ICOM 821 Intercultural Communication
Intercultural Communication, Globalisation and Advertising:
The influence of culture in global advertising campaigns.
Intercultural communication abilities become more important in a world, where physical distance continues to render meaningless. Not only in the field of business, but also in individual spare time activities, has international contact increased. New means of communication connect places far away from each other and travel times are smaller than ever. Therefore, a growing number of individuals is confronted with different cultures and experiences intercultural communication. The main purpose of communication is to assure that a message is understood by the recipient in the way the sender intended. Especially in commercial contexts, successful communication across cultures is vital to build business relations and enable fruitful intercourse with endurable effects. Advertising, as just one special branch of communication, is no exception. Being a subsumable topic, this paper will examine the influence of culture on communication in the field of advertising. Previous research concentrated primarily on content analyses of advertisements, which is useful to investigate the degree of standardization in different cultures (Cutler & Erramilli 1992; Cutler & Javalgi 1992; Duncan & Ramaprasad 1995; Evans & Riyait 1993; Frith & Wesson 1991; Graham, Kamins & Oteomo 1993; Leach & Liu 1998; Martenson 1987; Mueller 1987, 1992; Szymanski et al. 1993; Whitelock & Chung 1989; Zandpouret al. 1992). The resulting categorisations of nations helped to standardise advertising in order to reduce costs. However, this essay will argue, that this approach misses the point. Since standardisation is only possible when cultures overlap, the task is to concentrate on possible universal appeals. For this reason, the term of culture has to be captured and defined, before globalisation and its effect on advertising is considered. Then, the paper will investigate how advertising communicates across cultures and point out chances and flaws of Hall’s and especially Hofstede’s approach. By reviewing localised and standardised advertising, finally, a hybrid advertising strategy will be suggested.
In order to understand the special challenge of intercultural communication, one has to have a clear concept of culture. There are several definitions of culture available, each depending on the purpose and the discipline to start from (Kroeber & Kluckhohn 1952), but for this essay, it seems appropriate to resort to Lusting and Koester (2006 p. 25), and describe culture as a “learned set of shared interpretations about beliefs, values, norms, and social practices, which affect the behaviour of a relatively large group of people”. Therefore, culture determines the perception and the attribution of external impulses, which consequently influences the way to communicate. This definition includes, that different cultures can contain various subcultures. An individual could be a member of several cultures, depending on which level one focuses (Lusting and Koester 2006). As culture is learned, it is not an intrinsic factor of human beings, but unconsciously an integral part of ones personality. Membership to a particular culture determines the way an individual communicates. This fact becomes more interesting when a communication occurs with members of different cultures. Since advertising is communication as well, culture influences the way individuals perceive those messages.
However, globalisation seems to have an equalising effect on advertising. All around the world people have not only increasingly similar basic needs; they have also a similar choice of products, offered by the same companies (Assael 1998, p. 501; Bullmore 2000, p. 48; Czinkota & Ronkainen 1993, p. 67). Since communication and mobility is easier than ever before, cultures are exposed to influences of other cultures. Some scholars go as far as to state that capitalism and democracy are universal phenomena, which will eventually be reached by all cultures (Fukuyama 1992). The world seems to get closer together, in an economic as well as in a cultural sphere. Specific ideas and values are travelling around the world, which could lead to cultures assimilate each other (Friedmann 1994; King 1990; Robertson 1992). Advertising reacts on and intensifies these developments. If an increasing number of people can be reached with a declining number of separate advertisements, the more cost effective the campaign will be (Levitt 1983). By perceiving the whole world as one market, advertisement for products has to address the population whole world (Alden et al. 1999).
On the other hand, just because of the wide arrange of perspectives globalisation offers, people do not have to respond to that. The more options available, the more difficult it is to chose. Even by recognising the effects of globalisation, “the spread of Western consumption patterns and popular culture around the world is not creating a universal civilisation” with a universal culture (Huntington 1996, p. 58). Not at least, this becomes obvious in the creation of individual identity. While the world becomes global, more people tend to feel the need for identifying with common local attributes like language, values and beliefs; in other words: local culture (Lusting & Koester 2006). This leads to the notion, that advertising cannot be globally uniform, but has to consider cultural issues of each culture approached (Mazzarella 2003; Mueller 1991). Even though, the existence of cultural differences is obvious, there is no evidence that standardised advertisement will not work.