The influence of culture on brand positioning strategy

Scientific Essay, 2005

16 Pages


Table of contents


1. What is ‘culture’
1.1 Diversity of culture

2. Culture and brand image
2.1 GLOBE at work

3. Advertisement as mirror image of society
3.1 Analysis of Content
3.1.1 Print-advertisement in France and Germany




In order to increase the saleability of a brand or product and at the same time to minimize the costs of production and advertisement, marketing companies or departments try to internationalize or ‘globalize’ production processes as well as marketing strategies. One challenge of these goals lies in differences between the mindset of consumers, being consequence of differences in culture. This work will focus the meaning of ‘culture’ and the question which ‘ingredients’ define culture. In the following chapters strategies of cross-cultural surveys within marketing strategies for brands and products will be examined.

1. What is ‘culture’

In order to talk about means to exhibit cultural differences one has to base all discussions on the ingredients of the term ‘culture’. The search for definitions of this term already began in antiquity with Heraclit’s normative definition of culture as “the good, true and beautiful’ versus Cicero’s definition of culture as ‘social heritage incorporating the social knowledge, religious beliefs, customs and abilities that are adapted by a member of society’.[1] Since Heraclit’s definition would lead to judgements concerning cultural aspects only Cicero’s assumptions can be a valid mean to survey cultural differences. According to Schmidt culture is a “human opus” that manifests itself in and controls communication and “materializes” in symbols/systems of symbols, beliefs and values, which serve for prevention and reproduction of society but also may lead to change.[2] One nature of culture is that it can be divided into subgroups such as subculture, social group, peer-group or its smallest entity, the family.[3] For Hofstede culture works as

“The collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another. (…) the interactive aggregate of common characteristics that influence a human group’s response to its environment.”[4]

Schmidt as well as Hofstede believe that people have to make decisions every day what means to choose between dichotomies. In this context culture “becomes not a model of but a model for behaviour”.[5] That means that people use culture to organise and structure their activities. Thereby, depending on their practicability, elements of culture may be accepted, refused or modified. One step further from the definition of its influencing factors goes the formulation of operational parameters, by which phenomena are meant that constitute differences between cultures. Dawar and Parker describe culture as interaction of three factors: demographic background (profession, financial circumstances), economic background (incoming, prosperity) and psychologic profile (introvert against extrovert).[6] This approach differentiates between social groups within several cultures but not between nationalities. But since this approach deals with the conditions of culture it can not be used to explain the term culture. Müller’s approach to intercultural advertising is based on the concept of Soudjin, Hutschemaeker and Vijver which was invented during the 90ies of the past century. It focuses five factors:

1. Localisation = is culture an individual or collective phenomenon
2. Function = does culture affect the individuum?
3. Structure = is the structure of molar or molecular kind?
4. Composition = what are the constituting elements?
5. Dynamic = Is culture static or dynamic?

The authors aim is not to describe a distinct culture but to provide a tool to seize and explain cultural differences. The basis definition provides several options that the researcher may use to find a definition:

Culture is composed of (symbolic/evaluative/descriptive/productive/

cognitive/organisational/functional/process/developmental) elements which are located in the (individual/collective); these constitute a (molar/molecular) structure with a (low/high) functionality and with a (low/high) degree of dynamics.[7]

Within this model-definition only the option between individual or collective is of lesser interest since the definition of culture within cross-cultural marketing always has to be a social group und thus the location has to be the collective. The dutch scholar Hofstede invented a definition of culture in which defines culture as self-regulating system. Hofstede defines four influencing factors with several subfactors:

1. Outside influences (forces of nature, forces of man like trade or conquest, scientific discoveries)
these influence the factor of
2. Origins (ecological, geographic, economic, demographic, genetic, hygienic, historical, technological, urbanization)
these influence the factor of
3. Societal norms (value systems of groups or population)
these influence the factor of
4. Consequences (structure and functioning of institutions: family patterns, role differentiation, social stratification, education, political structure, legislation, architecture, theory development)

