Advertising Across Cultures

Susan P Douglas & C Samuel Craig. Handbook of Advertising. Editor: Gerard J Tellis & Tim Ambler. Sage Publications. 2007.

Advertising is a pervasive and persuasive component of society. Designed by firms wishing to sell goods and services, its manifestations are present in nearly all aspects of daily life as a constant reminder of commerce in society. Through the social roles it portrays, the language used and the values it reflects, it both echoes and fashions the cognitions and attitudes that underlie behaviour, not only in the market place, but in all forms of social expression. In addition to being an ever present business activity, it is an important component of culture. It mirrors the patterns of day-today life and the norms which govern social interaction. It communicates and reinforces the values which govern social behaviour and at the same time provides a showcase for the material artifacts which are a product of that culture.

Typically, advertising reflects conventions and appeals that are central to a particular culture or context. Consequently, advertisements created in a particular culture often show a high degree of congruity with cultural norms and mores. However, each culture has its own distinctive features, tastes, values, and behaviour patterns. Consequently, advertising created in one country typically differs from that in other countries. Where advertisers create campaigns spanning more than one country, they need to understand and account for these differences. Ads must be modified or adapted to eliminate cultural elements that are likely to be ineffective or inappropriate in other cultures. Further, appeals and conventions appropriate for the other cultures can enhance the ads’ effectiveness.

This chapter examines cross-cultural advertising, which is defined as advertising that takes place in more than one culture. First, the nature and role of culture in advertising are examined, including the extent to which advertising reflects the value orientations of society, its material artifacts as well as the language used in relation to products and services. Next, studies that have examined advertising in different countries or cultural contexts are reviewed. These include studies that have examined the societal values reflected in advertising, how gender roles are portrayed and celebrities or children used as well as rational versus emotional appeals or visual components. After drawing implications for managers, particularly in terms of ability to use standardized appeals and suggesting some directions for future research, we summarize the chapter.

Culture and Advertising

Perhaps the most widely accepted definition of culture is the one given by E. B. Tylor (1881) who described culture as, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities acquired by man as a member of society.” This was later synthesized by Heskovitz (1955) as the “manmade” part of the environment, i.e., what distinguishes humans from other species. Cultural boundaries typically, but not always, correspond to the political boundaries that define countries.

The majority of studies that examine cross-cultural advertising look at the type and content of advertising that appears in two or more countries. The majority of advertising campaigns are designed and launched on a national basis. The media infrastructure is typically established on a national basis with major media such as TV, newspapers, magazine, and radio providing national coverage. Even in countries with linguistic subdivisions, such as Belgium or Canada, there are typically media with national coverage. Subcultures, such as ethnic, sociodemographic or other groupings exist within countries and often have their own distinctive interests, consumption and purchasing behaviour patterns.

To the extent that different subcultures speak different languages, embrace different norms, or pursue different interests, advertising campaigns targeted at them should reflect these differences. The relevant cultural entity or unit for developing advertising strategy thus becomes the subculture rather than the culture. For example, in the US advertisers have found in certain cases it is more effective to develop specific appeals and advertising targeted to Hispanic consumers (Kerrigan, 2002; McDonald, 2001; Koslow et al., 1994).

While a number of studies examine advertising for different cultural groups within a country, the emphasis in this chapter is on cross-country groups. Essentially, such studies consider the different themes and appeals that are used in different countries and how these reflect different societal values, mores, and beliefs. They examine the way people are portrayed in advertising, gender roles in ads, use of celebrity endorsers, and advertising executions such as humour or the use of visual appeals. Thus, the primary focus is on examining how the content of advertising differs across contexts.

Underlying the contextual differences are fundamental differences in the cultural context in which advertising takes place. While culture has many manifestations it has typically been viewed as having three main dimensions (Sojka and Tansuhaj, 1995): values and beliefs, material artifacts, and communications. Advertising reflects these values and beliefs and at the same time is an important and pervasive form of communication in a society. These dimensions are evident to varying degrees, as advertising is a form of communication in a particular culture often selling material artifacts. At the same time how these artifacts are portrayed reflects the underlying values and beliefs of that culture.

