Christianity Sells and the Advertiser’s Toolbox: The Work of Christian Cultural Markers in Television Advertisements

Gould, Melissa
Johnson, Rosser
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

"The work of the advertisement is not to invent a meaning for [a product], but to translate meaning for it by means of a sign system we already know" (Williamson, 1978, p. 25).

Television advertisements are cultural texts that employ cultural capital in the meaning-making process of promotional communication. One specific cultural tool that advertises use is Christianity. Premised on a belief that Christianity Sells, this study deconstructs the appropriation of CHRISTIAN CULTURAL MARKERS, in advertisements broadcast on New Zealand television. It examines the presence of CHRISTIAN CULTURAL MARKERS as a creative tool in television advertising, and cultural understandings about 'the sacred' and 'the secular' in New Zealand.

In all, the study examined some 630 hours of television programming from 27 days in 2012. The selected viewing times for data gathering accommodated both 'seasonal' and 'generic' programming, and prime-time scheduling on five free-to-air television channels. The data were analysed for how CHRISTIAN CULTURAL MARKERS are evidenced, their thematic representations and thematic functions. Besides CHRISTIAN CULTURAL MARKERS, the analysis also probed three other types of BELIEF CULTURAL MARKERS -- RELIGIOUS (NON-CHRISTIAN) CULTURAL MARKERS, SPIRITUAL CULTURAL MARKERS, and SECULAR CULTURAL MARKERS. All these television television advertisements were further classified as to whether their product was that of a Christian or non-Christian company. In all, some 594 BELIEF CULTURAL MARKERS, from 352 television advertisements were anaylsed to deconstruct the meaning-making processes and layers of meaning.

Four major findings emerged. First, the study argues that sacred material is utilised and borrowed in both sacred and secular frameworks. This is illustrated through the work of CHRISTIAN CULTURAL MARKERS in television advertisements for Christian and non-Christian companies. Second, CHRISTIAN CULTURAL MARKERS were evidenced in a range of representations. From naturalised, ambiguous and temporal, to explicit and permanent applications. All the while, working through the transferal of value from the CHRISTIAN CULTURAL MARKERS to the brand, product and company advertised. Third, CHRISTIAN CULTURAL MARKERS serve four thematic functions: as cultural markers; as calendar markers: as a tool for consumption and as a brand influencer. Four, CHRISTIAN CULTURAL MARKERS are not the only BELIEF CULTURAL MARKERS appropriated in television advertisements. The inclusion of RELIGIOUS, SPIRITUAL, and SECULAR CULTURAL MARKERS in television advertisements wok by transferring the cultural capital of a belief system to the brand, product and company advertised.

In conclusion, the line between the sacred and the secular appears to be blurring, as the gap that once defined the two cultural entities narrows. In an increasingly secular country, it seems that the notion that Christianity sells still provides cultural capital in New Zealand television advertising.

Media , Television , Advertising , Religion
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