Intercultural Communication and International Marketing: Corporate Advertising on the Internet

Diploma Thesis, 2005

120 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

0 Introduction

1 The importance of cultural competence for translators
1.1 Translators as culture and information mediators
1.2 Translation processes in the economy

2 Culture
2.1 Definitions and concepts of culture
2.2 Language
2.3 Cultural differences
2.4 Culture shock
2.5 Ethnocentrism
2.6 Stereotypes

3 Communication
3.1 Definitions and components of communication
3.2 Communication media and forms

4 Intercultural Communication
4.1 Aspects and concepts of intercultural communication
4.2 Cross-cultural training

5 Globalization
5.1 Cultural globalization
5.2 Economic globalization

6 International Management

7 International Marketing
7.1 The concept of marketing
7.2 Corporate identity
7.2.1 Corporate culture
7.2.2 Brand and company names
7.2.3 Logos
7.2.4 Slogans
7.3 Marketing strategies
7.4 International marketing
7.5 Standardization vs. differentiation

8 Intercultural Advertising
8.1 Advertising
8.2 Advertising strategies
8.3 Intercultural advertising
8.4 Standardized vs. culture-adapted advertising

9 Corporate Advertising on the Internet
9.1 Functions of the Internet
9.2 International online marketing communication
9.3 The Internet as an advertising medium
9.4 Corporate websites as advertising

10 Conclusion

11 Bibliography
11.1 Books
11.2 Articles
11.3 Periodicals
11.4 Internet sources

12 List of figures

0 Introduction

This research examines the relevance of intercultural communication for international marketing, focusing on corporate advertising via the Internet.

The first chapter outlines the importance of cultural competence in the field of translation by analyzing the role of modern translators as language, culture and information mediators. Reference is also made to a relatively new field of translation, namely localization.

Chapter 2 deals with different definitions and concepts of culture, and various approaches concerning which elements comprise it. Furthermore, it analyzes important culture-related terms also influencing intercultural communication, such as language, cultural differences, culture shock, ethnocentrism and stereotypes .

The third chapter is devoted to communication, its components, forms and media.

Chapter 4 illustrates the significance of intercultural communication by examining different intercultural aspects and concepts, and providing information on a definition and history of the term and on important intercultural communication theorists.

Chapter 5 focuses on the phenomenon of globalization, both in cultural and economic terms.

The next chapter refers to the significance of communication and culture skills for international managers and to key competences of international management that can be trained.

Chapter 7 explores the broad field of marketing, emphasizing corporate identity and the elements comprising it, essential marketing strategies implemented by multinational companies and the international marketing principle “Think global, act local”, indicating how intercultural communication can determine the success of marketing activities. The last part of this chapter approaches the debate “standardization versus differentiation”.

Chapter 8 is dedicated to advertising as a form of communication, common advertising strategies illustrated through concrete examples, cultural elements that advertisers should take into consideration and the two variants of international advertising campaigns: standardized versus culture-adapted advertising.

The last chapter, after giving an insight into the history of the Internet and its multiple functions, explores its use as an instrument of international marketing communication and public relations, and as an advertising medium, focusing on corporate websites of multinational companies.

1 The importance of cultural competence for translators

1.1 Translators as culture and information mediators

In the context of globalization and transcendence of national borders, translators are seen as language and culture mediators between the citizens of the global village. Modern translators make full use of worldwide electronic technologies and multimedia translation tools, and in particular of the Internet’s limitless communication and information potential for their resource research (cf. Austermühl, 2001a, b).

According to Kornelius (2004:1), adept translators combine linguistic, cultural and technical competence. During the reception phase, the translator decodes the message of the source text, demanding a high level of linguistic, cultural, intercultural, encyclopedic and technical knowledge. In turn, the phase of text reproduction in the target language requires access to a large amount of worldly, cultural and background knowledge.

Texts are products of a socio-cultural constellation, specific to a language community at a given moment in time. All types of text production, from computer manuals to love letters adhere to certain social, cultural and linguistic norms and conventions. The entire process of text production by authors and of its reception by its readers is subject to socio-cultural determinants, requiring intercultural awareness and flexibility on behalf of the translator (cf. Horton, 2001:95).

Regardless of the text type they are called to translate, translators need solid background information about geographic, historic, economic, social and political aspects of the cultures they are mediating between, including knowledge of popular culture components, such as television programs, films, famous politicians, actors and singers (cf. Katan, 1999:10).