Advertising is created in a particular culture by individuals who are part of the culture. The creators of the advertising are guided by their values and beliefs. Further, they use communication conventions and incorporate material artifacts that are part of the dominant local culture. The advertising is then directed at inhabitants of a particular culture who in turn interpret the content. Consumers interpret the advertising based on their values and beliefs. They also respond to the communication conventions and the material artifacts portrayed in the ads. To expand on this framework for viewing cross-cultural advertising, each of these different dimensions is examined.

Culture as Value Orientation

Cultural orientation, typically characterized in terms of Individualism/Collectivism has been a key theme in cross-cultural psychology and social psychology (Triandis, 1995; Oysermann et al., 2002). In marketing, cultural orientation has been studied primarily in relation to marketing communications and cognitive processes. Differences have been found between individualist and collectivist societies in relation to the influence of consensus information on product evaluation (Aaker and Maheswaran, 1997), information content in advertising (Hong et al., 1987) emotional appeals in advertising (Aaker and Williams, 1998) and in the accessibility or diagnosticity of persuasion appeals (Aaker, 2000). These studies suggest the existence of major differences in the salience of appeals between individualist and collectivist societies (i.e., importance of the individual relative to the group).

Advertising also reflects the value orientations of society. Lifestyles, mores, and ideals are all depicted in the scenarios used by advertisers to display their products and services. For example, in the US the importance attached to cleanliness and hygiene is reflected in detergent commercials which stress the pride in a cleaner wash, while commercials for deodorant and mouthwash promise instant social acceptance. At the same time, it has been argued that US commercials aptly reflect the materialistic values of US society (Belk and Pollay, 1985).

The extent to which advertising reflects societal values may, however, vary from country to country. In Japan, for example, the primary purpose of advertising is to entertain. Consequently, in many commercials there is little or no “selling” as is typical in the US (Green et al., 1975). Rather commercials reflect a mood or emphasize visual images and often the only connection with the advertiser or the product or service being advertised is the display of the advertiser’s name at the end of the commercial. The viewer is then left to make the association between the positive feeling created by the commercial and the advertiser’s product.

Culture as Material Artifact

Each culture has its own vision of the world and set of culturally constituted meanings that provide understanding and rules for its members that may be unintelligible to others. Cultural categories of time, space, nature, and person are identified as the fundamental coordinates of meaning that organize the phenomenal world (McCracken, 1986; Applebaum and Jordt, 1996). Advertising provides one mechanism through which viewers or readers interpret the meaning of consumer goods (Tse et al., 1989; Belk and Pollay, 1985).

Advertising also reflects the lifestyles, mores, and rituals of society which are depicted in the scenarios used in commercials. In particular “slice of life” commercials reflect the day-to-day life and habits of individuals in a culture or sub culture and provide a picture of the customs, manners of interacting, and behaviours which characterize a particular culture. Insofar as products and brands are embedded in the cultural fabric of society, their role as cultural icons is also reflected in advertising (Chapter 1.4). The clothing worn by an individual symbolizes the owner’s position in that society and may depict membership of a particular grouping. Similarly, food consumption patterns depicted in advertising form part of the ritual of daily life and punctuate daily rhythms. Advertising mirrors these consumption phenomena and displays the role of products in the cultural fabric of a society.

Culture as Communication

Advertising is one form of communication within a society and provides a commercially motivated means of interpreting material artifacts and the meanings consumers ascribe to them (Chapter 2.5). Closely related to this is the meaning and implications of language as an interpretation of culture. Language has many facets that relate to the meaning of consumer products. Linguistic structure plays an important role in the formation of cognitive processes such as perception and hence judgement and choice (Schmitt and Zhang, 1998) as well as in brand recall and recognition (Schmitt et al., 1994) and the encoding and recall of information (Tavassoli, 1999). Equally, foreign language and loanwords can help in establishing the identity of a local (indigenous) product (Sherry and Camargo, 1987). Use of a minority subculture’s language in advertising (Koslow et al., 1994) has also been found to impact consumer response.

