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International Marketing and Ethnocentrism

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    This article discusses ethnocentrism and its role in international marketing. Once companies internationalise their operations (e. g. marketing), cultural issues are unavoidable. Much literature has been written to support that it is very important to consider the impact of cultural differences when doing international business. The problem in international marketing is the failure of the managers and market research in acknowledging the impact of ethnocentrism in their theories, conceptual frameworks and practice.

    Upon preparation for discussing critically this statement, this article explores several questions: a. Where and by whom has the theory/framework been developed? b. Who has been the principle in advocating the use and utility of this theory/framework? And has this changed over time? c. What international marketing contexts (geographic regions as well as subjects such as distribution or consumer behaviour) have been researched using them? Ethnocentrism Universally, ethnocentrism is a phenomenon affecting all kinds of interactions between different groups of people (Sinkovics & Holzmuller 1994).

    According to William Graham Sumner who coined this term in 1906, ethnocentrism is defined as having a view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it. Generally, ethnocentrism is thought of as the feeling that one’s own culture is better than all others. Independent of Sumner’s concept of ethnocentrism, Zhivago (2000) states that no matter what country you live in, people living in your country are considered “us” and people living in other countries are “them”, discussing a quite similar theory.

    Following this study is the psychological view of Sinkovics and Holzmuller (1994) wherein they describes the tendency of an individual to strongly identify with his/her own in-group and culture, the tendency to reject out-groups, or the tendency to view any economic, political or social event only from the point of the in-group. In fact, ethnocentrism is deeply rooted in most inter-group, interracial and cross-cultural relations that it becomes a universal phenomenon. Culture is defined as a specific society with all of its tools, possessions and characteristic ways and conceptions of life (Kalyan Sen Gupta 1998).

    Accordingly, certain culture has a distinctive essence of its own that is not shared by other cultures. Referring to this, description of ethnocentrism falls in terms of the failing to appreciate the normative traits and excellence of other cultures besides one’s own. It is argued that understanding the other is a necessary means of understanding oneself and vice versa (Shusterman 1998). Shusterman added that cultural awareness is vital to appreciating one’s own culture aside from getting to appreciate another culture.

    This effort tries to counteract the negative effect of ethnocentrism viewing the encounter with culturally other as beneficial in a way of providing a rich and articulate background of comparison and contrast, enabling to form, define and assert one’s own distinctive identity with greater richness and clarity (Shusterman 1998, p. 111). Has Ethnocentrism Change Over Time? Relationship between global marketing and ethnocentrism is evident in the past researches showing that ethnocentrism have the tendency of determining how companies act in and toward certain cultures.

    Nevertheless, a number of examples of many traditional cross-cultural marketing practices somehow reveal the damaging and detrimental effect of ethnocentric thinking to international advertising and product design. This situation is fairly apparent in many U. S. based companies marketing to non-western cultures. Historically, ethnocentrism has been communicated through several channels including television, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, transit ads, and infomercials. In particular, the recent advent of Internet paves the way for a new and easier path for marketing messages to cross.

    In international marketing, internet provides the easiest way eliminating barriers between country and cultural borders. However, issues concerning ethnocentrism also exist during this process of cross-cultural marketing. Ethnocentrism and International Marketing Cultural issues are inevitable concerns surrounding international marketing. In recent years, much discussion about international marketing linked the unavoidable possibility of considering the impact of cultural differences in doing business as on message and brand.

    Adorno et al. (1950) defines the ethnocentrism as a tendency to be ethnically centered and to be rigid in the person’s acceptance of the culturally “alike” and in his/her rejection of the “unlike”. A significant relationship between ethnocentrism and marketing has been written in an article in Journal of Business Ethics by Dong-Jin Lee and M Joseph Sirgy (1999). They focus on individual and groups, their ethnocentricity, viewing other societies as necessarily “abnormal” and thus “inferior” (p. 78).

    Taking this statement from a marketing perspective is particularly important since ethnocentric marketers tend to believe that what is good for consumers of their own country is also good for consumers in foreign markets. Accordingly, Lee and Sirgy (1999, p. 79) concluded that ethnocentric marketers may not see a need to enhance consumers’ well-being in foreign markets with different marketing approaches. It is also for this reason that this article serves for its purpose of recognising ethnocentrism in international marketing as this entails cultural insensitivity in marketing.