One of the most complex challenges that translators confront are cultural specifics, also called realia, culture-bound elements or cultural terms, i.e. different cultural markers that don’t exist in the target culture’s language or exist but have different values attached to them. Cultural specifics include both material objects and abstract socio-economic and cultural phenomena or institutions of a certain socio-economic order or culture (cf. Horton, 2001, Simonnœs, 2001). Such cultural specifics extend from national monuments to exotic fruits, and from the expression of dates to patterns of family, work and leisure.

It is imperative to teach translation students important cultural contents, parallels and differences between the cultures they translate from and to, and realia, i.e. elements of everyday life, history and geography that exist only in one of the respective cultures or exist in a different form (cf. Schmid, 2000:63).

Translators should identify culture-specific signals as such and decide on which of the following translating strategies is more appropriate for a given text: direct transfer of the term without translation, transfer of the term with an explanation provided, adaptation or cultural substitution with an ‘equivalent’ term or concept of the target language or complete deletion of the term in the target text (cf. Horton, 2001). However, Stolze (1998) claims that using familiar institutions of the target culture to translate source culture ones, is improper, because it suggests a false identity of the respective institutions (cf. Simonnœs, 2001:285).

Knowledge of significant facts and figures relating to source and target culture, complemented by awareness of different text and stylistic conventions, comprises translators’ and interpreters’ cultural competence (cf. Schmid, 2000).

Translators should also be aware of the fact that since the translation text has to function in a language different from that of the source text, not only cultures, but also functions of source and target texts may be different. Whereas the instructing function of an instruction manual or the informative function of a scientific article are usually the same for the text in both cultures, an election campaign speech of a politician, may have a predominantly appellative function in the source culture and an informative one when translated for the target culture (Schäffer, 1995:2).

Translating involves not only a linguistic transfer of a text from the source to the target language, but also a cultural transfer from the source to the target culture. Translators are thus seen as culture mediators. In the education of future translators, great significance is placed on the development of a cultural competence (cf. Simonnœs, 2001).

By interpreting and comparing expressions, intentions, perception, and expectations of one cultural group with another, translators are mediators between two language communities and their cultures. As cultural mediators, translators establish and balance communication and facilitate understanding between people or groups with dissimilar cultural backgrounds. The role of cultural mediator requires a high degree of intercultural sensitivity and profound knowledge about society, history, folklore, traditions, customs and values, and communication and social skills, i.e. knowledge of norms that govern social relations. Flexibility in switching one’s cultural orientation is also very important (cf. Katan, 1999:12).

Another attribute attached to modern translators is that of the information broker. During their studies, translators come across a wide spectrum of translation science and culture-related training, increasing their linguistic, intercultural and technical competence and flexibility. In addition to this, they establish, develop and practice their ability to conduct multilingual information enquiries, and to process, filter, select and evaluate the source reliability of their search results (cf. Austermühl, 2001a:148).

The Internet enables fast access to high quality information. Search engines, online dictionaries, online encyclopedias, multilingual terminology databases and digital communication forms, such as e-mail, chatting, forums, and newsgroups comprise the translator’s spectrum of Internet-based translation tools (cf. Austermühl, 2001a, b).

1.2 Translation processes in the economy

The sector most influenced by globalization is the economic sector. Economic life is to a large extent internationalized. Interaction, communication and cooperation between people from different cultures take place constantly. High language and culture competence are sine qua non for successful international cooperation, project management and marketing communication.

Business communication is no longer a part of a specific culture, but rather transcultural communication, taking place between residents of the global village. Translators and interpreters could be described as language and culture mediators of culture specifics in the context of globalization (cf. Kelz, 2002).

As mentioned above, translators and interpreters are not only mediators between people and languages, but also between cultures. Comprehensive cultural skills, not only superficial knowledge of facts and figures, are thus a presupposition of exercising these two professions and a basic element of translation studies and preparation for the future career. Translation can therefore be regarded as a special form of intercultural communication.

Translators that combine proficient language skills with knowledge of communication preferences, behavior patterns and appreciated values of the target culture can contribute to the elimination of communication difficulties and barriers, misunderstandings and potential conflicts in intercultural contacts between personnel, customers and cooperation partners (cf. Kelz, 2002).

A relatively new area of translation is the localization of computer software and websites. Localization is linked to the translation needs generated by global markets and informational flows. The Localisation Resources Centre (1997) provides one of the first definitions giving an insight into the field of software localization:

“Software localization covers many different aspects of industrial and academic activity, ranging from the manufacture of diskettes and CD-ROMs, through translation, engineering and testing software applications, to the complete management of complex projects taking place simultaneously, sometimes in a dozen different locations all over the world, involving people working in different languages and cultures” (cf. Cronin, 2003:13).