The language used in advertising reflects the terms used in relation to products and services and helps to shed light on how they are used in day-to-day life as well as their significance in a social setting. The terms used provide an added richness and help to explain the meaning that products and services have for individuals. They help to understand and explicate their functional use in everyday life as well as to interpret their symbolic use in interchange between individuals. Differences in the significance which individuals or groups of individuals may attach to them are also clarified. Language may also have a different significance and role depending on the advertising medium. In print media the informational content of the message may be more clearly evident and play a more significant role than in TV or radio. In TV and radio the emotional content of the message may be more apparent resulting in emphasis on appeals to feelings and the senses.

Content of Cross-Cultural Advertising

Numerous studies have compared advertising in different cultural contexts, often the US versus another country, though a few have examined multiple countries. These studies can be classified in terms of the three main dimensions of culture: societal values, material artifacts and communication. Studies examining the societal values reflected in advertising look at broad macro-cultural values such as individualism-collectivism as well as more specific values such as humour (Han and Shavitt, 1998; Cho et al., 1999; Zhang and Neelankavil, 1997; Weinberger and Spotts, 1989; Alden et al., 1993). Advertising selling products naturally includes material artifacts since products are the main focus of many ads. Other studies include gender role portrayals and the use of celebrities and children in cross-cultural advertising. A primary interest in many of the studies of communication structure in cross-cultural advertising is the use of rational versus emotional appeals as well as the manner in which different visual components are utilized. In sum, these studies deal either with the content of ads or their structure.

Influence of Value Orientation on Cross-Cultural Advertising

Cross-Cultural Advertising and Societal Values

Various studies have examined the type of advertising appeals used in individualistic versus collectivistic societies (Han and Shavitt, 1998; Cho et al., 1999; Zhang and Neelankavil, 1997). One study (Han and Shavitt, 1998) compared the types of persuasive appeals used in magazine advertisement in the US and South Korea. Advertisements in the US, an individualistic society, employed appeals focused on individual benefits and preferences, personal success and independence to a greater extent than advertisements in Korea, a collectivistic society. Korean advertisements, on the other hand, emphasized in-group benefits, harmony and family integrity to a greater extent. US advertisements emphasizing individualistic benefits were also found to be more persuasive and ads emphasizing family or in-group benefits less persuasive than in Korea.

Similarly, another study comparing US and Korean commercials (Cho et al., 1999) found that individualism appeals were more dominant in US commercials, but collectivism appeals did not appear to be more prevalent in Korean commercials. No significant differences were observed with regard to future versus past orientation or relationship to nature, as had been hypothesized, suggesting a greater movement in Korea toward Western appeals and values.

The same tendency was found in a study of advertising appeals in the US and China (Zhang and Neelankavil, 1997). Overall, US subjects were found to prefer an individualistic appeal and Chinese subjects a collectivistic appeal. Although in China, an individualistic appeal was found to be more effective for a personal product (a razor), than for a less personal product (a camera). Again, this may suggest that individualistic appeals are gaining ground in China as its economy grows and the level of economic development increases.

Humour in Cross-Cultural Advertising

Use of humour in advertising differs significantly across countries. Used primarily as an executional device, it reflects underlying values which pervade society. Consistent with the greater reliance on a soft sell and more importance attached to entertainment in British advertising, humour is more commonly used in the UK than in other countries. Weinberger and Spotts (1989), for example, compared use of humour in television advertising in the UK and the US and found it to be more prevalent in the UK. This confirmed previous studies (Lannon, 1986; Nevett, 1992) that UK advertisers use humour more and in a different way from their counterparts in the US.

