International Advertising

Barbara Mueller. 21st Century Communication: A Reference Handbook. Editor: William F Eadie. Sage Publication. 2009.

The 2007 Fortune magazine survey reports that the top 500 multinational companies alone generated almost $21 trillion in revenues (Fortune, 2007, pp. 131-143). U.S. participation in world trade, measured as a portion of world market share, has declined dramatically. Today’s global consumers drink Starbuck’s coffee and talk on Nokia cell phones, wear Adidas sneakers, watch Sony television sets, and drive their Toyota to homes decorated with Ikea furnishings.

The growth and expansion of firms operating internationally have led to the growth of international advertising. At the end of World War II, the bulk of advertising activity was domestic, and 75% of recorded advertising expenditures worldwide were concentrated in the United States. Since then, the growth in advertising expenditure worldwide has been phenomenal. In 1950, estimated advertising expenditure totaled $7.4 billion worldwide, including $5.7 billion just in the United States. By the late 1970s, the advertising expenditure had swelled to nearly $72 billion worldwide, including $38 billion in the United States. In 2005, global ad expenditures hit a record $570 billion (

The United States continues to both produce and consume the bulk of the world’s advertising. Multibillion-dollar, multiservice, transnational, mega-advertising organizations own the bulk of the advertising agencies around the world, and nearly half (12) of the top 25 such organizations have their headquarters in the United States, according to Advertising Age. The largest of these is the American-based Omnicom Group, with 2006 worldwide revenues of more than $11 billion. However, advertising’s increasingly global presence is evidenced by the location of major advertising markets. In rank order, the top global advertising markets are the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China, Italy, Spain, Canada, Australia, Russia, and South Korea. Countries spending the most on advertising are primarily the rich industrialized nations. However, economic development is not the sole predictor of advertising expenditure. Interestingly, with rapidly maturing media markets and with advertising playing a growing role in their domestic markets, the fastest growing ad markets are in the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe.

Procter & Gamble Co. heads the list of the top 100 global marketers, according to Advertising Age (2006, p. 2), which ranks advertisers by total worldwide media spending in 84 countries. Procter & Gamble Co.’s $8.19 billion in media spending was almost double that of the runner-up, London-based Unilever, at $4.27 billion. Overall, the top 100 spent $98 billion on media advertising in 2005—with almost half of it, or $47.46 billion, spent in the United States. Europe was the next biggest region (with $30.17 billion), followed by Asia ($15.57 billion). Just under half of the top 100 global marketers are U.S. companies. Thirty-two are based in Europe, 19 are Asian, but none are from Latin America.

The International Marketing and Advertising Environment

Firms engaging in international marketing must carefully analyze the primary environmental factors of each market they intend to enter. The marketer’s task is to assess the demographic, economic, political-legal, and cultural environments in order to determine the potential of each market and also how variables in each of these environments might influence the design and implementation of marketing and promotional efforts.

The Demographic Environment

Just how the world’s 6 billion or so potential consumers are distributed around the globe is of intense interest to international marketers. A country’s population provides one basic indicator of market size. There is enormous variation in the population of countries around the globe. Indeed, well over half the people in the world live in only 10 countries, and China, the world’s largest nation, has a population approximately ten thousand times the population of some of the smallest countries. Generally, the larger the population of a market, the greater its potential—all other things being equal. However, population figures alone are usually not a sufficient guide to market size. Population size is typically combined with many other factors, such as population growth rates and distribution patterns. Three important population distribution characteristics are density, age and age structure, and household size.

Another demographic variable of interest to international marketers is education. As one might expect, education is highly correlated with literacy. From an international marketer’s standpoint, consumers must be able to read advertising messages and product labels. If large percentages of consumers are illiterate in certain markets, advertising programs and product packaging may need to be modified. Level of education is also of interest because it reflects the degree of consumer sophistication. Complex messages and products that require instructions may need to be adapted depending on the educational trends in a particular country.

The Economic Environment

The attractiveness of a market goes beyond sheer numbers of people—a nation’s current and future attractiveness is also based on the willingness and ability of those people to spend. A clear understanding of a host country’s economic environment—including type of economy, per capita income, and level of urbanization—is also essential in developing an appropriate marketing and communications strategy.

