Investigating the Ichthus (Fish) Christianity Symbol on Perceived Source Credibility of Service Providers Under Different Service Evaluation Contexts

Combining religious practices with commercial pursuits for profit is neither a novel nor an insignificant trend (Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry 1989; McDannell 1995). Today, marketplace use of Christian symbols in secular advertising is becoming more common, especially in certain geographic locations within the United States. Christian religion-based messages and symbols regularly appear in a wide range of advertisements. The Christian elements in these ads often include Bible verses, crosses, doves, and often, the Christian fish symbol (Ichthus). Similar Christian messages are often observed in outdoor advertising, retail store signage, product packaging, and even the daily newspaper. These examples illustrate that many business owners know that Christian religious themes and symbols are very familiar to consumers. Christian symbols and messages have strong meaning within a religious context, but do these meanings transfer in market exchanges? And do these religious themes have an effect on consumers? Many marketers appear to assume so. They also seem to assume few or no potential drawbacks. Because there is little research examining consumer reactions to Christian religious symbols in the marketplace the potential value (or lack thereof) to marketers in using Christian symbols to communicate with consumers has gone largely unexamined. So while research on the presence of religious themes in the secular marketplace is not new (e.g., Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry 1989; O’Guinn and Belk 1989), the specific impact of Christian religious symbols in advertising on consumer responses toward marketers of service offerings within the range of search, experience and credence qualities has not been adequately addressed. Consequently, the overall purpose of this research is to investigate the effect of one of the most well-known Christian religious symbols (Ichthus) in advertising on consumer evaluations of service providers —specifically, source credibility of service providers offering services considered to be high in search, experience and credence qualities. Toward this end, the research on religion and marketing is first briefly reviewed along with evangelical Christianity in the United States. Next, a discussion of consumer responses to Christian symbols in advertising within the context of services attributes (experience, credence and search qualities) is presented. Finally, the paper concludes with a discussion and suggestions for future research.