Another study comparing the use of humour in television advertising in four national cultures, South Korea, Germany, Thailand and the United States found differences between the four countries as well as some similarities (Alden et al., 1993). Despite the diversity of national cultures, they were found to share certain universal structures underlying the use of humour, and in particular the use of incongruent contrasts between expected and unexpected situations and of incongruity resolution. However, the specific content of humourous advertising differed.

Thus, there appears to be substantial evidence that advertising in different cultures is fashioned by the broad underlying values of society reflecting how these mold and influence societal interactions. At the same time, the set of academic studies that have been reviewed explore collectivism, individualism, and humour. However, there are clearly many other societal values that dictate appropriate or inappropriate themes. Some of these are obvious such as the avoidance of sex to sell products in countries with strong moral values. But, there are also subtle differences which if not taken into account will cause the advertising to be less effective. For example, in comparing brand personality dimensions in Spain and the US, Aaker et al. (2001) found a number of dimensions common to both countries as well as one unique to Spain (Passion) and two unique to the US (Competence and Ruggedness).

Material Artifacts and the Portrayal of People in Cross-Cultural Advertising

Gender Roles in Cross-Cultural Advertising

Another area which has attracted considerable attention in cross-cultural advertising is the extent to which people are featured in commercials and how they are portrayed. A study comparing portrayal of sex roles in television advertising in Australia, Mexico and the US found significant differences in the way the sexes were portrayed in all three countries (Gilly, 1988). In all countries, stereotyping was prevalent. In the US and Mexico, women were consistently less likely to be portrayed as employed than men and equally no women were portrayed in occupations that could be classified as professional/high level executive. Women were, however, portrayed in these roles in Australia. Equally, in the US and Mexico women were more likely to be portrayed in roles that defined them in relation to others such as spouse, parent or housewife than in Australia. Overall, Australian commercials exhibited the fewest differences between men and women suggesting that Australian ads are more egalitarian in terms of sex roles than US and Mexican ads.

An analysis of gender roles in Chinese and US TV commercials also demonstrated stereotyping. In both countries advertising portrayed more men in occupational roles and more women in non-occupational roles and depicted more men in recreational activities and more women in decorative situations. However, Chinese TV advertising was found to reinforce stereotypes even more than US TV advertising. Men, for example, played relaxing roles more often, but family roles less often in Chinese commercials.

A comparison of the portrayal of women in TV commercials in the US and Japan revealed some similarities and difference in roles considered appropriate for women. In both the US and Japan more men than women are likely to appear in working roles as high level business executives and blue collar workers. In addition, in the US, although men are as likely as women to appear in a family setting and in a recreational role, women are more likely than men to appear in a decorative role. In Japan women are also more likely to appear in a decorative role, but less likely to appear in a recreational role.

Examination of the content of women’s fashion and beauty magazines in Singapore, Taiwan and the US (Frith etal., 2005) revealed a significant difference in the sexual portrayal of women in the three countries. The Asian ads featured a higher proportion of cosmetic and facial beauty products while the US ads were dominated by clothing. This suggests that beauty in the US maybe constructed more in terms of the body whereas in Singapore and Taiwan, the defining factor is a pretty face.

Celebrities in Cross-Cultural Advertising

Another area in which significant differences have been found in cross-cultural advertising is in the use of celebrities. Ads using celebrities are particularly prevalent in Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea where their use or endorsement of the product helps to give the brand “face.” This appears to be linked to the tendency to place greater emphasis on status appeals reflecting the heightened efficacy of group-related appeals characteristics of a collectivistic society. A study of US and Korean print advertising (Cutler et al., 1995) found that Korean ads placed greater emphasis on celebrities who were significantly more likely to appear in Korean ads than in US ads (32.3% versus 8.5%). At the same time the use of a status appeal was considerably higher in Korean ads, particularly in the case of durable goods. This appears to reflect the Confucian philosophy, dominant in Korea, which emphasizes the class concept and different roles being appropriate for different classes of people. Aspiration for respect, class, and status are very strong in Korean society and consequently provide natural appeals for promoting products in Korea. This was further confirmed in another study (Choi et al., 2005) in which Korean TV commercials were found to make significantly greater use of celebrities, especially male celebrities, than US commercials, particularly in relation to products characterized as low involvement thinking products.

