Cultural Differences In Television Advertising-1

October 7, 2012 by
Filed under: Intercultural Communication, Management, Marketing, Psychology 









Cultural differences in television advertising (1)

1. Introduction

Is it possible to persuade consumers in different markets with the same advertising message? Will they respond favourably? Or should the advertising message be customised to reflect local culture? This question is one of the most fundamental decisions when planning an advertising campaign in different cultural areas, and, not surprisingly, one of the most frequently discussed issues in advertising today. Whereas many anecdotes tell the story of failed, or misunderstood, advertising, little clarity exists what exactly makes advertising different from country to country, and what types of appeals are used to promote different products in different markets – if there should be any difference whatsoever.

One side in this debate emphasises that the world is growing ever closer, and that the world can be treated as one large market, with only superficial differences in values (Levitt, 1983). In their view, advertising and marketing can be standardised across cultures, and the same values can be used to persuade customers to buy or consume the product. The opposing side is content with the fact that the basic needs may well be the same around the world, however they argue that the way in which these needs are met and satisfied differs from culture to culture. Any marketing (and advertising) campaign should, in their view, reflect the local habits, lifestyles and economical conditions in order to be effective. In 1985, Woods et al. concluded in a study of consumer purpose in purchase in the US, Quebec and Korea, that “important differences are found in the reasons why they [the consumers] purchase products familiar to all three countries”.

Many researchers have contributed to the debate, examining a sample of advertising for particular ways of portraying lifestyle and themes used (Gilly, 1990; Tansey, Hyman & Zinkhan, 1990); advertising strategies and information content (Lin, 1993; Zandpour, Chang & Catalano 1992; Ramaprasad & Hasegawa, 1992), the use of humour (Weinberger & Spotts, 1989; Alden, Hower & Lee, 1992), Americanisation of appeals used (Wiles, Wiles & Tjernlund, 1996; Mueller 1992) or they tested for a mix of different themes, styles, appeals or advertising content. These studies, among others, and the magnitude of their findings have put significant doubt over the theories and applicability of standardised, global advertising. They clearly suggest to localise advertising messages to suit consumer expectation in each market (Albers-Miller, 1996b).

However, the degree of difference in advertising strategies and appeals used may well be very different not only from country to country, but also from product category to product category. As Zandpour, Chang and Catalano (1992) and Katz and Lee (1992) have pointed out, information content, creative strategy, format and content style differ with each product category.

2. Conceptual Background & Definitions

Ad creation, pre market testing and localisation

Advertising creation can vary enormously from one company promoting their products or services across borders to another company. Whereas real economic benefits, dominantly economies of scale, can be obtained by standardising advertising across borders, many companies choose not to do so, but rather to rely on local knowledge.

In order to create a commercial, an advertising agency is usually instructed to create the overall concept in line with the marketing objectives, create a set of different test commercials and pre-test the commercials for effectiveness. This is a crucial step for advertising creation, and often takes a relatively long time, in which the test commercials are tested qualitatively and quantitatively in focus groups, through questionnaires, in test markets, sample areas and so on. After successful testing, the real commercial is created, and finally airtime for the commercial is booked or auctioned (either directly or through a media agency). During and after the commercial is running, further tests are usually carried out in order to optimise advertising targets with real out comes, and commercials may be adjusted depending on the outcome.

In a survey of the Fortune 500 US-based multinational companies, Hite and Fraser (1988) reported, that – - 50% of these companies used a foreign (i.e. local to the market) agency for their advertising; – 21% used an international agency or network (i.e. an angency that maintained local offices in the target market); – 18% used a foreign affiliates of an in-house-agency.

In the same report, Hite and Fraser also observe a steep decline in the trend to use the same advertising (standardised advertising) in different markets. Earlier reports (Sorenson and Wiechmann, 1975; Boddewya, Soehl and Picard, 1986) reported that in 1975 only 20% of multinational companies utilised localised versions of their advertising, in 1986 the figure reported had grown to 39%. In their own survey, Hite and Fraser (1988) reported, that

- 36% of companies that advertise across borders use localised advertising, and that

- a further 56% use a combination strategy (such as the same images, different text).

- Only 8% used standardised advertising across borders.

They also reported, that

- 95% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed to change the language of their advertising depending on the target market,

- 59% the product attributes, 69% the models, 58% the scenic background and

- 31% the colours used. When carefully observed, this trend holds true for a large amount of European advertising.

- A number of companies use completely different commercials in the UK, the Netherlands and/or Germany, such as the German brands Müller and Holsten Pils.

- In Germany Müller’s commercials focus on the health benefits, whereas in the UK the commercials emphasise the taste of the yoghurt. Holsten’s German advertising features friendship and achievement set on a sailing boat at sea,

- whereas the UK advertising is a Monty Python style sketch set in a bar.

- Other commercials use the same images, but change the text completely: such as Max factor’s commercials featuring Madonna.

- In the UK, Madonna talks about how superficial life as a superstar is, and the lipstick is a mean used to seduce an attractive co-actor.

- In Germany, Madonna talks about how important it is to look good even in a kissing scene, and there is little evidence of intended seduction of the co-actor at all.


Prof. C.J.M. Beniers

NL Zoetermeer


About Professor C.J.M. Beniers

Prof. C.J.M. Beniers is a well known authority in the field of modern and international communication techniques. He developed the Six-Component-Model. This model enables companies, institutions and politicians to communicate and negotiate with counterparts from all over the world successfully. His career began as international manager at Philips and later he earned his doctorate as professor in communication. He has more than 35 years experience as manager and management trainer. Thus he knows both sides – theory and praxis – very well. As scientist, Prof. Beniers conducts frequently research in the field of intercultural communication. The results of his interesting research can be found in news articles, free pod casts, audio books and his E-books such as “Bridging The Cultural Gap.” Here, modern managers learn how to prepare for business meetings with people from different cultures; they acquire the techniques and tools to handle situations in times of crises successfully, master intercultural barriers, country-specific communication patterns, looking into personal cultural values & systems. Knowing all this, men can prevent cultural misunderstandings and misinterpretations – not only in business but also in private life.


Prof. C.J.M. Beniers

Amaliaplaats 2

2713 BJ Zoetermeer
The Netherlands

Telefone: +31 (0) 79 – 3 19  03 81

Mobile:  +31 (0) 6 36180834







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