western societies.
Thus, traditional banking, alcohol-based products, and gambling businesses face
serious repercussion under Sharia law. On the other hand, Islamic banking, insurance
and leasing, and Halal logo certification are few examples that thrive under Sharia law.
Malaysia is one of the developed nations in the Muslim world, with Muslim Malays as
the dominant ethnic group. Nevertheless, Malaysia is a multiracial, multi religious, and
multicultural society, with Malays, Chinese, Indians, and numerous other indigenous
people living side by side. Malaysia is studied here as it offers a unique legal and
business environment. On one hand, a Malay can be prosecuted in a Sharia court, if
found guilty of gambling, adultery, or alcohol consumption, while on the other hand, non
Muslims ethnic group such as Chinese, Indian, and Ibans are free to do as they please
within the confines of the law.
This creates the possibilities of unease for Malay Muslims in general and more religious
circles of Malay community in particular. It is of paramount importance to explore, what is
a controversial advertisement, for Malays and reasons underlying its controversy based on
their degree of religiosity. Understanding reasons can help advertisers to promote their
controversial but lawful products in such a way that it minimizes viewers distrust. The rest
of the paper is organized as follows: first, discussion of the relevant literature is presented;
followed by a discussion of the methodology used, third, the findings are presented and then
discussed, followed by the conclusions that look at academic and managerial implications,
limitations, and areas for future research.
2. Literature review
2.1 Controversial product advertising
Societies have the sole privilege of accepting, isolating, or rejecting any product or services
within its social context. Rejection and isolation of a product or service by a society
makes it either difficult or impossible to promote such products. A product or service is
deemed to be controversial, once it disturbs the social, moral or religious fabric of a society.
However, the bucket list of rejection or isolation could differ across and within cultures.
For example, a product can be controversial because it crosses the moral barriers of a
secular society. The same product could be considered controversial because it violates the
fundamental teaching of a religion in a religious society. Similarly, it is possible that the
liberal segment of a society is least offended by such advertisement as compared to
conservative groups.

An advertisement could become controversial either because of the nature of product


being advertised or the manner in which a generally acceptable product is advertised
(Barnes and Dotson, 1990). In an exploratory study of TV advertising, two different
dimensions of offensiveness were identified and labeled as offensive products and
offensive execution (Barnes and Dotson, 1990). Generally, products that could harm the
public moral/physical health or considered socially indecent and unmentionable in
public are considered controversial to be advertised. Unmentionables infer:
[. . .] products, services, or concepts that for reasons of delicacy, decency, morality, or even
fear tend to elicit reactions of distaste, disgust, offence, or outrage when mentioned or when
openly presented (Willson and West, 1981).

Unmentionables also can be defined as offensive, embarrassing, harmful, socially


unacceptable or controversial to significant segment of the population (Katsanis, 1994).
Past research affirms that cigarettes, condoms, contraceptives and alcohol products are
considered controversial (Schuster and Powell, 1987; Willson and West, 1981).
Other researchers have suggested three broader categories of controversial products:
alcoholic beverages, products directed at children, and health/sex-related products
(Fahy et al., 1995). Feminine hygiene products have also been categorized as controversial
products (Rehman and Brooks, 1987). These include undergarments, pregnancy tests,
and contraceptive medications. Apart from academic research, professionals also consider
that advertising of feminine hygiene products in general were of poor taste, irritating,
and most hated (Alter, 1982; Barnes and Dotson, 1990; Hume, 1988).
There have been numerous studies that have attempted to group these products in
order to study them. Some have suggested a four category grouping of:
(1) gender/sex-related products;
(2) social/political groups;
(3) addictive products; and
(4) health and care products (Fam et al., 2004).
Others suggest a different typology, based on products, services, and concepts (Willson
and West, 1981). The product list includes personal hygiene, birth control, warfare, and
drugs for terminal illness. Services includes abortion, sterilization, venereal disease,
mental illness, funeral directors, and artificial insemination while concepts include
political ideas, palliative care, unconventional sexual practices, racial/religious prejudice,
and terrorism.
Malaysian cultural diversity in term of religion, history or tradition requires a vigilant
approach from advertiser, to avoid any controversy, even if the nature of their products
is not controversial. Because of these cultural influences, and potential conflicts,
Ministry of Information established an advertising code for TV and radio in 1996. The
advertising code prohibits advertisement that contains statements or suggestions,
which offend the religious, racial, political or sentimental susceptibilities of any section
of the community (Waller and Fam, 2000). The purpose of this prohibition has to
achieve racial and national harmony in Malaysia (Frith, 1987).
The advertising code in Malaysia is heavily influenced by Islamic values.
Advertisements that depict ways of life other than acceptable by Malaysian society are
not allowed (Waller and Fam, 2000). The laws are meant to ensure that mass media
content adheres to Islamic principle and values (Deng et al., 1994). For examples, female