Children in Cross-Cultural Advertising

A number of studies have also examined similarities and differences in advertising targeted at children in different countries. Here as might be expected greater differences were found between TV commercials in the US and collectivist Asian cultures such as China and South Korea than between the US and other European countries, notably the UK.

One study of TV commercials directed toward children in the US and the UK found substantial similarities (Furnham et al., 1997) In both cases, males (52% in the US and 28% in the UK) were more numerous than females (40% in the US and 21% in the UK) with males generally portraying more central and authoritative roles and more often being used in voice-overs. This was true even though the advertisements were targeted more at girls than at boys. This appears to relate to the perception that males provide better spokespeople and are perceived as having more expertise than females.

A comparison of children’s television commercials from China and the United States showed a substantial number of differences (Ji and McNeal, 2001). The Chinese commercials tended for the most part to reflect traditional Chinese cultural values. They were, for example, more likely to include informational content to avoid ambiguity reflecting high uncertainty avoidance in China. They were also less likely than US commercials to reflect fun/happiness/entertainment appeals consistent with China’s tradition of collectivism and emphasis on group rather than individual hedonistic values. Somewhat surprisingly, in view of China’s higher power distance and respect for older people as authority figures, US commercials were more likely to use adult spokespersons and adult voice-overs. This may, however, reflect the increasing importance attached to children with the one child policy, thus changing the traditional status of older people. Thus in general, compared with US commercials, Chinese commercials still reflect China’s traditional culture. However, there is some evidence that this may be changing to reflect the new social reality of one child per family, as mirrored in minimal usage of adults as spokespersons and in voice-overs.

Not surprisingly, the way people are portrayed in advertising differs across cultures reflecting underlying differences in social roles and norms. People play a key role in selling products in advertisements as they help to infuse life into the mundane situations in which products and services are used. They provide a palpable reality for products apart from the solely functional attributes. Advertisers wishing to sell products in particular countries need to incorporate portrayals that are consistent with the prevailing norms.

Structure of Communication in Cross-Cultural Advertising

Information Content of Cross-Cultural Advertising

In comparing the content of advertising in different cultures, the amount and nature of information contained in the ads have received considerable attention. This has in some cases been related to the cultural environment of the country, i.e., collectivist versus individualistic cultures and high versus low context cultures. Since in low context cultures information is contained in the message rather than the context, rational appeals are more likely to be used in low context cultures and emotional appeals are more likely to occur frequently in high context cultures. This does, however, appear to vary depending on the particular product type. Some products, for example, functional products such as electrical goods or equipment, are more susceptible to rational appeals than status or emotive products such as clothing or personal products.

A study (Taylor et al., 1997) comparing the effectiveness of TV commercials in the US and South Korea confirmed the importance of the cultural context in affecting information content. In this study, an experiment was conducted varying the level of information content in 20 matched commercials (10 high, 10 low information content) shown in each country. Since Korea is a high context country, it was hypothesized that Koreans would react more positively to TV commercials with low levels of information content. Conversely US consumers (a low context country) were expected to respond more positively to commercials with high levels of information content than to those with low content. The results largely confirmed that US and Korean subjects reacted differently to high versus low information commercials, confirming the importance of cultural context in influencing the effectiveness of advertising.

A comparison of service advertising in the US and Hong Kong (Tai and Chan, 2001) showed significantly more use of information cues in Hong Kong than in the US. Hong Kong ads also showed greater use of price cues reflecting a close relationship between price and concern for status characteristics of a high power distance society. Content cues were also more prevalent in Hong Kong ads reflecting the concern to protect group interests and eliminate uncertainty in buying decisions in Hong Kong, a high uncertainty avoidance society.