Historically, industrial economies have represented the greatest marketing opportunities for corporations, because consumers in these countries typically have the capacity to purchase the goods offered by international marketers. In addition, the communications, transportation, financial, and distribution networks necessary to conduct business are in place. However, such markets also tend to have stable, or even shrinking population bases, and as a result, the markets for many goods and services may already be saturated. Thus, marketers are increasingly turning to less developed nations, which tend to have expanding populations and therefore potentially greater growth opportunities.

Household income is a telling indicator of a country’s purchasing power. In many developing countries, where the extended family is the norm, several family members may be wage earners, directly affecting the buying power of the family unit. And while the nuclear family is the norm in the United States, today that unit typically includes two wage earners. As a result, international marketers often pair household income with household size in analyzing a market’s willingness and ability to spend.

The Political-Legal Environment

Both a country’s political system and its local laws and regulations may have a direct impact on various aspects of the marketing program. In some countries, regulation may be quite limited, and the laws that reinforce such regulation quite lax, particularly in developing markets. In others, advertising regulation may be rather extensive and stringently enforced. The following categories of regulation can affect international advertising efforts.

Types of products that may be advertised. Most countries restrict the advertising of some types of products. The advertising of cigarettes, in particular, is restricted in some form in nearly every country in the world. Both Malaysia and China have banned cigarette-related advertising altogether, and the Korean government has imposed heavy restrictions on cigarette advertising, prohibiting all electronic and print advertising, consumer promotions, sampling, branded sponsorships, and signs outside shops or on shop windows. Many nations have also imposed stringent guidelines on the promotion of alcoholic beverages and pharmaceutical products.

The audiences that advertisers may address. The audiences marketers may address can vary from country to country. To date, the United States is one of the most lenient countries in the developed world when it comes to marketing to children. In contrast, in Sweden, the law forbids all television ads aimed at children under 12 years of age. In Norway, Austria, and the Flemish part of Belgium, no advertising is allowed around children’s programs. Germany and Holland prohibit the sponsorship of children’s shows. Toy ads are banned on Greek television, and Italy, Poland, Denmark, and Latvia are studying plans for tighter regulations. Currently, there are no continent-wide rules regarding marketing to children; however, Sweden is pushing for its ban on children’s advertising to be extended across Europe.

The content or creative approach that may be employed. Many countries have restrictions on the types of claims advertisers can make, the manner in which products can be presented, and the appeals that may be employed in advertisements. For example, in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission encourages advertisers to employ comparative claims, as they are seen as providing consumers with relevant product information. In Europe, comparative advertising is currently allowed in some countries but is illegal in others. The European Commission is working toward developing a uniform policy. The use of health and nutrition claims as well as price comparisons also varies significantly from country to country.

The media that advertisers are permitted to employ. Media availability is severely limited in many markets. In Saudi Arabia, direct mail is considered an invasion of privacy and is thus not used. And while the country has opened its national television system to commercial advertising, Saudi Arabia still does not permit advertising on its state-run radio system. How the media are used for advertising purposes also differs from market to market. American television viewers are accustomed to having their programming interrupted at regular intervals with commercial messages. Russian law prohibits the interruption of children’s, religious, or educational programs by advertisers altogether. All other programs must not be interrupted more frequently than every 15 minutes (BBC Monitoring, 2001).

The use of advertising materials prepared outside the country. Government restrictions can also influence the use of foreign produced ads and foreign talent. With few exceptions, the Malaysian Ministry of Information requires that all footage for, and music in, television commercials be produced locally and use local talent. The government requires a “Made in Malaysia” (MIM) form to be submitted with the final checkprint (the finished, edited footage) (Frith, 1987). Peru bans foreign-inspired models and materials in advertisements appearing in that country in an effort to protect and enhance its national identity. Beyond nationalistic and cultural objectives, restrictions on foreign-prepared materials often are motivated by economic considerations—such as the desire to provide jobs for the local print production and film industry (Boddewyn & Mohr, 1987). There is also the fear that multinational ad agencies will hamper the development of the local advertising businesses.