Website localization is the process of adapting text, content and web design to specific target audience needs, expectations and preferences. Website translation involves e-marketing concepts, strategies and tactics to appeal to different linguistic and cultural groups, both nationally and internationally.

Ideally, a website is internationalized before it is localized. Internationalization implies designing and implementing a product that is as culturally “neutral’” as possible, so that it can be easily localized, i.e. adapted to a specific culture. This adaptation process is what is being referred to as localization, i.e. modifying a product after taking into consideration different linguistic and cultural variables. w1

According to the Localisation Standards Industry Association (LISA) localization differs from traditional translation in scope:

“It is certainly true that localization involves translation (e.g. of manuals and other documentations, screens, help texts, and error messages). Equally, product names may have to be changed to avoid unfortunate associations in the target language. However, the process also requires other non-linguistic skills.

On the software programming side, screen dialog boxes and field lengths may have to be altered; date, time and currency formats changed; delimiters for figures replaced; and icons and colors adapted; to give only a few examples. What is more, in the case of bi-directional languages (such as Arabic and Hebrew) and double-byte character sets (such as those for Chinese, Japanese and Korean), more extensive reprogramming may be required to ensure that localized text and numerals are displayed correctly on the target platforms.

On the content side, programs often have to be changed to conform to national and cultural norms. In multimedia applications the color, size, and shape of objects such as coins and notes, taxis, telephones and mailboxes, and buses and ambulances, traditionally vary from country to country. Vehicles may suddenly have to drive on the other side of the road, while dress codes will vary, and symbols take on a new significance. Similarly, mainstream business applications such as address databases and financial accounting packages, have to be adapted to the procedures and conventions applicable in their new environments.

Multiple-language Web content and e-Business sites increase the complexity of enterprise globalization as well as the products and services localization process”. w2

In summary, several decades ago translation and interpreting were language-centered. Recent developments in the praxis of translation led, among other things, to a central position of culture within translation studies, viewing culture as the whole of conventions and norms that characterizes the behavior of society members. As language is a part of culture, translation is a process of cultural transfer (cf. Löwe, 2002).

2 Culture

2.1 Definitions and concepts of culture

Culture is a complex, dynamic and diverse social phenomenon.

“Think of culture as everything you would need to know and do so as not stand out as a ‘stranger’ in a foreign land” (Jandt, 1995:6).

This is only one of many different definitions of culture. 1871 in his classic study Culture, Tylor defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Hess-Lüttich, 1994:86).

Kluckhohn (1951) sees culture as “patterned ways of thinking, feeling and reacting, acquired and transmitted mainly by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values” (Clyne, 1996:3,4).

Kluckhohn’s definition lays emphasis to the status and role systems in which people develop their identity: “A culture refers to the distinctive way of life of a group of people, their designs for living” (Hess-Lüttich, 1994:87).

Another central definition of culture is given by anthropologist Goodenough, who views culture as “what people have to learn as distinct from their biological heritage” (1964):

“ … a society’s culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members, and do so in any role that they accept for any one of themselves. […] it does not consist of things, people, behavior, or emotions. It is rather an organization of these things” (Floros, 2001:76).

Redder and Rehbein (1987) opt for a pragmatic notion of culture as an “ensemble” of social experiences, thought structures, expectations, and practices of action, which has the quality of a “mental apparatus”.

Another useful definition is that of Hofstede (1991) who views culture as a “collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another” (cf. Clyne, 1996:4).

According to Samovar (2006:10), culture provides the rules for living and functioning effectively in a particular society:

“We learn the rules of our own culture as a matter of course, beginning at birth and continuing throughout life. As a result, the rules are ingrained in our subconscious, enabling us to react to familiar situations without thinking. It is when we enter another culture, with different rules, that problems begin to arise”.

Culture includes all achievements in social life, shared by a nation and transferred from one generation to another (cf. Berndt, 2003:27). Culture shapes our way of thinking, feeling and acting, and therefore influences human behavior. Culture also determines which things we consider to be good, important and desirable. In turn, our believes and attitudes reflect our cultural and social values (cf. Podsiadlowski, 2004:5).

Culture is a system of norms, values and ideas. Furthermore, culture includes artifacts – i.e. material components of a culture, including books, computers, tools, buildings, and specific products – and other meaningful symbols that help individuals communicate, interpret and evaluate as members of a society (cf. Blackwell, 2001). This is referred to as material or symbolic culture.

Culture is not a fixed system, but rather a dynamic process. Dress, food and housing standards, as well as attitudes towards family, marriage, sex, education and many other matters are often subject to change (cf. McLaren, 1998:17).