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advertising

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models are bound to adhere to the decent dress clause of Malaysian advertising codes
(Waller and Fam, 2000). Female models, especially for Malays, must be:
[. . .] covered until the neckline, the length of the skirt worn should be below the knees, the arms
may be exposed up to the edge of the shoulder but armpits cannot be exposed (Waller et al., 2005).

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Besides, this, advertising of female hygiene products was allowed only after 10 p.m. on
national TV (Waller and Fam, 2000).
Laws reflect the social environment of the state. They are determined by the history of
the land, culture, religion, legal tradition and its economy (Boddewyn, 1982; Harker,
1998; Rotzoll and Haefner, 1996). The combination of these forces uniquely conditions a
countrys advertising regulations. The historical and social forces that determine the
formation of advertising regulations are not static but constantly evolving. Past research
affirms the change in cultural values over a period of time because of industrialization
and the influence of global media, including advertising (Chu and Yanan, 1993).
Therefore, it is imperative to keep on investigating the public attitudes regarding key
business decisions particularly the decisions that could create controversy to remain
proactive and in touch with the nature of existing market.
2.2 Islam
Religion, being an integral part of culture, influences marketers to explore its role in
consumption world, particularly in the area of marketing activities (Cornwell et al., 2005).
Religion plays a dominant role in consumer world by influence the ways a person consumes
material goods and services (Fam et al., 2004). It also acts as cultural lens through which a
respondent decode the incoming message, thus directly effecting the outcome of marketing
communication (Michell and Al-Mossawi, 1995). Therefore, it is important for a business to
understand and incorporate the religious effect when deciding their advertising methods
and strategies.
All Malays in Malaysia are Muslims and are defined as such by Article 160 of the
Constitution (Bhaskaran and Sukumaran, 2007). The followers of Islam are called
Muslims. Islam is based on the Suna (life) of Prophet Muhammad and the Quran
(according to Muslims beliefs, it is Gods revelation to his last Prophet Muhammad). The
word Islam means to surrender or submit ones will to the supreme will or law of God
(Fam et al., 2004). The Quran and Suna play a central role in constituting Islamic law that
describes and governs the duties, morals, and behavior of Muslims as individuals or
collectively in all aspect of life (Luqmani et al., 1987; Terpstra and Sarathy, 1994).
The laws govern what is lawful for a Muslim (halal ) in an Islamic society and forbid
that it considered to be against the will of God and his Prophet Muhammad (haram)
(Al-Bukhari, 1976; Al-Qardawi, 1999). Few things are strictly prohibited for all Muslims
apart from exceptional circumstances, such as a serious threat to life. These include
adultery, gambling, liquor, pork, interest on money, blood of animals and the meat of a
dead animal scarified in the name of other then Allah. Thus, products that are made of or
contain liquor, pork, blood of dead animal, and services such as contemporary
commercial banking become haram (forbidden) for a devoted Muslim (Ford et al., 1997).
Therefore, it is important to understand that those products that are considered haram
in Islamic theology are bound to create controversy when promoted in a Muslim society.
At the same time, there are certain products, which cannot be categorized explicitly as
unlawful (haram) in Islam, either because the religion is silent regarding the matter, or the

product is latest in its invention requiring deductive reasoning from religious scholars to
categories it as halal (lawful) or haram (unlawful). In such cases, the acceptance of religious
judgment becomes subjective for individual Muslims. These types of products will fall
into undecided category (Mubah). An example of Mubah can be seen through this scenario.
The State Mufti in Brunei in his religious fatwa proclaimed that:

Offensive
advertising

[. . .] although Quran did not specifically state any rulings on cigarettes and smoking but due
to its danger to human health; the theologians have reached a broad agreement in the
conclusion that cigarettes and smoking are unlawful or haram.

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It is these products that might create significant difference in opinions regarding


controversial advertisements when respondents religiosity is examined.
All products that are unlawful from an Islamic legal perspective are bound to be
controversial in a Muslim society no matter in what manner they are advertised. However,
all controversial products are not unlawful in the eyes of Islamic Sharia. For example,
alcohol is haram (forbidden) in Islam, thus regardless of what strategy an advertiser will
adopt to promote his product, it will remain controversial (Al-Qardawi, 1999). On the other
hand, products like female contraceptives are not haram and family planning is
permissible in Islam. Thus, in case of such product, it would not be the nature of product
that will make it controversial but the manner in which the product is advertised.
Therefore, it is the second group of products that need utmost care and research from their
promoters, before engaging into mass communication of their products or services in a
Muslim society. Advertising that does not take into account the sensitivities of Islamic
values and culture, may result in lost sales and perhaps loss of company image. Muslims
have been shown to be particularly sensitive towards advertising of alcohol, and
gender/sex-related products (Waller and Fam, 2001).
2.3 Religiosity
Religiosity can be defined as the degree of being religious. However, it is a multidimensional
concept containing numerous aspects such as beliefs, practices, experiences and
consequential effects on daily life of an individual (OConnell, 1978). Many believe that
religiosity incorporate a greater sense of well being in individuals compared to less religious
people (Martin and Polivka, 1995). Past research on degree of religious affiliation found that
more devoted subjects consider gender/sex-related products, health care and addictive
products as more controversial as compared to less devoted individual (Fam et al., 2004).
Nevertheless, the rapid growth of satellite channels in a majority of the Islamic countries
resulted in frequent public encounters with advertising of controversial products. There is a
possibility that such frequent encounters might have developed a certain tolerance and
acceptability of such products in a Muslim society. This might be more than true especially
in younger generation (Pechmann and Knight, 2002; Pechmann et al., 2005). Although there
are possibilities of group difference on the basis of gender, age, education, income, within a
Muslim society, the current study is focused on exploring group difference on the basis of
religiosity. Therefore, based on our earlier discussion, we propose the following hypotheses:
H1. There will be different views of what is controversial between less religious
and more religious Muslims.
H2. There will be different views as to the reasons why controversial
advertisements are controversial.