The Cultural Environment

Each country exhibits cultural differences that influence the consumers’ needs and wants, their methods of satisfying them, and the messages they are most likely to respond to. If they are to be successful in their efforts, marketers must become culturally sensitive—that is, tuned into the nuances of culture. Among the important elements of culture that marketers must take into consideration are verbal communication and the various forms of nonverbal communication.

Verbal Communication

Linguists claim that up to 5,000 different languages are spoken around the globe. Chinese tops the list as the most spoken language, but while the written language is uniform, there are literally hundreds of local dialects in China. Multilingual societies constitute the majority of the world’s nations. For example, in India, more than 200 hundred languages and dialects are spoken. While language helps define a cultural group, the same language can be spoken in a number of different countries. English is spoken in the United States, England, much of Canada, Australia, and Ireland. Nonetheless, marketers must use caution when employing the same language in two or more markets. There are significant differences between American English and British English. Often, the same word or phrase may mean different things. Marketers must be particularly cautious with regard to errors in the translation of brand names, packaging copy, and advertising messages as these have cost businesses millions of dollars, not to mention damaging their credibility and reputation. Consider the following:

  • When Kentucky Fried Chicken entered the Chinese market, to their horror they discovered that their slogan “Finger lickin’ good” came out as “Eat your fingers off.”
  • Ford introduced the Pinto in Brazil. After watching sales go nowhere, the company learned that “Pinto” is Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals.” Ford pried the nameplates off all the cars and substituted them with “Corcel,” which means horse.

Nonverbal Communication

We communicate not only through spoken language but also via nonverbal language. A number of classification systems of nonverbal language exist, but most include facial expressions, eye contact and gaze, body movement (such as hand gestures and posture), touching, smell, space usage, time symbolism, appearance or dress, color symbolism, and even silence. It is important to note that nonverbal methods of communication are no more universal than verbal methods. Nonverbal communication can pose serious problems for international marketers and advertisers. A thorough discussion of all the nonverbal aspects of advertising is beyond the scope of this chapter. However, because of their importance to the international marketer, two areas will be addressed briefly: gestures, and colors, signs, and symbols.

Gestures. Thousands of cross-cultural examples prove that the meaning of gestures shift from culture to culture. Gestures refer to any movement of the fingers, hands, or arms. Gestures used in greetings vary as well. In the United States, the hand wave is a common form of greeting. Hence, in McDonald’s restaurants across the country, life-size Ronald McDonald statues have their hands raised in a friendly wave. However, operators of McDonald’s restaurants in Thailand were required to modify the figure to display the unique Thai greeting gesture, the “Wai,” which consists of the palms of both hands being placed together and raised in front of the head as a sign of humility and respect. Thai operators had to custom manufacture the molded fiberglass and resin statue (Advertising Age, 2002).

Colors, signs, and symbols. Laurence Jacobs and colleagues (1991, p. 21) note, “Like language, marketers in a particular nation often take colour for granted, having experienced certain colour associations all their lives, and do not even question whether other associations may exist in different societies.” International marketers need to know what associations a culture has in terms of colors and how they might affect product design, packaging, logos, and advertisements. For example, a number of years ago, a leading U.S. golf ball manufacturer targeted Japan as an important new market for its product. However, sales of the company’s golf balls were well below average. As it turned out, the firm had offered its product in white packaging—a color associated with mourning in Japan. To make matters worse, it had packaged the balls in groups of four—the number signifying death in this country (Glover, 1994). Clearly, numbers also mean different things to different peoples. While Americans associate misfortune with the number 13, it has no particular meaning in most other cultures. The number 7 is considered bad luck in Kenya but good luck in the former Czechoslovakia, and it has magical connotations in Benin.