In modern multicultural societies, such as the British and the Danish ones, the concept of culture doesn’t describe a coherent and uniform entity within the boundaries of a nation. In such societies, culture is instead viewed as a complex, heterogeneous, dynamic phenomenon, marked by continual changes (cf. Küpers, 2000:75).

2.2 Language

Language is the principal manifestation of a culture and people’s values systems determine the way they use language (cf. Clyne, 1996:1).

Language is a complex sign system of written and spoken, symbolic signs. It is founded upon verbal conventions. Language consists of a set of symbols that a cultural group has arbitrarily agreed upon in order to denominate places, objects, events, emotions and experiences (cf. Samovar, 2006:13).

Apart from its pragmatic function of communicating among other things experiences, emotional responses and feelings or warnings of imminent danger, language also has an aesthetic function, which gives us the capacity to be creative, sing songs or recite poetry (cf. Beck, 2002).

Clyne (1996:2) summarizes various major functions that language fulfills:

a. It is the most important medium of communication. It gives expression to ideas, emotions, information, attitudes and prejudices.
b. It is a means of identification, indicating group membership and at the same time marking group boundaries.
c. It is a means of cognitive and conceptual development.
d. It is an instrument of action. As Austin (1962) has shown, certain acts, such as promises and apologies, are performed purely linguistically through an explicit expression, like for example in the sentence I apologize for my behavior.

Texts are linguistic expressions of complex acts. The Speech Act Theory of Austin (1962) and Searle (1969) classifies texts into different text types according to their function and intention of their author: information texts (news, articles, reports), appellative texts (advertisements, commentaries), obligation texts (contracts), contact texts (birthday cards, thank you notes, e-mails) and declaration texts (testaments).

At this point it is relevant to mention two definitions of the tem text types. The first one comes from de Beaugrande and Dressler (1981):

“Text types are classes of texts with certain structural and functional characteristics, which have been established as very frequently used conventional patterns”.

The second definitions comes from Stubbs (1996):

“Text types or genres are events, which define the culture. They are conventional ways of expressing meanings: purposeful, goal-directed language activities […], which form patterns of meaning in the social world” (Gieszinger, 2000:15).

Text and different text types communicate culture. As Hofstede (1980:34) remarked, language is “the most clearly recognizable part of culture”. Cultural phenomena are mainly not directly accessible, but rather accessible through language. Translation is the transfer of cultural contents from one language to another. There are culture-specific conventions for different text types. Every culture has standardized linguistic expressions for writing birthday greetings, an announcement or a curriculum vitae (cf. Götze, 2004:34).

According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, developed in the 1960s by Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Whorf, language shapes thought and communication patterns and thus controls culture (cf. McLaren, 1998).

Sapir (1912) and Whorf (1939-1940) reflected the interdependent relation of language and culture stating that certain linguistic elements determine certain cultural aspects and vice versa. The Inuit have, for example, numerous words for snow and ice but none (only two metaphors) for sand (cf. Götze, 2004:35). Sociologist Whorf has shown that language is not just a tool of communication but a window on cultural processes (cf. Landis, 2004). Sapir asserted that language can only be interpreted within a cultural framework.

Another aspect of the connection between language and culture derives from the study of stereotypes and prejudices. Stereotypes are linguistic utterances that oversimplify and generalize, are reduced to one or a few characteristics ignoring the complexity of people and cultures and are resistant against change, even if there’s little or no truth in them (cf. Götze, 2004:39).

One of the theorists trying to explain how language is learned is psycholinguist Noam Chomsky. His basic thesis is that people are born with an innate mechanism, called universal grammar, enabling them to learn language. In order to generate sentences we use vocabulary. We can generate a potentially limitless number of sentences, but not all of them will make sense, even if we follow grammar and syntax conventions. Chomsky gives the following example to illustrate this:

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Although grammatically and syntactically correct, this sentence makes no sense (cf. Beck, 2002:146).

A problematic category of terms, which learners of a foreign language come across, is that of faux amis or false friends, i.e. words and phrases existing in a similar form in one’s own language, but with a different meaning (cf. McLaren, 1998:117). The word bulimia means insatiable hunger in Greek, but the English language meaning signifies the eating disorder of repeatedly eating too much and then forcing one’s self to vomit.

Culture and language cannot exist without each other. It is through language that people share their views and values, establish and preserve a culture, evolve it and pass it on to succeeding generations. In turn, culture helps people to establish, develop and perpetuate their language (cf. Samovar, 2006:13).

2.3 Cultural differences

The following dialogue from the film Pulp Fiction illustrates some cultural differences that struck American director Quentin Tarantino in Europe:

“But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?”


“It’s the little differences ... In Paris you can buy a beer in a McDonald’s … And you know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in Paris?”