Several studies have been undertaken comparing advertising in the US and the UK. These typically find that UK commercials contain less information than US commercials (Nevett, 1992; Weinberger and Spotts, 1989). Weinberger and Spotts (1989) compared information content in US and UK advertising using the Foote Cone and Belding planning matrix. This showed a higher percentage of informative ads in the US (64.5% compared with 53.6% in the UK) though no significant differences were observed across the planning matrix. As expected, more informational cues were observed in relation to rational decisions than emotional decisions, supporting the thesis that the amount of information contained in ads is proportionate to the decision-making situation. This tends to lend credence to the belief that US ads are more “hard sell” than in the UK.

Nevett (1992) suggests that use of a softer sell is more acceptable in the UK as consumers are more interested in entertainment rather than learning about new brands. He points out that British TV advertising draws on a shared cultural experience, making frequent use of features inherent in British culture such as the persistence of class divisions and a tolerance for eccentricity. It often employs understated humour relying more heavily than US advertising on visual cues. As a result, UK advertising is able to establish a strong cultural relationship with its audience and achieve a high degree of social acceptance. It has, for example, been argued that the most marked difference between US and British advertising is the higher entertainment quotient of British ads (Bernstein, 1986).

A comparison of print advertisements in the US and France based on content and expression also found significant differences in the use of emotional appeals as also the amount of information cues (Biswas et al., 1992). French advertisements used more emotional appeals than US ads; while US ads used more information cues than did French ads. In particular, consistent with stereotyping and the perception that France is more sexually liberated; sex appeals were used more frequently in French ads than in US ads. Humour was also used differently with US ads making greater use of puns and satire, while the French ads relied to a greater extent on jokes.

While many studies focus on contrasting differences between the US and other countries, particularly Asian countries, emphasizing differences between collectivist as opposed to individualistic cultures, a longitudinal study of ads from Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan (PRC) revealed distinctive consumer cultures in each of these three countries (Tse et al., 1989). PRC ads emphasized utilitarian appeals, promised a better life and focused on states of being as a key consumption theme, reflecting the relatively less developed state of consumption in that country. Hong Kong ads, on the other hand, stressed a hedonistic life style emphasizing luxury, promising easier Western life styles and focusing on doing as a main consumption theme. This reflected their higher living standard and greater openness to the West. Taiwan, where living standards were not as high as in Hong Kong, but were closer to those in the PRC fell between the two, but appeared to be converging toward Hong Kong in their emphasis on a more materialistic hedonistic life style.

Visual Components of Cross-Cultural Advertising

Visual components of advertising have also been found to differ across culture. In particular the significance and meaning of colours differs across cultures as well as the association of colours in different cultures, which can make them more or less appropriate in a given advertising context. A study of colour in US and Taiwanese advertising in business magazines (Huang, 1993) found, for example, that US ads used more brown and less yellow than Taiwanese ads. This may be due at least in part to the fact that yellow is considered by the Chinese to be the colour of royalty and is a favorite colour.

Another study contrasted the visual components of print advertising in five countries, the US, the UK, France, Korea, and India (Cutler et al., 1992). Differences were observed in the absolute size of the visuals with French ads having the largest size though this difference was not substantial. Countries spending more on advertising also made more use of colour advertising. As expected, the US was a larger user of photographs, though the differences between the US, the UK and Korea were not large.

Differences in the use of art and text in advertising from country to country appear in some cases to reflect the ability to express different types of messages using text or art. Examination of Japanese advertising reveals, for example, extensive use of mood and emotional appeals (Hong et al., 1987; Hudson and Watkins, 1988). This is in part due to the dilemma faced by copywriters in that the Japanese language is sparse in terms that are neutral with regard to status differences. For example, use of the imperative commonly used in US commercials is inappropriate as its use is restricted to superiors giving commands to social inferiors. As a result greater reliance is placed on visual images and themes which appeal to the emotions and rely on building atmosphere. Analysis of these suggest that some of the most dominant themes relate to eroticism and violence, which may reflect deep-seated emotions largely masked by the formal interactions and social behaviour characteristics of Japanese society.

