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Cross-Cultural Advertising

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    The nature of advertising activity has completely changed since advertising began. Increasing industrialization led to the continuous development of promotion. The globalization of competition in the 1980s had an impact on the expansion of national advertising towards international advertising (Ukpere and Slabbert, 2009). Because of globalization, cultural influences have played an important role in designing advertisements. Culture is an important aspect of every society and clearly has an effect on people’s behaviour.

    This impact is a key factor in a science such as advertising which aims to influence behaviour. In this context it is important to know which different factors influence people with different cultural backgrounds. This paper seeks to answer the following question: How should advertising be adapted so that it can be used in different countries with different cultural backgrounds? In these fast-changing times, there has been a prominent debate about the standardization and adaptation of international advertising (Agrawal, 1995, in Backhaus and van Doorn, 2007).

    Duncan and Ramaprased (1995, in Backhaus and van Doorn, 2007) note that the homogenization and assimilation of consumer needs leads to standardized measures, resulting in a compromise between economic benefits and the needs of local markets. So it is important to decide which direction you would prefer to take as a manager of an international company (Krist, 2009). The structure of the essay will be as follows: firstly, there will be a short explanation of culture and advertising. It is essential to define these different components separately in order to arrive at a better understanding of the connection between culture and advertising later on. At the end there will be a conclusion presenting some important facts and findings from the analysis. The analysis will be based on some of the dimensions and concepts put forward by Hofstede, which will be explained below. 2. CROSS-CULTURAL ADVERTISING Many authors have written about cultural differences and influences in advertising. But you cannot find any generally accepted definitions of culture.

    This does not necessarily mean that there are no good definitions. Hofstede, a distinguished scholar of culture, wrote: “culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often disaster” (Hofstede, 2009). In this comment, he refers to some issues which can arise not only in social interaction but also in preparing advertisements. According to another definition, by Shaules (2010, p. 163): “deep culture is the (primarily) out-of-awareness patterns of meaning that serve as the organizational schema for one’s cultural worldview”.

    Shaules mentions in his definition that there are hidden patterns, caused by cultural influences, in the social interaction between people from different countries. It is important to bring such hidden patterns to light, so as to understand better the behaviour and thinking of different cultures; when you know more about a specific culture you are able to direct more effective advertising towards it. Another example of a good definition is: “Culture refers to the cohesive thinking and behaviour emerging from a group of people” (Holliday, 1999, p. 237).

    This definition reflects the fact that what is known as culture is the behaviour of a group, so that a single individual cannot define a distinct culture; more than one person is needed. A country can contain different cultures within cultures; for instance, the culture in a workplace. Hofstede developed 5 cultural dimensions in order to explain cultural differences between countries in greater detail: Power Distance Index Hofstede (1997, in Jandt, 2004, p. 15) defines power distance as “the extent to which less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally”. Individualism vs. collectivism Individualism means that the interest of the individual prevails over the interests of groups. In collectivist cultures the interest of the group prevails over the interest of the individual (Hofstede, in Jandt, 2004). Masculinity vs. femininity Hofstede (1980, in Jandt, 2004) labelled as masculine cultures those countries that draw a maximal distinction between what women and men are expected to do. Feminine cultures are those with overlapping social roles between men and women.

    Uncertainty Avoidance Index

    The fourth dimension is uncertainty avoidance; it concerns how people feel threatened by certain or unknown situations (Hofstede, in Jandt, 2004). Long Term Orientation vs. Short Term Orientation The last dimension refers to long-term orientation, which encourages thrift, savings, perseverance toward results and willingness to subordinate oneself for a purpose; by contrast with short-term orientation, which is more about spending to keep up with social pressure, lower levels of saving and the need for quick results (Hofstede, in Jandt, 2004).

    Different dimensions have been suggested by various authors, but those provided by Hofstede are widely accepted as providing better explanations of the cultural differences among countries. But it should be kept in mind that these dimensions are not universally valid. Recently the work of Hofstede has been criticized. The description of countries by only four or five dimensions, as well as the measurement of the dimensions, has been taken exception to (Okazaki and Mueller, 2007). There are many other variables which affect the understanding of an unknown culture.

    An example of a cultural difference is the varied meaning of colours such as red and green. These colours have different meanings in different parts of the world (Global Propaganda, 2001). Figure 1 shows the market values of two companies at a western stock exchange. If the market value increases the numbers are coloured green; if it decreases they are coloured red. The second figure shows two Chinese companies on a Chinese stock exchange. Here the colours have the opposite meaning. Figure 1: Western Stock Exchange (Reuters, 2011) Figure 2: Chinese Stock Exchange (Epochtimes, 2011)

    If you are doing business with another country, for instance China, you need to think about these slight but important differences, as they could be relevant to the attainment or non-attainment of a business deal. You should avoid upsetting your business counterpart through ignorance of his or her cultural behaviour. After becoming familiar with different views on culture and dimensions of culture, we need to know more about advertising in order to explain the phenomenon of cross-cultural advertising. First it is important to know that advertising is a process, and advertisement the result of the process (Fletcher, 2010).

    Advertising is highly important, not only since globalization. It should be part of the marketing-mix. It can take place on TV, radio, or billboards, or on the Internet as a banner. There are different ways to call attention to your product (Scott, 2007). Production of advertising is especially important in a market where all the products are nearly the same, such as the washing powder market (Hovland and Wolburg, 2010). The first example of cross-cultural advertising illustrates consumer response to sex appeal advertising in different countries. This cross-cultural study reveals characteristic differences among three countries: the USA, Australia and China (Liu et al, 2008). This study also refers to different gender roles in different countries (An and Kim, 2007). In total, there were 481 participants in this study. Among them, 157 (73 male and 84 female) were students at a major state university in South China; 117 (38 male and 79 female) were students at a major state university in Western Australia; and 207 (77 male and 130 female) were students at a major state university in the midwestern USA.