“No. They don’t call it a quarter pounder with cheese?”

“No, they’ve got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the fuck a quarter pounder is.”

“So, what would they call it?”

“A Royale with cheese.”

“A Royale with cheese?”

“That’s right.”

“And what do they call a Big Mac?”

“A Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.”

“Le Big Mac.”

[laughter] (Katan, 1999: 23).

According to Mayer (2000), cultural differences can be divided into intra- and intercultural. In the context of intracultural comparison, important differential variables are gender, age, income and denomination. Intercultural differences exist between two or most different cultures, based mostly on nationality and language and expanding to many other areas.

One important cultural difference is the distinction between high and low context culture, first analyzed by Edward T. Hall. Hall defines context as everything surrounding an event. Both high and low contexts exist in all cultures, but one of them predominates. According to Hall’s definition (1987):

“A high-context (HC) communication or message is one in which most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. A low-context (LC) communication is just the opposite; i.e. the mass of the information is vested in the explicit code. Twins who have grown up together can and do communicate more economically (HC) than two lawyers in a courtroom during a trial, a mathematician programming a computer, two politicians drafting legislation, two administrators writing a regulation or a child trying to explain to his mother why he got into a fight” (McLaren, 1998:18).

Asian and indigenous cultures tend to be high context cultures, whereas Western cultures, like those of the United States and Europe tend to be low context cultures. In high context cultures most of the information is in the contextual setting or the person, while in low context cultures most of the information is recorded in writing and explicitly transmitted via language itself.

Another cultural difference is the distinction between individualism and collectivism. Again, in most cultures both tendencies are represented but one is more common than the other; no culture is completely individualist or collectivist. Individualists are mostly competitive and collectivists, cooperative. In a predominantly individualist society, there is a clear separation between work and leisure. In the East, that is not the case; an employer could be expected to be responsible for health, family and personal problems of employees (cf. McLaren, 1998).

In individualist cultures people perceive themselves as being unique and autonomous, whereas in collectivist cultures they perceive themselves as being like everybody else and as part of a group (cf. Triandis, 2004:xii).

Research has shown that there are cultural differences in the way people communicate as well. For instance, members of low context cultures communicate in a direct and mainly verbal way, while members of high context cultures convey limited information in coded and often ambiguous messages, preferring to communicate for example via non-verbal communication.

Even between people from different countries speaking the same language, there are preferences for certain linguistic elements that can potentially lead to misunderstandings or impede communication. For example, a polite order expressed in the form of a question may not come across as such when in the other country polite orders are being expressed in a more direct way (cf. Ward, 2001).

2.4 Culture shock

Culture shock is probably a term that many people visiting a new country, whether for a short period of time as tourists, business travelers or students, or for a longer period as immigrants, are familiar with. Expatriate business people, diplomats, members of the armed forces, students, volunteers, aid workers, and missionaries comprise the group of sojourners, i.e. people leaving their own countries to relocate abroad for an unspecified, though relatively short, period of time, varying from 6 months to 5 years.

“Consequently, student and business sojourners are usually more committed than tourists to their new location, but less involved than immigrants or resettled refugees. Like immigrants, they voluntarily relocate abroad; however, ‘returning home’ is anticipated and planned” (cf. Ward, 2001:142).

Culture shock is the disorientation caused by being exposed to an unfamiliar setting. Sojourners often face different climatic conditions, language and communication barriers, unfamiliar attitudes towards time and space, food, accommodation, dress, customs, and different ideas about cleanliness, privacy, formality, transport, medicine and tips (cf. McLaren, 1998).

Many people staying abroad for a longer period suddenly realize the importance of things and rituals of everyday life considered as matters of course in their own country. Some begin conducting lists of “things they don’t have here” and “things you can’t do here” in their minds. It may be a favorite food, a certain type of service, books and television programs in the native language, a favorite sport or pastime. But by making little adjustments every day, most people manage to substitute them with new elements or simply do without them (cf. Storti, 2001:4).

Some of the extreme affective responses associated with the exposure to different cultural settings are confusion, anxiety, disorientation, suspicion, bewilderment, perplexity and an intense desire to be elsewhere. Oberg (1960) described the overwhelming feelings of people being more or less suddenly exposed to a completely unfamiliar setting, differentiating between “four phases of emotional reactions associated with cross-cultural sojourns:

1. the ‘honeymoon’, with emphasis on the initial reactions of euphoria, enchantment, fascination, and enthusiasm;
2. the crisis, characterized by feelings of inadequacy, frustration, anxiety and anger;
3. the recovery, including crisis resolution and culture learning; and finally,
4. the adjustment, reflecting enjoyment of and functional competence in the new environment” (cf. Ward, 2001:80,270).