    Any comparison of cultural productions from different communities inevitably faces the question of “who is right? ” or “who is wrong? ” and “what is better” or “what is worse” (Mailloux 2000, pp. 114-115). Mailloux (2000) argues that the standard of what is right and wrong depends on the situation at hand. In a much more in-depth explanation, he reasons that we are “we” because of being positioned within a culture in a particular set of practices that empowers and constrains acts of interpretive and evaluative comparison (p. 118).

    While these views appear to be seemingly acceptable to agree with, this attitude toward inevitability can be a dangerous standpoint. This article doesn’t attempt to rationalised what is right or wrong between cultures, but to postulate the detrimental effect of ethnocentric idea in international marketing. Furthermore, Gupta and Chattopadhyaya (1998) extensively tackle the issue of ethnocentrism surrounding industrially developed countries and the underdeveloped or developing countries in the world. Unsurprisingly, these editors relate that developing cultures are inferior to the eyes of the people of the industrial cultures.

    Under these assumptions, achievements in terms of science and technology become a significant factor in rating a culture discounting the moral, aesthetic, ecological and other aspects of a culture. A significant part of this article’s main purpose is the failure of managers or management to recognise the influence of other cultures in their cross-cultural decisions in international marketing (Sinkovics & Holzmuller 1994, p. 2). The level of ethnocentrism is a vital factor in determining the way companies should act in and toward certain countries when conducting business.

    Culture should be regarded as the domain of pure quality in terms of international marketing (Usunier 1996). As much as possible, value judgments should be avoided and the thought of good or bad elements of a certain cultural group. As cultural differences comes along and will exist, Usunier (1996) argues that this should not be a reason for judging a certain culture as globally superior or inferior to others. There should be a careful evaluation and ranking of cultures in marketing with basis of facts and evidence according to precise criteria and for very specific segments of culture-related activities.

    Otherwise, problems of ethnocentrism will arise by the time international marketing corporations transgress these bounds in their marketing practices. Shuster and Harris (1999) provide indeed better insights into marketing in their book Newer Insights into Marketing: Cross-Cultural and Cross-National Perspectives. They suggest the necessity of understanding of these elements of other cultures and the ability to adapt to them successfully in doing business effectively in the global marketplace.

    It is now clear that international marketing is synonymous to cross-cultural marketing. This strategic process of marketing involves culture difference between the marketers and the consumers in at least one of the fundamental cultural aspects (i. e. language, religion, social norms and values, education and the living style). The relationship of marketing and culture is like a two-way street influencing one another. Like what Tian (2001) declares, culture influences marketing in the same way that marketing influences culture.

    As marketers act as agents of change within a culture, hence ethnocentric marketers tend to force a foreign culture to adopt the marketer’s culture. Lewis and Housden (1998, p. 14) introduce the Self Reference Criteria (SRC) concept in which business managers and marketers inevitably view the world from their own environment’s point of view. While recognising this undesirable unconscious reference to one’s own cultural values, they identify four-stage approach in mitigating decisional bias when dealing with international operations. 1. Define the problem in terms of one’s own domestic culture. . Define the problem in terms of the foreign culture making no value judgments. 3. Isolate the SRC which affect the problem. How does it complicate the problem? 4. Redefine the problem without the SRC. (Lewis & Housden 1998, p. 15). On the other hand, Usunier (1996, p. 384) reminds that SRC comprises of a degree of naivety and insufficiency despite acknowledging that it is practical. One of Usunier’s rationales for this claim is the speculation that it is possible to easily penetrate the mysteries of culture without being a native of that culture in question.

    Another is the question of capability of diagnosing in the second and third phases of the SRC, and the effects of bias removal are not immediate (Usunier 1996). Accounting to cultural issues, domestic marketing is a whole lot different from international marketing. While SRC provide marketers insight and intuition on how customers respond to an offer in home markets, customers in other cultural markets have their own different and unique environment. It is for this reason that even the most cultural-friendly marketing strategy still fails unexpectedly leading to misunderstandings.

    Thus, there is an apparent need for a clear understanding of the customer as a critical success factor out of any marketing strategy much more so with international marketing. Lewis and Housden (1998, p. 25) provide actual examples on understanding customer in international marketing: • British racing green would be unlikely to succeed in China as green is a color representing vegetable sellers in Chinese Markets • Yellow in Brunei is discouraged as it is a royal color • Purple may be perceived as mourning the death of old labor in Mexico The number 8 in China is considered lucky. Cars with the number 8 in the license plate can command a premium in China, while the number 4 does just the opposite In the field of international marketing, it is indeed not enough to simply translate an advertisement or brand name into another language, as previously discussed, as it may sometimes becomes a disadvantage to any marketing campaign. As a matter of fact, several hundreds of actual examples of inappropriate design and brand names have failed because of not addressing ethnocentric thinking.