Culture and Values

To maximize the chances of success, marketers must examine cultural values. Several classification systems have been devised for assessing the dominant values of a culture. One, the Rokeach (1968) value survey, identifies 18 terminal and 18 instrumental values. Terminal values concern desired end states of existence that are socially and personally worth striving for. Instrumental values relate to modes of conduct and represent beliefs that are socially and personally preferable in all situations with respect to all objects. Value systems are identified by having individuals complete a survey asking them to arrange all 36 values in order of their importance as guiding principles in their lives. This framework is effective in discriminating between people of culturally diverse backgrounds (Munson & McIntyre, 1978). For example, the instrumental value of “ambitious” means hardworking and aspiring. The degree to which consumers perceive themselves as hardworking may differ from one culture to the next, and this may have implications for promotional efforts. Numerous empirical studies have found that advertisements reflecting local cultural values are, in fact, more persuasive than those that ignore them (Gregory & Munch, 1997; Han & Shavitt, 1994; Taylor & Dale, 1997).

Coordinating and Controlling International Advertising

One of the first decisions a company must make when it decides to communicate with consumers in various markets is how to organize international promotional functions. A critical question relates to the locus of decision making: Will it be highly centralized at company headquarters, or will a more decentralized, collaborative, and participatory approach to marketing communications be adopted? It should be noted that there is a close relationship between the decision on centralization and the extent of advertising standardization ultimately employed. Tai and Wong (1998) propose that marketers have the following four basic options.

1. Global Approach (Centralized Decision Process, Standardized Advertising Approach)

Complete centralization of decision making related to international advertising implies a high level of head office control. Advertising agency selection, campaign planning, creative strategy and message development, media strategy and selection, budgeting, and sales promotion efforts all are conducted in the country in which the firm’s headquarters is situated. One of the major advantages associated with centralization is that it affords the marketer complete control over all promotional efforts.

A centralized approach is significantly more likely to be employed if the marketing environments of the message sender and receiver(s) are highly similar and if there is minimal variation in both the media available for advertising and the regulation of advertising. Depending on the foreign market, the international marketer may not feel that local managers possess the management skills necessary to conduct effective research and to develop coherent advertising strategies. Subsidiaries may lack the financial resources necessary to produce advertising executions with high production values. The centralized approach is highly correlated with the use of standardized advertising—employing virtually the same campaign in both domestic and foreign markets (Kirpalani, Laroche, & Darmon, 1988). Certain weaknesses are associated with highly centralized control as well. A firm employing such an organizational approach may find that it lacks (a) the ability to sense changes in market needs occurring away from home; (b) the resources to analyze data and develop strategic responses to competitive challenges emerging in foreign markets; or (c) the managerial initiative, motivation, and capability in its overseas operations to respond imaginatively to diverse and fast-changing environments (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 1986).

2. Local Approach (Decentralized Decision Process, Differentiated Advertising Approach)

Complete decentralization of international advertising means that all, or nearly all, advertising decisions are made by local managers in the foreign markets. The philosophy here is that international subsidiaries shouldn’t just be “pipelines to move products. Their own special strengths can help build competitive advantage” (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 1986, p. 87). A primary benefit of decentralization is that promotional programs are tailored to the specific needs of each market. Nationals may be perceived as knowing the local market best and thus are better equipped to make necessary modifications to advertising campaigns as a result of differences in the local media scene, political-legal environment, or culture. An international marketer may also opt for a decentralized approach if markets are small or the volume of international business and advertising is too limited to warrant close attention from headquarters. Local managers are likely to be more highly motivated when given responsibility for the promotional programs in their market.

3. Regcal Approach (Centralized Decision Process, Regional Approach)

Tai and Wong (1998) note that the “regcal” approach is made up of “reg” (regional) and “cal” (local); that is, it uses a combined approach of centralized decision making and regional—sometimes even local—adaptation. For example, an international or network agency may be designated as the lead agency, responsible for developing what is termed pattern advertising. Pattern advertising refers to centralization of the “what” of an ad campaign and regionalization or localization of the “how” (Roth, 1982). Thus, the basic advertising strategy, general creative, and even media approaches are provided to each subsidiary; however, local managers are then free to select their own media and modify copy, visuals, or other elements of the message to meet regional or local needs. This approach allows for local input and adaptation while still permitting a degree of uniformity in a firm’s international promotions.

4. Glocal Approach (Decentralized Decision Process, Standardized Approach)

“Glocal” is a combination of the “glo” (global) and “cal” (local) approaches. Here, the headquarters develops a global campaign, which local offices may or may not choose to follow, but most decisions are determined by local subsidiaries or distributors.