2.5 Ethnocentrism

Most people view their own culture as the standard and the center of the world. Cultural anthropologists denominate this phenomenon as ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the unconscious tendency to view other nations through the personal perspective and to regard proper customs and norms as standards (cf. Maletzke, 1996:23).

The first to analyze the concept of ethnocentrism was the sociologist William Graham Summer. In 1906, he defined the term as “the view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it”. It is natural to see things from one’s own point of view. Ethnocentrism is, like culture, an acquired and often unconscious phenomenon. Similarity of culture often determines our attitudes to others (cf. McLaren, 1998:40).

The opposite of ethnocentrism is exoticism. Motivated by the wish and the dream to leave one’s country, exoticism over-evaluates other countries, cultures and people. Exoticists, driven by the dissatisfaction and frustration caused by their own country, think of another country as a “lost paradise” and feel fascinated by it (cf. Ladmiral, 2000:136).

2.6 Stereotypes

A stereotype is a mostly false and rigid judgment of social facts or people that are connected with a negative evaluation like devaluation, rejection, disapproval and discrimination.

Stereotypes consist of a binding statement without or with little preceding empirical argumentation. They contrast two cultures or two groups on the basis of a single dimension through oversimplified, generalized statements that assign a positive value to one’s culture or group and a negative value to the other culture or group.

Negative characteristics and qualities are attributed not only to nations, ethnic groups, minorities, and people, but also to objects, institutions and products, mostly on the basis of unfounded prejudgment and lack of personal experience.

As a result, stereotyping is a potential source of obstruction to successful intercultural communication, because it prevents people from bridging the gap between different cultures. Stereotypes may also potentially impede effective international relations (cf. Thomas, 2004, Scollon, 2002).

A computer animation sent by e-mail around Europe recently portrays the Italians as “crazy drivers, inaccessible bureaucrats, corrupt politicians” and obsessed with endless variations of coffee. p1

Stereotypes are so widely used because they fulfill a variety of functions. The most important ones are:

a. Orientation function. Stereotypes facilitate a fast and precise orientation in a complex social environment. They serve fast categorization and judgment of people and objects.
b. Adaptation function. Stereotypes help people adapt quickly to the prevailing living conditions, opinions, values systems and norm conventions of one’s own culture.
c. Defense function. Stereotypes serve the maintenance of a positive self-image and defense against feelings of guilt, inner psychic conflicts and self-criticism. People who reject and discriminate against others try to boost in this way their own self-esteem.
d. Definition and identity function. People sharing the same stereotypes promote the notion of togetherness and mutual sympathy. They distance themselves from negatively prejudged “outsiders”.
e. Justification function. Those using stereotypes try to justify their rejecting attitudes towards certain people (cf. Thomas, 2004:159).

However, stereotypes aren’t always negative; there are also positive stereotypes. Germans, for example are traditionally described as honest, hard working, punctual, organized, reliable and responsible.

3 Communication

3.1 Definitions and components of communication

Communication is the exchange of meanings between individuals through a common system of symbols. w3 The precondition of intercultural competence is communication competence.

Communication competence is the ability to act verbally in certain social situations, i.e. having good command of, selecting and combining different linguistic elements in order to interact. Some factors that influence, for example, the words we select when we speak are our culture, our state of mind, our social status, our norms and moral concepts (cf. Küpers, 2000:75).

Scheflen (1974) defined communication as “an organized, standardized, culturally patterned system of behavior that sustains, regulates and makes possible human relationships”. For humans, culture and communication are acquired simultaneously – neither exists without the other. Culture, by definition, is a shared, consensual way of life, and this sharing and consensus are made possible only through communication. In turn, humans communicate in a cultural environment that constrains the form and nature of communication (cf. Ting-Tomey, 1989:20).

Culture creates individual and social identity through language; language is a cultural reflection. Communicative and more specifically language interaction with our environment help us develop our self-awareness and find our identity. Verbal communication is a complicated process, which may involve the use of different national languages, codes, dialects, technical languages or a lingua franca.

Language is also an instrument of power. Strategic and success-oriented communication not only in the field of politics or economics, but also in everyday life aims often at pursuing pre-set goals rather than at promoting understanding between communication partners (cf. Küpers, 2000).

Communication is a basic human need; all cultures use verbal and non-verbal communication both consciously and unconsciously. Three important functions of communication are expressing thoughts and desires, establishing communion with others and sharing knowledge (cf. Ting-Tomey, 1989).