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3. Methodology
In order to investigate what is controversial for Muslims and reasons for being
controversial, a questionnaire was developed based on previous studies (Shao and Hill,
1994a, b; Waller et al., 2002). Malays were chosen for this study because they are the
dominant ethnic group and also constitute the largest religious group in Malaysia (Khoo,
1991). In order to obtain a large representation of the Malaysian population, one
100 students in their third year from a local university distributed questionnaires to their
family, relatives and friends throughout Malaysia. A total of 279 usable questionnaires
were obtained.
The questionnaire was part of a larger study and consisted of seven sections. Only
sections relevant to this paper are discussed here. Part A contained respondents
demographics and measured subjects religiosity based on self-assessment on a five-point
Likert scale where 1 not at all religious to 5 extremely religious. Part B contained a
list of controversial products/services: alcohol, charities, cigarettes, 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 (acquired immune deficiency
syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases preventions), and weight loss programs to
determine its offensiveness. A five-point Likert type format where 1 not at all offensive
to 5 extremely offensive was used; Part C consist of 12 items measuring the reason of
offensiveness that was taken from previous studies (Shao and Hill, 1994a, b). A five point
Likert type format where 1 not at all agree to 5 extremely agree was used. Data were
analyzed by religiosity using descriptive analysis and t-test.
4. Findings
Table I depicts a summation of the studys respondents demographic information.
Respondents were generally representative of the general statistics of the population in
Malaysia. Mean scores for offensiveness of the advertisements by overall and
religiosity (high and low) is shown in Table II.
Results of the t-test analysis by religiosity are also incorporated into Table II. For
religiosity, advertising of charities/fund raising, condoms, female contraceptives, racially
extremist groups, and religious denominations were significantly different. Interestingly, for
nearly all advertisements, high religiosity group scored higher than the lower religiosity
group except for racially extremist groups and religious denominations advertisements.
There were no differences in reaction towards the advertising of alcoholic products,
cigarettes/tobacco, female underwear, feminine hygiene products, funeral services, guns and
armaments, male underwear, pharmaceuticals, political parties, sexual diseases, and weight
loss programs. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that the reaction of high on religiosity group
was high (mean score above 3) for alcoholic products, cigarettes/tobacco, female underwear,
feminine hygiene products, male underwear, and sexual diseases (refer to Table II).
Mean scores for reasons for offensiveness of the advertisements by overall and
religiosity (high and low) is shown in Table III. Findings of t-test analysis by religiosity
are also incorporated into Table III.
5. Discussion
The results indicate a very interesting outlook on how religiosity affects the nature
and execution components of controversial advertisement. We will first discuss the

Variable
Age
20-30
31-40
41-50
51-60
Gender
Male
Female
State
Pulau Pinang
Kedah
Perlis
Pahang
Kelantan
Kuala Lumpur
Melaka
Terengganu
Negeri Sembilan
Perak
Johor
Selangor
Sarawak
Sabah
Religiosity
Not at all devout follower
Somewhat follower
Devout follower
Very devout follower
Extremely devout follower

Frequency

142
42
67
28

50.9
15.1
24.0
10.0

140
139

50.2
49.8

14
20
22
19
11
4
4
4
6
7
4
6
101
57

5
7.2
7.9
6.8
3.9
1.4
1.4
1.4
2.2
2.5
1.4
2.2
36.2
20.4

72
57
65
39
46

25.8
20.4
23.3
14
16.5

significant difference and then will focus on the similarities between low and high groups
on religiosity. Results indicate that those high on religiosity consistently consider almost
all products more controversial then the low religiosity group. Nevertheless, their
opinion differs significantly for only six products. They differ significantly for gambling,
racially extremist group, religious denomination, condoms, female contraceptives, and
charitable organization.
It is important to understand the context of the findings, where even though this study
specifically looks at Muslims, there is an element of ethnicity involved. This is because in
Malaysia, Malays are Muslims by law. To be Malay you must be a Muslim as well, but
every Muslim is not necessarily Malay (Asmah, 1983). This combination of race and
religion of Malay identity might have created a bias towards the advertising of religious
denominations and racially extremist groups for those low on religiosity.
The case of religious denomination and racially extremist groups being seen as more
controversial by the low religiosity group may be due to their reservation about these
organizations plus their own ethnic dominance. The high religiosity group may consider
these advertisements as less controversial as they might support their own cause and/or
may even have actively participated in these organizations. The combination of race and
religion within the Malay identity might have created a positive bias towards the racially

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advertising

31

Table I.
Respondent profile

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Table II.
Products with offensive
advertising by religiosity

Variable
Alcoholic products
Charities/fund raisinga
Cigarettes/tobacco
Condomsa
Female contraceptivesa
Female underwear
Feminine hygiene products
Funeral services
Gamblinga
Guns and armaments
Male underwear
Pharmaceuticals
Political parties
Racially extremist groupsa
Religious denominationsa
Sexual diseases
Weight loss programs

3.76
2.25
3.54
3.55
2.79
3.43
3.59
2.92
3.62
2.77
3.54
2.81
2.79
3.41
3.27
3.37
2.41