Agency Selection

Firms marketing their goods and services abroad must decide who should plan, prepare, and execute their promotional campaigns. International marketers have a variety of options, including employing their domestic agency, using their domestic in-house advertising department or a foreign subsidiary’s in-house department, calling on the services of an international agency or global network, or hiring a foreign advertising agency.

Domestic and in-house agencies. In some instances, firms may choose to simply export advertising campaigns originally created for the domestic market. Indeed, there are numerous examples of campaigns that have been exported quite successfully: The Marlboro man, conceived of for the U.S. market, has traveled well all around the world—literally for decades. Firms may also choose to rely on their domestic advertising agency to prepare advertising messages for their foreign markets. A firm’s domestic agency may well be affiliated with foreign shops capable of providing necessary translation services and assistance with media planning and buying. However, a very real danger of employing a domestic agency is that it may not be familiar with the many pitfalls associated with international advertising. Some companies rely on their in-house advertising departments for foreign advertising assistance. On the plus side, the in-house agency is likely to be intimately familiar with the product or service to be promoted. On the downside, domestic in-house agencies may lack the necessary experience in dealing with foreign markets. When international advertisers turn to a foreign subsidiary’s in-house agency while they gain familiarity with the local market, they lose a degree of control over promotional efforts. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the quality of the work produced will live up to the firm’s expectations.

International agencies and global networks. International firms leaning toward a centralized approach are three times more likely to employ an international agency or global network than they are to use a foreign agency (Kanso, 1991). Clearly, it’s easier for international marketers to deal with a single international agency than with a separate agency in each market in which they operate. Global networks clearly offer opportunities for synergy. They can deliver to their clients the ease of one-stop shopping for all their marketing and promotional needs. Conglomerates can also offer additional benefits to clients, including a means to consolidate and cut administrative expenses. Size is also of benefit when it comes to securing commodities. On the downside, although agency networks offer multicountry coverage, there is no guarantee that the offices in each country will be equally strong. Critics complain that the holding companies have become too large and too complex and contend that the expansion of agency companies has smothered originality under a blanket of conformity.

Local agencies. If the multinational firm adheres to decentralization, the advertiser is significantly more likely to select local agencies to coordinate promotional activities for each market in which it operates. The selection of a local agency may even be left to overseas managers. Academics and practitioners who encourage the use of local agencies argue that only such agencies can truly appreciate the local culture and, as a result, can develop messages best able to communicate with foreign consumers. Because local agencies are often independent and typically smaller in size, they may demonstrate an innovativeness that agency networks cannot—and this may be just what a marketer is looking for. On the downside, using a separate local agency for each foreign market makes coordinating worldwide campaigns quite challenging.

Creative Decisions: Strategy and Execution

One of the most important strategic considerations is whether to standardize advertising worldwide or to adapt it to the specific needs of each market. Scholars and practitioners alike are divided with regard to the benefits and disadvantages associated with each approach. This debate carries a variety of labels. Standardized campaigns have also been referred to as globalized and universal in the literature; specialized campaigns have been called localized, adapted, and even customized.

Standardization Strategy

Many advertising and marketing executives agree with Harvard’s Theodore Levitt that the needs and desires of consumers around the world are growing ever more homogenized. These experts contend that the world is one large market and that regional, national, and even international differences are at best superficial. Therefore, the consumer may well be satisfied with similar products and services. Levitt (1983) went on to note that not only would consumers around the globe be satisfied with similar products, but advertisers could sell them with similar messages. Standardization of international campaigns generally takes one of two routes. One option is to adopt a campaign deemed successful in the national or domestic market for a firm’s foreign markets. Another option is a preplanned effort to develop a campaign for use in multiple markets.