    Once again, Lewis and Housden (1998, pp. 23, 25, 125) provide further interesting examples. • Superpiss – a Scandinavian deicer which is not appropriate when translated into English • Pschitt – this French Lemonade cannot be advertised to the Germans • Bum Crisps and Bimbo Bread in Spain are not acceptable names to advertise in the United States • Smeg electrical appliances in Italy • Supermodel Claudia Scheffer initiated furor when she appeared on the catwalk wearing a designer outfit featuring words from the Quran, hence offending Muslim beliefs The Slogan “Come Alive with Pepsi” when translated into Chinese means “Pepsi raises relatives from the dead”. Apart from other marketing elements, advertising noticeably demonstrates ethnocentrism in many international corporations that fail to acknowledge a much more significant value of understanding the customers’ culture. Ethnocentrism and the U. S. The study of ethnocentrism in marketing practices can be best viewed in terms of the United States culture. The U. S. is the world’s most communicating nation according to Glen Fisher (1), author of American Communication in a Global Society.

    Fisher considers the U. S. to be the largest producer and exporter of information of all kinds, and to be the most advanced information society in the world. Furthermore, he illustrates that the U. S. is the center of the world having one of the most highly advanced communications technological capacities, the advantage of a free society and its own international initiatives in business travel and commerce (Fisher 1987, p. 12). While much has been said about the superiority of U. S. culture, the Handbook of Cross-Cultural Marketing by Herbig (1998, p. ) reveals that ethnocentric thinking has led many U. S. companies down the path to unexpected, painful and sometimes overwhelming failure

    . This indicates a necessary load of work to be done on the part of the U. S. when it comes to international marketing because of U. S. ethnocentric tendencies (Bergman 2002). As a German language teacher at NYU and translator of U. S. advertising, Mr. Bergman has seen many significant mistakes made by the U. S. companies in many of their international advertising. U. S. companies and the U. S. opulation as well, are unaware of the fact that sometimes when English words are translated into another language, they might become offensive and actually provoke the opposite reaction from what was intended. A particular example is the “Got Milk? ” campaign of one of the U. S. companies. Their marketing target are Mexico and Germany, which, when translated, viewed the phrase as “Are You Lactating? ” and unfortunately wasn’t received well. Aside from the problem of translation, certain images of people, places and things can also bring specific messages across to certain cultures resulting into an often negative reaction.

    While these instances are considered weakness overlooked by many U. S. companies in their international marketing, Beaudin, Goldsmith & Moore (1998, p. 1240) emphasise the advertising advantage of U. S. ethnocentrism when marketing domestically with a potential success of rising consumer patriotic emotions in producing responses in favor of American products. Cultures other than the U. S. tend to view the U. S. as the most ethnocentric society. This is primarily true and is more evident in many developing countries heavily dependent on the United States for many resources.

    In this sense, American marketing is dominantly attempting to project a standard image and others should follow its lead. As a result, many countries of the world absorb some (if not many) of the U. S. cultures. Whereas Herbig (1998) noted the long history of failed attempts of the United States at marketing to other cultures, some oppose the claim that the U. S. is a predominantly ethnocentric society. Because of its pluralistic society, Lee and Sirgy (1999, p. 80) conceive that the U. S. is likely to have comparatively lower ethnocentric tendencies. As a pluralistic society, the U. S. tolerates the diversity of racial or religious or ethnic or cultural groups interacting within it blurring boundaries and distinctions. While both sides of this matter have their own standpoint, Rowe (2000, p. 24) points out that still the U. S. dominance has often led to neglecting other nations in the Western Hemisphere, each of which has its own complex multicultural and multilingual history. Conclusion Much of the above discussions clarify the intentions of this article. It serves up a better understanding of ethnocentric theory and its effect to international marketing.

    This article has attempted to create better understanding of the concept of ethnocentrism as a socio-psychological issue with relation to international marketing. Cultural issues on international marketing are reviewed with reference to many relevant thoughts surrounding the relationship between ethnocentrism and international marketing. It is therefore clear that failure of acknowledging cultural differences in global marketing creates irreversible and long-term problems providing a very good reason for making ethnocentrism a significant consideration of marketing theories and practices.

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