The Effects of Religious Outdoor Advertising: An Experimental Study

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Gene Wiggins

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism


Outdoor advertising has for centuries been a major vehicle for the promotion of products and services. In addition, it has provided messages for motorists and pedestrians on such information as travel spots, eating establishments, and upcoming sporting events. Each year, businesses and groups in the United States spend billions of dollars on outdoor ads (billboards) and fliers, promoting their products and messages (Outdoor Advertising Association of American [OAAA], 2003). The OAAA (2003) notes, "Outdoor advertising has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a roadside poster. Not an afterthought to fund editorial content, outdoor advertising is pure and unfettered-a proud beacon, beautifully rendering a product's benefits and whereabouts" (p.2). Among the groups using outdoor as a major source of advertising are religious organizations and local churches. This dissertation examined the effects of outdoor religious advertising. In other words, does exposure to roadside signs displaying religious messages, particular church services, or prayer increase one's intent to attend church services or to engage in active prayer? Three hundred thirty-four undergraduate and graduate students from Troy University (located in Troy, Alabama) and one graduate student from The University of Southern Mississippi (who happened to be on the Troy University campus during the experimental research) took part in the study's experiment (Seventeen students did not complete the experiment so their responses were eliminated). One hundred sixty-five students were placed in a control group. The remaining 153 students were placed in a treatment group. All participants answered the same pretest and posttest questionnaires on a computer screen. In addition, they observed a variety of outdoor advertisements (on the computer screen) after the pretest questionnaire and before the posttest questionnaire. The control group was exposed to 14 non-religious messages while the treatment group was exposed to 14 religious and non-religious messages. While most of the experiment's participants originally considered religion to be important in their lives, exposure to outdoor advertisements displaying religious messages was not going to increase their intention to attend church services or to engage in active prayer. The study showed a ceiling effect on its participants. Essentially, most were religious to begin with which left little room for them to increase their religious habits. As the results showed, most participants did not change their responses from pretest to posttest after exposure to the outdoor ads. The results of this study may influence church leaders to consider other advertising means such as those through broadcast or print media to successfully promote their services or to display religious messages.