Advertisers and agencies alike perceive very real benefits associated with this approach. For one thing, coordination and control of marketing and promotional programs is greatly simplified, and as a result, foreign campaigns can be implemented much more quickly. In addition, fewer marketing and advertising personnel are required at the local level to administer advertising campaigns developed at headquarters than are required to customize promotional efforts, and such staff reductions lead to cost savings. And it’s certainly much less expensive to produce a single campaign for a number of markets than it is to produce a separate campaign for each specific market. Furthermore, good ideas can be exploited. If a campaign has proven successful in one market, there may be no need to “reinvent the wheel” in others. Finally, a consistent international brand or company image can be achieved.

Progress has been made in understanding under what conditions standardized advertising works best and for which products global campaigns are particularly well suited. The following are seen as well suited for standardized messages: products that appeal to market segments that are essentially similar in tastes, interests, needs, and values; products that are promoted with image campaigns that appeal to universal needs, values, and emotions; hightech products coming to the world market for the first time, not steeped in the cultural heritage of a particular country; and products with a nationalistic flavor if the country has a reputation in the field (Fannin, 1984).

Localization Strategy

While globalization has been hailed as the new wave in marketing and advertising by some, others contend that the “global market” still consists of hundreds of nations, each with its own customs, life styles, economies, and buying habits (Green, Cunningham, & Cunningham, 1975; Hornik, 1980). In the case of a fully adapted or “specialized” campaign, the advertiser localizes message content for several countries or even for each country in which the firm operates. The primary benefit of specialization is simply that it allows for differences in the demographic, economic, legal-political, and cultural environments to be taken into account. This approach also recognizes that the media that advertisers are permitted to employ can vary widely. If a specific product’s brand name differs from one market to the next, the international marketer may have no choice but to employ a specialized approach to advertising. Finally, if a specific foreign market is in a different stage of market development than the U.S. market, a given product may find itself in a different stage of the life cycle in that country. In some markets, an international firm will compete against other international marketers; in others, the competition may be purely national. Sound advertising strategy in one market will not necessarily be appropriate in another market with a different competitive environment. Examples of effective standardized campaigns clearly do exist, just as do examples of ineffective ones. Similarly, there are numerous examples of both more and less successful specialized campaigns. The pros and cons of both approaches will continue to be debated. Many companies have moved away from viewing standardization as an all-or-nothing phenomenon and instead have chosen to employ a modified approach—standardizing some elements of their promotional plan while specializing others. The question is, in fact, one of degree, with standardization and specialization at opposite ends of a continuum and with many “shades” of adaptation between the two extremes.

Execution Decisions

If strategy refers to “what is said” in a campaign, then execution refers to “how it is said.” The advertising strategy adopted for a specific international campaign thus guides the execution—the selection of advertising appeals as well as themes and concepts. It is important that these are consistent with the values and tastes of the target audience. Indeed, one study found that, on the whole, consumers seem to prefer domestically generated commercials (Giacomotti, 1993). This reinforces the view that advertising carries its culture with it. It is not surprising, then, that commercial messages created in various markets differ significantly. In terms of creative execution, it appears that there are themes and concepts that tend to have better success at crossing borders, while others are almost guaranteed to cause the marketer headaches. The following list of universal and culture-bound themes and concepts is adapted from DeMooij (1994).

Universal Themes and Concepts

  • New or improved products: A common characteristic of consumers around the globe is that they look for new products, new uses for old products, or improvements on old products.
  • Basic everyday themes: Themes based on appeals such as hunger, thirst, affection, motherhood, pride, and jealousy can generally be used universally.
  • The made-in concept: The tendency for consumers to evaluate goods manufactured in some countries more favorably may encourage a marketer to highlight the country of origin when promoting those goods.
  • Product demonstrations: Demonstrations focus on how a brand works and its specific features. Products can be demonstrated in use or in “before versus after” scenarios. This technique often helps consumers visualize what the product can do for them.
  • Heroes: Hollywood has spread the faces of the silver screen around the globe, and many actors have become international heroes. Film stars are increasingly appearing in international advertising campaigns.
  • Lifestyle concepts: Here, the advertiser presents the user rather than the product. Lifestyle groups often featured include young people, the wealthy, businesspeople, and sports fans.