1.24
0.84
1.17
1.17
1.30
1.37
1.15
1.21
0.88
1.40
1.23
1.40
1.46
1.11
1.09
1.31
1.05

Low religiosity
Mean
SD
3.77
2.15
3.53
3.40
2.66
3.32
3.63
2.90
3.52
2.71
3.58
2.82
2.79
3.56
3.40
3.39
2.44

1.28
0.81
1.19
1.24
1.32
1.44
1.19
1.31
0.83
1.42
1.25
1.36
1.60
1.06
1.05
1.28
0.96

High religiosity
Mean
SD
3.73
2.46
3.59
3.91
3.08
3.66
3.49
2.98
3.86
2.91
3.44
2.76
2.80
3.05
2.99
3.32
2.34

1.15
0.88
1.13
0.91
1.20
1.16
1.03
0.96
0.93
1.37
1.16
1.48
1.07
1.14
1.11
1.37
1.22

Note: aSig. (two-tailed) for religiosity

Variable

Table III.
Reasons for offensive
advertising by religiosity

Overall
Mean
SD

Anti-social behaviora
Concern for children
Hard sell
Health and safety issues
Indecent language
Nuditya
Racist images
Sexist imagesa
Stereotyping of people
Subject too personala
Violencea
Western images

Overall
Mean
SD
2.92
2.62
3.19
3.14
2.66
3.22
3.03
3.26
3.00
3.13
3.17
3.12

1.27
1.27
1.22
1.30
1.11
1.34
1.26
1.20
1.31
1.24
1.25
1.30

Low religiosity
Mean
SD
3.06
2.58
3.13
3.07
2.58
3.07
2.94
3.13
2.98
2.96
3.01
3.03

1.25
1.25
1.24
1.30
1.12
1.35
1.27
1.16
1.34
1.22
1.26
1.29

High religiosity
Mean
SD
2.60
2.71
3.32
3.28
2.85
3.56
3.24
3.56
3.05
3.51
3.55
3.33

1.26
1.31
1.17
1.31
1.06
1.27
1.20
1.24
1.24
1.20
1.14
1.32

Note: aSig. (two-tailed) for religiosity

extremist groups from high on religiosity group. However, it will be unwise to infer that
this difference is due to degree of religiosity, as Islam considers all humans being equal
and son of one Adam. Nevertheless, due to unique ethnic sensitivities and nature of
Malay identity as the dominant group in Malaysia, one can argue that it is possible that
those Malays who are high on religiosity might also score high on ethnic identity
strength, thus less likely to find the advertising of racially extremist groups as
controversial.
The remaining four controversial products are all seen as more controversial by those
who were high on religiosity. The case of gambling is most interesting, primarily because,