Factors 2-4 reinforce themselves reciprocally. While this design was invented to analyse evaluations and values of the individual, Hofstede proposes another design to analyse and compare cultures. This design consists of four so called dimensions that are invented as operational factors: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism and masculinity. The factor power distance focuses human unequity with reference to prestige, economic and political power. Uncertainty avoidance deals with the avoidance of future’s uncertainty and is represented in the fields of religion, technology and norms. Individualism deals with the relationship between the individual and society. Masculinity deals with role allocation that is established through socialisation within family, school and media. Nevertheless several works explicitely criticized Hofstede’s assumptions. Prof. Brendan McSweeney first of all criticized the design of Hofstede’s empirical scrutiny. Hofstede invented a questionnaire that was given exclusively to employees of IBM and assumed that these were nationally representative. McSweeney points out that such assumption does inescapably support prejudices such as the one that all English are hooligans. Another weakness lies in the assumption that Hofstede dealt with an “average tendency” from which he concluded a national representative that should then be the same in “every other part of the country, in every company, tennis club, knitting club, political party, and massage parlour.”[8] Besides many differences between the organisational structure of a nation and a company McSweeney emphasizes differences on different levels between IBM employees and the general population of the examined countries. While it was for instance not unusual to work for a non-family owned company in Britain the same instance was very unusual in Taiwan. Several cultural differences could have been recognized if a different set of categories and classifications (i.e. race, religion, first language) was applied. This automatically rises the question if Hofstede did find a set of ‘universal dimensions’ or if the use of different dimensions would outcrop different results. Furthermore Hofstede ignored several objections which “argue for recognition of multiple, dissenting, emergent, organic, counter, plural, resisting, incomplete, contradictory, fluid, cultures in an organisation.”[9] With such assumptions Hofstede’s “underlying equation collapses”. Hofstede’s answer to cultural variety within organisations was the exclusion of “organisational cultures” since they “were of different order”. Another notion of Hofstede has few supporters: he claims that “occupational cultures” which he identifies as “values” are “programmed into” the individual within the “pre-adulthood” and remain there unchanged. Hofstede’s theory supposes that throughout the world members of the same occupation, regardless of educational backgrounds, training requirements or social status share the same culture. Furthermore using the bi-polarity between ‘individualism’ and ‘collectivism’ Hofstede furthermore ignored the existence of contradictory norms and values adducted depending on the situation. Since it could be shown that Hofstede’s proposal for identification of a ‘national culture’ was no more than an internal IBM questionnaire to optimise company structures its usability for identification of cultural differences has to be doubted.

1.1 Diversity of culture

While the term ‘culture’ denoted mainly aspects of art until the 1960s, several subcategories of culture like “subculture”, “women’s culture”, “political culture”, “company culture” did emerge. Besides these subcategories the term ‘sociocultural’ was invented to describe men’s position within a social group. These terms form a set of tools for differentiation of social groups and taken together with the analysis of language borders, form the actual set for cross-cultural research. One main aspect of sociocultural research is the ‘code’, a set of attitudes, norms and values by which man recognizes himself as member of a social group. The term ‘code’ was invented by Niklas Luhmann within his ‘system theory’. The theory postulates that culture consists of codes which can be identified as systems of rules or stipulations. These allow assignments with symbols, mainly linguistic, or sets of symbols that form meaning – the basis for communicative exchange. According to Watzlawick, Weakland and Frisch cultural life is based on


[1] Dorsch-Jungsberger, p. 56

[2] Schmidt, p. 31

[3] Hols, p. 72

[4] Hofstede, p. 21

[5] Schmidt, p. 32

[6] Hols, p. 75

[7] Müller, p.28

[8] McSweeney,

[9] McSweeney ,

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The influence of culture on brand positioning strategy
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brand, positioning, culture, economics, image, GLOBE, advertisement, society, France, Germany, product, saleability, Hofstede, symbol, Dawar, Parker, Soudjin, Hutschemaeker, Vijver, McSweeney, diversity, sales, Luhmann, Watzlawick, Frisch, cognition, lifestyle, must have, consumer, research, Hite, Fraser, global, marketing, Gupta, Vipin
Quote paper
MA Guido Maiwald (Author), 2005, The influence of culture on brand positioning strategy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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