Culture-Bound Themes and Concepts

  • Sex appeals: When it comes to employing sex appeals in advertising messages intended for foreign audiences, marketers are urged to exercise caution. What may be considered as perfectly tame in one market can be perceived as downright indecent in another.
  • Individuality: The majority of the world’s cultures tend toward collectivism rather than individualism. Thus, while ads appealing to individuality may prove quite persuasive in some markets, the messages may not resonate with consumers in group-oriented cultures.
  • Comparative advertising: Comparative advertising is generally used to claim superiority to competing brands regarding some aspect of the product. While this is encouraged in the United States, international marketers must understand that the technique is banned in other markets.
  • Role of women: How women are depicted in advertising messages is strongly influenced by culture. In the United States, advertisers have been criticized for portraying outdated traditional roles. In other markets, particularly in Islamic countries, women may only be portrayed in traditional roles—as mothers or as caregivers.
  • Humor: In general, humor tends not to travel well because it employs cultural conventions, which generally are only understood by members of a particular culture. However, one study revealed that a certain type of humor known as incongruity (defined by the researchers as based on the contrast between the expected and the unexpected) does appear to have potential across markets (Alden, Hoyer, & Lee, 1993).
  • Opinions and attitudes: Themes based on cultural opinions and attitudes generally do not fare well when crossing borders. Opinions regarding feminine attractiveness provide an excellent example. A major criticism leveled at Western advertising by non-Western nations is that messages suggest not only which products to purchase but how one should look. Western models, by definition, tend to be tall, blond, blue-eyed, and extremely thin—an ideal that most women around the world simply cannot live up to yet continue to aspire to.

As a strategy, advertising standardization may work well for some products, marketers, and audiences, and in some situations. In other instances, specialization or adaptation will prove to be more effective. And sometimes something in between will be most appropriate (Quelch & Hoff, 1986). International marketers must carefully evaluate where along the standardization-specialization continuum a campaign destined for a specific foreign market should fall. Advertisers also must employ appeals suited to each culture and understand how cultural differences influence advertising content.

Media Decisions

There are a number of ways that the media planning and/or buying function can be handled in the international setting. The traditional model has all planning and buying conducted by the client’s domestic or lead agency. Another option is to conduct media planning centrally but to handle media buying on a local basis in each country in which the international advertiser operates. A third option is to turn the function (either all or part) over to an international media agency; such specialists have been cropping up over the past few years. These firms are generally responsible for finding the local media best suited to the client’s needs and the target audience to be reached, providing accurate media data, handling negotiations and obtaining the best rates, making the purchase, and monitoring placement. Media buying agencies are able to obtain significant media discounts by purchasing time and space on behalf of groups of clients instead of on the basis of single companies or brands (Russell & Lane, 2002).

Media planners zeroing in on foreign markets have the option of using local/national media or employing media that cross national borders—better known as international media. Using a combination of the two is clearly an alternative as well. The decision of whether to employ local/national or international media is influenced by a number of factors, including but not limited to (a) how much centralized control the firm has, (b) what target audience the advertiser is attempting to reach, (c) whether the firm has chosen to employ a localized or globalized campaign, and (d) whether the firm works with national or multinational advertising agencies.

National/Local Media

National or local media offer advertisers a greater variety of vehicles—television, radio, newspapers, magazines, outdoor, direct mail, and transit, as well as many rather unique forms. They also permit use of the local language, which is generally more effective in reaching the local market. However, there are drawbacks in using local media. The practice of media planning and buying at the local level is quite complex because media environments rarely resemble one another. These differences can take the following forms:

Media availability. Media that commonly are employed in domestic markets may quite simply be unavailable in foreign markets. In Saudi Arabia, traditional values do not permit the showing of films to public gatherings; thus, the cinema medium does not exist in this country. Nor do they permit commercial messages on radio stations. As a result of such limitations, a firm marketing its products in a number of nations may well find it impossible to employ the same media mix in all markets.

Media viability. Peebles and Ryans (1984) suggest that the international advertiser also explore whether the medium is “available in the quality and quantity and at a cost that will permit the international advertiser to successfully employ it.” For example, while commercial television may be available in a particular market, governmental restrictions may require local production of commercials. The added cost of producing a commercial in that country may well preclude the use of the television medium.