    The authors created four different ads for a bakery, named “Golden Bread”. The first ad (FL) contained a female model wearing a T-shirt, featuring a low level of sex appeal; the second ad (FH) contained the same female model but wearing a bra top, featuring a high level of sex appeal; the third ad (ML) contained a male model wearing a T-shirt, featuring low level sex appeal; the last ad (MH) contained the same male model but wearing a vest, featuring a high level of sex appeal. The study found that nationality had an effect on consumers’ attitude towards the ad and the brand, regarding nearly all the four types of ad.

    An interesting finding was that the Chinese students reacted as favourably as US consumers regarding most of the sex appeal ads, which contradicts a general assumption about Chinese people. One explanation could be an ongoing westernization of Chinese youth. Because of the Internet, TV and movies they are more “Pro-US”, so there is a more liberal response on their part to sex appeal ads. The Australians did not show any significant differences in response to the four different ads; while the US students’ responses showed some differences among the four types of advertisement.

    In terms of Hofstede’s dimensions, it is not really possible to define cultural differences among these three countries. Younger people in general are more open to sex appeal ads. And because of the westernizing of Chinese youth, you cannot draw any clear conclusions on the basis of their cultural background: students are not typical of the Chinese population. What this comparison of countries showed is that you must focus also on local interests within the emerging markets. It is not possible to sell a standardized product all over the world.

    In addition, the study illustrates that you cannot rely on general assumptions about cultural behaviour, such as that about the Chinese students. You need to know more about every target group in every country in which you want to introduce your products. Without such adaptation, your product will not be very successful. The attitude to sexual appeal ads could also be seen as a potential barrier to communication. Another example of adaptation in cross-cultural advertising is provided by Volkswagen. In Figure 3 you see the actual Volkswagen logo with its slogan “Das Auto”.

    Volkswagen uses this manner of advertising and this logo throughout the world. Frequently managers consider changing the language of the advertisement, but Volkswagen sticks to its German claim “Das Auto” rather than adapting it to other markets. One might think that this could be an issue when trying to sell cars all over the world; but Volkswagen does well to keep this particular method, which takes advantage of the perception of Germans as good engineers and people who make great cars. So the fact that it is “Made in Germany” helps to sell more cars. Even the company name is German, as the management decided not to hide its German roots.

    Thus Volkswagen’s brand awareness increases. This example illustrates that there are many variables which influence advertising. Pictures are especially used in advertisements, on TV, the Internet or billboards. For instance, if you use a picture of a lion, expressing freedom, you need to know whether people with different cultural backgrounds will interpret the picture in the way you want them to. Probably the lion has a completely different meaning in Asian cultures from the one it has in western cultures, and is not associated with power, strength and freedom; similarly with the clover leaf and luck, or the apple and sin.

    For cross-cultural advertising it is important to ask: With whom do you want to communicate? This means: what target group do you want to reach, people with a higher or lower income, business people, parents, and so on. You need to focus on your target group, but the target groups vary in different countries. Also, the kind of product you are selling is important for the adaptation of the advertisement. If you sell a product with a low price (such as washing powder) it probably has low involvement, so that in most cases people see it as nothing special. Here you need to produce an effective advertisement if you are to secure more sales than your competitors. For low-involvement products it could be a good idea to do standardized advertising internationally in order to save on costs. However, if you are dealing with high-involvement products (such as cars), it will be necessary to adapt your advertising. Therefore you need to learn more about the specific market through market research or from academic experts. If people in different countries see cars as a status symbol or just as an everyday life object.

    This could be a key factor in success or failure. As mentioned earlier, it is also important to imagine how the recipient will interpret the specific TV advertisement. If you are advertising in foreign markets, people will not understand the advertisement in the way the marketing agency predicted. For instance, doing high-level sex appeal advertisements internationally would cause some major problems, and not only in Arab countries; also, the company’s reputation and brand image would be negatively affected. 3. Conclusions The previous analysis showed us that cross-cultural advertising is an area hich can cause considerable trouble, if the managers of international companies do not include culturally-based promotion in their marketing communication strategies. Hofstede offered a good approach in his work and research. But some critical points can be made: not all issues and differences in the behaviour of a group of people can be reduced to cultural influences. The first study analysed showed that Hofstede’s dimensions were not always applicable. Culture is changing because of globalization; countries are not as separated from each other as they were about 70 years ago.

    The second example showed Volkswagen as a company who do not adapt their advertising much, because of its connection with the German car industry, which is considered the best in the world. What has also been observed is that there are many variables which must be taken into consideration. It is not enough just to change the language of the advertisement. There are also symbols with different meanings to consider. Ideally every company would do its own market research into its international market, so as to gain more knowledge of these specific cultural differences.

    With increased knowledge they could improve their way of advertising. The company must be clear about what it wants to communicate when conducting an international campaign and, if it is perhaps incomprehensible to people in different countries, the management needs to consider complete adaptation to the markets in which the campaign could cause issues, as, for example, in the case of high-level sex appeal advertising. Companies should be careful when undertaking cross-cultural advertising, as without experience it is easy to make mistakes.

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    Cross-Cultural Advertising. (2019, May 02). Retrieved from

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    What are examples of cross-cultural interactions?
    For example, Western cultures favor direct eye contact whereas many Asian cultures find it to be overly aggressive and impolite. These cultural differences can be critical to success and make being able to adapt from one culture to another, known as cultural agility, a powerful business tool.
    What is a cross-cultural example?
    The definition of cross-cultural is a person or thing that relates to different cultures or nations. An example of cross-cultural is a home with a foreign exchange student.

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