The basic elements that comprise every communication process are the sender, the message, the medium and the receiver. The first component of communication is the sender, i.e. the individual or group originating the message. A sender is someone with a personal, social, occupational, informational or other need or desire to communicate with others.

The sender selects the target group, formulates the message in an appropriate way and decides which medium should be used to get the message across. When sending the message, the sender chooses certain words or non-verbal elements [decoding]. When receiving the message, the receiver compares it with established thought patterns, interests, and personal experiences in order to understand its meaning [decoding].

The receiver, or intended recipient of the message, is the locus for creating the meaning. Communication is often characterized as receiver-based, because the receiver interprets the message and assigns meaning to it, which may be the same or different from what the sender proposed (cf. Samovar, 2006, Steffens: 1982).

The following scheme illustrates the communication process:

Sender è encoding è Message è decoding è Receiver

Fig. 1: Communication model

3.2 Communication media and forms

Media of communication, are means of dissemination of fact, opinion, and entertainment. The term mass media refers to the media specifically designed to reach a very large audience through nationwide and worldwide radio and television networks, the Internet and mass-circulation of newspapers and magazines. w4

Media shape the way we perceive ourselves and evaluate others. They also influence our interaction with members of other groups, nations, religions, cultures and ethnicities.

Mass media in general, and television in particular, play a decisive role in our socialization, i.e. the processes, by which we develop our values, motivations and habitual activities. Media shape our knowledge, feelings, communication and experiences about politics and the economy. They are instruments of reality construction. As an ad slogan declared already in the 50’s, television is “the window to the world”. In this sense, media are windows to culture, because they give insight in various culture and phenomena around the globe. For many viewers, seeing is believing: objects and events seen in television are regarded as real and natural (cf. Blackwell, 2001, Schmidt S., 1995).

According to Cortes (2004) media transmit information about different cultures and intercultural topics, and this way they can contribute to the development of better understanding of and insights into dimensions and problems of intercultural relations. By eliminating restrictions of space and time, the media have contributed significantly to intercultural thinking, feeling, and acting.

CNN (Cable News Network) is one of the best-known examples of a internationally represented, and to a large extent, standardized information channel. Only a few years after its establishment in 1985, it became the first internationally organized news broadcast network. CNN broadcasts news 24 hours a day in all relevant economic zones of the globe. The program is mainly produced in Atlanta, USA, and in London and transmitted via satellite (cf. Backhaus, 2003:72).

A controversial topic in the context of communication is the media’s ability to bring private life into the public (cf. Stevenson, 2002:199). From Big Brother formats to talk shows and from gossip TV programs to tabloids, the lives of celebrities or ordinary people, who are willing to share their most private matters with a wide audience and expose personal moments to the camera, have become a part of public cultures.

Canadian communications theorist, Marshall McLuhan formulated a rather provocative thesis about media communication that startled the world media landscape when he stated that the medium is the message. In this manner, McLuhan declared his conviction that the most important component of communication is not the content but the medium through which the contact is being conveyed. McLuhan framed the study of technical forms of media and the way they influence human perception as a central issue of modern media studies (cf. Stevenson, 2002:121).

According to McLuhan, the most important effect of communication media is their influence on habits of perception and thinking. In his book Understanding Media (1964) McLuhan wrote: “The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without resistance” (Severin, 2001:280).

Another famous opinion of McLuhan was that television is going to “retribalize” us from individual nation states to a global village. McLuhan views modern technologies not as alienating, but as extensions of the human body and nervous system. Just like the wheel is considered as an extension of the foot and clothing as the technical projection of the skin, the book is conceptualized as an outgrowth of the eye, and radio as the technological expression of the ear (cf. Stevenson, 2002:122).

Communication forms change over the course of time. Old TV programs often appear antiquated and somewhat disconcerting to us, newspapers change their layouts and writing e-mail messages changes our writing habits.

Communication forms are determined by media and institutions, and by role constellations of communication participants. The history of communication forms includes both the history of dialogue forms and different text types, such as travel accounts and epic forms from the Middle Ages, newspaper articles of the 17th century, early TV programs etc. (cf. Fritz, 2000).

In the mid-18th century, a letter from Europe may have needed about 40 days to reach its recipient in the United States. New technologies like telephones, mobile phones, the Internet and live broadcasts made instantaneous and immediate communication possible (cf. Stevenson, 2002:200).

The dominance of print culture began with the appearance of the Gutenberg Bible and revolutionized communication patterns:

“… the portable medium of print enabled ideas and perspectives to be circulated across space. In terms of time, the dominance of a writing culture had shortened human memories, because information now could be stored in the durable medium of the book”.