Values, beliefs and material artifacts are all embodied in how and what people communicate in a society. Advertisements reflect spoken and written conventions, colloquialisms, and visual imagery. However, the way in which people communicate varies from one society to another. Some societies prefer more rational presentation of messages or more information content. This dictates how messages should be structured for maximum effectiveness as well as the nature of the content. These elements of communication are among the most complex and nuanced aspects of advertising. Yet, most studies have looked at one or two variables at a time. In reality, there are a multitude of interacting factors that should be examined in order to understand the full complexity of how and what advertising messages communicate.

Managerial Implications

A decision that managers face is whether to standardize strategies across cultures or adapt to each location. The increasing globalization of the marketplace has caused advertisers to seek to develop a more holistic approach targeting the entire world. Brands can thus be positioned relative to the emerging global consumer culture rather than being associated with a local specific consumer culture or associated with a specific foreign culture (Alden et al., 1999). This objective is, however, rendered more complex due to the cultural differences across countries and also the differences in advertising conventions. Not surprisingly, an examination of issues related to standardized advertising (van Raaij, 1996) concluded that standardization was often in conflict with differences in cultures around the world.

As a result managers need to pay substantial attention to cultural factors when they develop advertising strategies. This should go beyond the broad issue of whether to standardize or adapt strategy to considering questions of execution and the role of cultural factors in advertising implementation. Even where some common theme can be identified, the campaign is likely to be more effective if there are differences in execution, for example, the way people are portrayed in advertising, use of local role models and symbols, or the use of humour.

While differences are observed within individualistic and collectivist cultures, for example, between horizontal individualism in Sweden and vertical individualism in the US, individualism-collectivism is perhaps the most basic dimension of cultural variability identified in cross-cultural research. Its importance in influencing the effectiveness of different appeals is clearly indicated in the preceding review. In high individualism countries such as the US, Australia, the UK and Canada managers need to consider the importance of tailoring appeals to the independent self and use themes that emphasize self-reliance, achievement, and autonomy and center around the individual. Conversely, in countries high in collectivism such as China, South Korea, Guatemala, Ecuador and Venezuela, managers need to emphasize appeals that center around the group and family and focus on concepts of harmony and blending in and integrating with others.

Cultures also differ on other dimensions identified by Hofstede (2001) and these differences need to be taken into consideration in designing advertising appeals. Countries high on uncertainty avoidance are likely to be more responsive to appeals reflecting security and a stable environment while egalitarian appeals reflecting equality and absence of class differences in society are likely to be more effective in countries low on Power Distance.

Another important dimension on which countries differ is high context and low context. In high context countries such as Japan, South Korea, and China, information is contained in the context of the message rather than the message itself. In low context countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, information is contained explicitly in the message itself. In many respects these differences overlap those of individualism/collectivism in that individualistic countries tend to be low context and collectivistic countries tend to be high context. This distinction has, however, important implications for information content in advertising. In low context cultures, managers need to pay greater attention to the provision of informational content in advertising, whereas in low context cultures such as Japan, emotional appeals emphasizing visual content are likely to be more effective.

Given the range of differences observed across cultures, it is prudent for any firm contemplating an advertising campaign that spans more than one country to rely on local advertising agencies that are knowledgeable about the local culture and know best how to communicate effectively. For major advertising campaigns that are being coordinated by large global advertising agencies, agencies have local offices or affiliates in each country to help ensure that the ads are appropriate. This type of oversight and consultation will help create ads that conform to local cultural norms and communicate effectively. There is one final caveat. The results of academic research studies discussed in this chapter are biased toward showing differences. Not that the reported research studies themselves are flawed, but rather research studies that find no differences between countries are unlikely to be accepted for publication in peer reviewed journals. Thus, research that found no differences is less likely to appear in the literature, creating an impression that differences predominate. While there are profound and systematic differences, as many of the reported studies indicate, there are also important similarities in advertising across countries.