the nature of product falls into explicit category of haram (forbidden) for all Muslims.
Thus, like alcohol products there should be no significant difference between high and
low religiosity groups. However, it appears that low religiosity groups are more tolerant
towards the gambling products, perhaps due to the general perception of a lower sin,
compared to adultery and alcohol consumption in Muslim societies. The case of female
contraceptives and condoms can also be understood from an Islamic perspective. These
products are considered lawful by most of the Muslim scholars, provided they are being
used by the legally married couples as a tool to prevent unwanted pregnancies. However,
extreme conservative school of religious thoughts considers these preventive measures
as an intervention into the forces of nature thus actually intervening with Gods Will. The
religious groups who are not opposed of these preventive products still oppose their
public promotion. They consider promoting such products might deplore the moral and
ethical status of younger generation. Therefore, one can easily understand that high on
religiosity group would be more offended by the advertisement of such products.
The role of charities and fund rising organization always remain controversial in the
Muslim societies. First, most of the religious groups in Muslims societies always remain
skeptical to foreign charitable organization or their local affiliates (this is why most of
the Islamic political organizations have their own charitable organization like Hezbollah,
Hamas, or Jammat Islami). The mistrust can be traced back to the early days of
colonization of Muslim societies by the West. Most Muslims consider that apart from
their apparent charitable work, these charitable organizations always have a hidden
agenda to either westernize their society or to convert them from their religion. Second,
Islam has a build in mechanism for charity. It is the states responsibility to annually
collect a fixed amount for charity (Zakat) from the rich and distribute it to the poor of the
society. Therefore, one can argue that unless specified that these charitable organization
work for Muslims welfare, high on religiosity groups will remain concerned and
skeptical towards charitable organizations.
The absence of any significant difference between products like alcohol, cigarettes,
female product, sexual dieses, funeral services, political parties could be understood from
the common fabric of Malay culture and Islam. These products are either haram, like
alcohol, or socially unacceptable by the Malay society regardless of the possible difference
that might exist in their reasons to justify this unacceptability by high and low religiosity
groups. Most of these products such as female and male underwear are thought to be
indecent, anti social, or project western image.
In terms of reasons of an advertisement being controversial, the results indicate only
five differences as compared to nature of products. It seems that as compared to nature of
controversial products (group differentiates on only one third of all listed products) high
and low religious groups disagree around 50 percent of the reasons that make an
advertisement controversial. The low on religiosity group score highest on anti social
behavior and high on religiosity group has highest score on nudity as reasons that make
an advertisement controversial. It is interesting to note that except from antisocial
behavior, all the reason on which groups differ significantly, high religious group has
higher mean score compared to low religious groups. It is also interesting to note that
high religious group perceived differently for reasons such nudity, sexist image, subject
to personal and violence from low on religiosity group. The mean scores provide an
opportunity to deduce some conclusion from this difference.

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advertising

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It appears that the more religious group will react more intensely if the products
advertisements contain nudity, sexist image, violence, or subject matter that is too
personal. Islam preaches modesty, it strongly discourage dresses that reveal private
parts of a body, or provocative gesture to seduce opposite sex, and by no mean allowed
violence to achieve social, political, or economical goals. This can also be seen in the laws
in Malaysia. Islam also preach the individual right to privacy and discourage intrusion
into others personal matters. Thus, in principle high religiosity groups concerns with
these reasons appear to be genuine.
6. Conclusions
The research indicates that the issue of controversial advertisement is complex and
dynamic and needs to be addressed from multiple fronts in order to reach more
conclusive results. It appears that religiosity is an important variable to be considered
while examining societys attitude towards controversial advertisement. Past research
has already established that gender, age, and religion dictate subjects perception
regarding what is controversial and why it is controversial (Waller and Fam, 2001;
Waller et al., 2002).
The fact that religious groups are more organized, equipped, and motivated to register
their concern, demands better understanding of such groups from marketers. It is obvious
that high religiosity individuals are more likely to be members of religious groups or cults
as compared to low religiosity individuals. Thus, to avoid any controversies, or potential
business loss, a better understanding of what could ignite their reaction, seems to be an
appropriate preventive strategy. In case of Muslims in Malaysia, there needs to be extra
care from multinational organizations wishing to promote and sell products or services.
These companies appear to be the prime target of religious groups and they leave no
opportunity unturned to propagate any communicative mistake from these companies
(MacFarquhar, 2002).
7. Future research
As societies evolve and continuously shift towards moderation or radicalization,
advertisers need to be constantly vigilant to such changes. This requires continuous
updating and cross-validating results of societies views. Second, a continuous repetition of
existing list of controversial products to test the underlying construct might become
redundant by the passage of time as new products may become controversial and others
become no more controversial. The degree of acceptability of existing controversial
products might increase in younger generations due to the changing social values and/or
might identify new products as potentially controversial. For example, food products that
are genetically modified are becoming more and more controversial in western societies.
Another approach could be to test the actual advertisement to measure the subjects actual
attitude towards such advertisement. Third, little is known that how brands of
controversial products affect the image of other brands within the company itself or those
that the company sponsors. For example, does a sponsored footballers shirt that has a
beer brand logo negatively contribute to the image of the football club?
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Corresponding author
Ernest Cyril De Run can be contacted at: drernest@feb.unimas.my
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