Cultural Differences in Television Advertising-7









Sociological research 1)

Sociological research is mainly interested in examining a certain aspect of social life, as it is portrayed in advertising in two or more countries. Often, this type of research tries to characterise a culture’s (or country’s) social attitudes towards a certain aspect of society by examining advertising content for the values that are reflected in the content. As suggested above, this type of research usually does not claim to explain the differences in advertising, but does try to explain the differences in the societies by content analysing the advertising.

Here are two examples of this type of research:

a. One focuses on the decline of work ethics in the U.K. and the US

An Advertising Test of Work Ethic in the U.K. and the U.S. (Tansey, Hyman, Zinkhan and Chowdhury, 1997) In this study, the authors examine if a perceived declining trend in work ethics can be supported by examining business journals’ advertising. According to the authors, “many social commentators in the U.K. and the U.S. claim that their respective country is in economic decline, and that a major cause of this decline is the indigenous workforce’s increased pursuit of leisure and affiliation rather than work achievement”. To test this hypothesis, the authors examined print advertisements for either liquor or cars published in The Economist and Forbes from 1971 to 1981. Using three coders (one UK male, one US male and one US female, all with a college degree (one with a Masters degree)), they analysed a total of 1757 ads for achievement, affiliation, work and leisure themes. The authors conclude that for the UK a shift from work to leisure/affiliation pursuits cannot be concluded from the themes of the advertisements studied, thus offering no support for the hypothesis that a shift from work ethics to leisure and affiliation has taken place in the UK (as claimed by some social commentators). In the U.S., where social commentators are more divided on the possible decline of work ethics, the results of the study are less conclusive. Two declining trends could be established in the US with some statistical significance: a decline in work themes in liquor ads, and a decline of achievement themes in car ads. Tansey et al. also point out, that overall the work ethic may be stronger in the UK than the US.

b. The other research examines gender roles in US, Mexican and Australian television commercials. Sex Roles in Advertising: A Comparison of Television Advertisements in Australia, Mexico and the United States (Gilly, 1988)

Gilly examined the differences of gender roles as portrayed by television commercials in Australia, Mexico and the United States of America, by studying to extent to which stereotypes were present in the commercials (i.e. to what extent the portrayed characters differed from the actual demographic variables of that country). In the study, a sample of 12 hours of programming was videotaped in Los Angeles, Monterrey and Brisbane from the major network with the highest viewer ratings at the times (8:00 AM — 4.00 PM on Tuesdays and 7.00 PM — 11 PM on Wednesdays). This yielded a total of 617 commercials: 275 US, 204 Mexican and 138 Australian commercials. One bilingual coder was used to code all the commercials for product type, product user, voice over and setting. Equally, each character was analysed for gender, age, marital status, employment (work situation, non-work situation, no indication), occupation (or work position), spokes person role, credibility (product user/authority), help (receiving or giving help), advice (receiving or giving), role ( partner, parent, homemaker, worker, celebrity, interviewer, other), physical activity and frustration. Gilly found some significant differences in the settings in which male and female characters were portrayed in the US commercials: “Women were more likely portrayed in the home, a store, or outdoors whereas men were more likely to appear in work settings.” No differences were found between Mexican and Australian commercials. Female voiceovers were used in 12% of the commercials in all countries. In all three countries, females portrayed in the commercial were generally younger than the demographic of that country. Gilly concludes, that overall the Australian commercials exhibit the least differences between men and women (” though still exhibit some sex role difference, [the commercials] are superior to the US ads in terms of overall equality of the sexes”). The US commercials varied to a greater extent, where females were more often portrayed as receivers of help, males more often portrayed as authority figures etc. Mexican commercials tended to have even more gender role differences, though Gilly comments: ” from a country perceived so much more traditional than our own [the US], sex role stereotyping is not much greater than that in the US ads.”

As can be seen from the above examples sociological research focuses exclusively on one defined societal phenomenon and tries to review this with the help of advertising images/messages. This type of research is also often used to illustrate the relationship between culture and advertising/media messages, given the often a priori assumption that advertising content is itself reflective of culture (Samiee and Jeong, 1994). As this type of research mainly examines one isolated area of interest, it can not and usually does not claim to illustrate a certain leaning towards themes and advertising appeals dominant in any one country overall.

1) 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 2 061 8494




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