Directions for Future Research

Overall, the studies reviewed in this chapter deal with the underlying cultural values of a particular society, portray artifacts as part of the ads content and employ a particular language and communications conventions. The individual findings of various studies combine to suggest that there are important differences between ads appearing in different parts of the world. However, with the exception of themes evident in collectivist versus individualistic societies, it is hard to identify consistent findings that help establish clear rules for cross-cultural advertising. The clearest finding is that ads are different reflecting difference in the values of the cultures in which they appear.

Considerable additional research is needed in order to better understand the role of cultural factors in advertising in a broader ranges of cultures. To date, most research focuses on comparing advertising in the United States with that in other countries, particularly in Asia such as South Korea, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent in Europe. Research is needed to examine advertising appeals used in countries in Latin America and in the Middle East to see how these differ with those in other countries.

In essence, previous research consists of a patchwork of studies often focusing on comparing ads in different countries and relating these to macro-environmental characteristics such as societal values – individualism/collectivism, high versus low context, etc. Going forward, the most fruitful area for additional research is continued focus on the role of values in shaping advertising. Values are the most central element of a culture and influence, to varying degrees, all its aspects. Further research is needed to probe understanding of the role of values in influencing the composition and appearance of ads and the mechanisms by which social values affect the success of these ads. This is particularly critical as cultures become more intertwined and elements of one culture, for example, individualism begins to creep into another, for example, collectivist cultures (see Craig and Douglas, 2006).

Further, the majority of the studies have examined differences in the content of the ads in different countries. However, the studies have not taken the next step to see whether this translates into more effective advertising. The implicit assumption has been that if a particular practice is more prevalent, it must be more effective. This assumption needs to be verified. Rather than descriptive studies comparing ads and relating these to environmental characteristics such as values, more experimental studies need to be conducted, examining the effectiveness of using different types of ads, for example, different appeals, use of celebrities, information content, etc.

In addition, attention has primarily been focused on differences in advertising in different countries. More emphasis might be placed on examining common elements in themes and in execution. While managers need to be sensitive to differences, it is also important to identify common elements which can aid managers in improving the cost efficiency of their advertising campaigns and in achieving potential synergies across different markets.

Finally, attitudes toward the use of foreign or global images and icons might be further investigated. Most attention has been focused on responsiveness to local role models, scenarios and images. As, however, markets become increasingly integrated world wide, attitudes toward foreign images may be changing and interest in global images may be increasing. More emphasis needs to be placed on examining visual effects which are more readily transferable across cultures than information content.

Better understanding of these images and effects will help in adapting advertising campaigns to the changes taking place in the global marketplace.


  • Cross-cultural advertising is defined as advertising that takes place in more than one culture.
  • Culture is generally viewed as having three dimensions – values and beliefs, material artifacts, and communications. It has a profound influence on advertising and the way it is portrayed and interpreted in different contexts.
  • The values and beliefs which are the core of a culture (e.g., individualist versus collectivist societies) are reflected in the themes and appeals used in advertising. The material artifacts of a culture (e.g., gender roles, use of celebrities) are portrayed in the scenarios depicted in TV, radio, billboards, posters, on the Internet, and in print advertising. At the same time the communication and language used in advertising (e.g., informational versus emotional appeals) mirrors the way in which individuals interact and respond to each other. These all vary from country to country.
  • This relationship is not unidirectional – advertising exerts some influence on culture, as elements of advertising slogans or images become incorporated more broadly into normal discourse.
  • While it is clear that business and marketing activities are becoming increasingly global, it is far less evident whether a common advertising theme is likely to be effective in diverse cultures. It would seem that standardization is generally in conflict with differences in cultures around the world, and that advertising themes (or at least their executions) must adapt and respond to cultural differences.
  • Research consistently finds that advertising across countries should reflect the fundamental underlying cultural differences between those countries and their different expectations from advertising, for example, the US expects more information and less entertainment than the UK.
  • With this range of differences observed across cultures, firms attempting cross-country advertising should rely on local advertising agencies or offices that are knowledgeable about the local culture.