Media coverage. The degree to which media are diffused varies substantially. For example, the numbers of television sets and radio receivers in countries around the world varies significantly. In the United States, there are 854 television sets for every 1,000 Americans, in sharp contrast to the 6 receivers per 1,000 Ethiopians (World Bank: World Development Indicators, 2002). The pattern is similar for radio receivers. In developing countries, a large percentage of the population simply cannot afford individual ownership of television sets or even radios.

Media cost. Advertising rates in all markets tend to be cyclical. During periods of economic prosperity, the media tend to inflate their rates. During economic downturns, when many marketers slash their advertising budgets, media rates typically drop significantly. Savvy marketers take advantage of such media recessions.

Media quality. Even if a particular medium is available, the quality may vary from that in the home market. For example, newsprint quality is so poor in many countries—India, for one—that it is nearly impossible to obtain adequate halftone reproduction. Many markets still have very limited access to color television, which may play a central role in a visually oriented campaign.

Role of advertising in the mass media. International advertisers should be aware that in numerous markets, one or more of the media may be government owned or controlled. As a result, they may choose not to accept commercial messages or to severely restrict the time and space allotted to advertising.

International Media

The second option for reaching audiences in various markets is the use of international media that have multi-market coverage. Print remains the dominant international medium, and magazines are considered the first of the internationalists. A number of U.S.-based magazines have international editions, including Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, and Cosmopolitan, among others. It is not only U.S. magazines that make their way across foreign borders. Marie Claire and Elle, both French magazines, have global circulations. While many of these publications are translated into many different languages and are available in many different markets, their foreign readers are often quite different in terms of demographics from those who read these publications in their country of origin. In foreign markets, these publications appeal predominantly to international travelers and upscale, high-income consumers. Magazines that reach businesspeople on a worldwide basis include Forbes, Business Week, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review. A major plus associated with such publications is that they tend to lend the magazine’s prestige to advertised products. One of the drawbacks of such publications, however, is that they generally offer only English, French, and Spanish editions.

A number of international newspapers exist that provide opportunities for global advertisers, including The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. The Times of London and the Guardian, both British newspapers, are also considered global publications. A number of international newspapers are also directed toward the business community. For example, The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal Europe, The Asian Wall Street Journal, and The Wall Street Journal Americas, targeting Latin America. The Financial Times of London is another prestigious global business newspaper, though its circulation is significantly smaller than that of The Wall Street Journal.

Satellites have greatly enhanced the ability to use television to reach consumers around the globe. Cable has served to bring satellite TV into the homes of consumers and will likely remain the major means of receiving satellite transmissions. Those satellites with stronger transmitters allow households to receive signals directly via their own small dish antenna; however, penetration of such satellite dishes in most markets is still rather limited. Developments in high-powered direct broadcast satellites (DBS) have made reception even easier. DBS is likely to have a significant impact for those regions lagging in cable infrastructure. For example, STAR (Satellite Televisions Asian Region) TV is now the world’s largest satellite network, stretching from the Middle East and India to South Korea. Broadcasting in eight languages, it reaches some 300 million viewers throughout 53 Asian countries.

By no means have all forms of local and international media available to the international advertiser been addressed. A media planner may also turn to radio, the Internet, autowraps on cars, toilet stall messages, and even advertisements in outer space, among a multitude of other media that in many cases may be specific to a particular market. An advertiser planning on entering a specific market must undertake an in-depth analysis of the media situation particular to that country.


International marketers must carefully analyze the major environmental forces in each market where they compete. Demographic, economic, political-legal, and cultural factors should be taken into account when assessing the potential of a market, for they directly influence the design and implementation of marketing communication programs intended for that market. Important decisions facing the international marketer include the locus of decision making (highly centralized at company headquarters or a more decentralized, collaborative and participatory approach); whether to employ a domestic, international, or foreign agency; whether to standardize advertising worldwide or to adapt to the specific needs of each market; as well as selection of the most appropriate media (local vs. international) to reach consumers in each market. This chapter has touched on much of the research related to international advertising that has been conducted over the past few decades; however, significantly more is needed to guide international marketers if they are to successfully navigate the minefield of today’s global marketplace.