Print culture, through the hegemony of typography dominated over oral cultures and gave communication a new form:

“Whereas oral cultures allowed the rich interplay of all senses, printed culture abstracted writing from speech and promoted the visual component of the human organism. The dominance of written forms of communication cultivated a rational culture that was linear, uniform, and infinitely repeatable”.

The transition to electronic forms of communication launched a new era of communication. The new media contributed to the creation of a shared culture that has much in common with that of oral societies:

“The global village has swept aside the hierarchical, uniform and individualizing culture of print production and replaced it with a more tactile culture of simultaneous happenings” (cf. Stevenson, 2002:122,123,125).

Digitality, as a new, innovative form of gaining, processing, communicating and using information, has marked a paradigm shift in the new media world (cf. Bittner, 2003). Digital technology is the basis of Internet communication forms and other digitally operating technologies that changed media reality: digital televisions and cameras, DVD s (Digital Video Disk) and DVD players and recorders, mobile telecommunications and the text-based communication form of SMS (Short Message Service), smartphones.

Smartphones are devices that combine personal information management with mobile phone capabilities. In the U.S., smartphones tend to be PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) with phone capabilities, whereas those in Europe and Japan tend to be phones with PDA capabilities. Smartphones include features like Internet access, scheduling software, integrated camera, and contact management. w5

The digital paradigm opens new perspectives concerning communication, production, distribution, education and publication. Digital media expand and modify the established media spectrum and traditional means of communication (cf. Bittner, 2003).

According to Thomas (2003), knowledge is the driving force of global change and competitiveness. Electronic media and modern means of communication disband local knowledge monopolies by facilitating international knowledge transfer. The digital revolution transgresses boundaries between regions, countries and even continents, promotes communication between governments and international organizations, opens new, worldwide communication channels, offers access to information at a global level and creates a new relationship between a state and its citizens.

Two terms often mentioned in the context of electronic media are the terms information and communications technology and information highway.

Information and communications technology (ICT) includes all communication devices or applications, from radio, television, and cellular phones to computer and network hardware and software, satellite systems etc. ICT also includes the various services and applications associated with them, such as videoconferencing and distance learning. w6

The information highway is a term referring to the Internet and connected to U.S. poltician and former vice president Al Gore. In 1994, Al Gore stated in his speech at the International Telecommunications Union Conference:

“we now have at hand the technological breakthroughs and economic means to bring all the communities of the world together. We now can at last create a planetary information network that transmits messages and images with the speed of light from the largest city to the smallest village on every continent. […]The Global Information Infrastructure will help educate our children and allow us to exchange ideas within a community and among nations. It will be a means by which families and friends will transcend the barriers of time and distance. It will make possible a global information marketplace, where consumers can buy or sell products”. w7

Another important communication form is the so-called cyber communication, through the electronic mass medium of Internet.

Two key concepts in digital communication are the terms cyberspace and virtual reality. Cyberspace is an inclusive term for the Internet, the WWW, e-mail, discussion groups and forums, chat rooms and interactive multiplayer games. Benedikt (1991) defined cyberspace as

“a globally networked, computer-sustained, computer-accessed, multidimensional, artificial, or ‘virtual’ reality. In this reality, to which every computer is a window, seen or heard objects are neither physical nor, necessarily, representations of physical objects but are, rather, in form, character, and action, made up of data, of pure information” (Severin, 2001:368).

An interesting aspect of digital, and more specifically e-mail and chat communication, is the use of so-called emoticons that fulfill expressive-emotive, evaluative and communicative-regulative functions. The use of emoticons such as smileys can replace other means of verbal and non-verbal communication, expressing what particles, interjections, prosody, gestures and facial expressions normally communicate (cf. Bittner, 2003:36).

Virtual reality refers to the way a computer can simulate an experience that is indistinguishable from reality. Virtual reality involves interactivity and multimedia operating at a very high level. One of the purest forms of virtual reality are flight simulators used to train pilots. Computers are not yet capable of providing virtual reality experiences, but some computer games with realistic graphics or films with advanced visual effects give the impression of entering a three-dimensional space (cf. Severin, 2001).

A few decades ago, virtual reality may have seemed a science fiction scenario, but as the famous Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez eloquently put it, the majority of the things that exist around us, from spoons to heart transplants, first existed in human imagination and then became reality (cf. Coley, 1997:15).


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Intercultural Communication and International Marketing: Corporate Advertising on the Internet
University of Heidelberg
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Intercultural, Communication, International, Marketing, Corporate, Advertising, Internet
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Natalia Magiati (Author), 2005, Intercultural Communication and International Marketing: Corporate Advertising on the Internet, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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