When a company, brand, or product is marketed within several countries, a significantly different approach to advertising must be made opposed to if it was only being sold within one country. A company’s awareness of the international advertising can greatly affect how well a product is accepted by its target audience and how well it sells. The most important aspect of global advertising is an understanding of culture. This involves considering the language barriers, the cultural significance of images and signs, and the applicability that a certain product may have within different countries.
Addressing these three factors, overall, can help to increase the appeal of a product or service; and it is essential that companies realize that implementing a standardized method of advertising is not always the most effective way to enter a foreign market. There have been several debates in regards to the regulation of global advertising. Two contrasting statements have been made—one that suggests that advertising standardization is the most profitable approach to international marketing, and another that promotes localization.
Those who support the standardization method “…argue that standardizing advertising can help maintain a uniform global strategy and image of the firm, maximize the firm’s cost advantage and meet a universal need of people across the world” (Zou and Volz 2010: 57). The adaption method, however, stresses that differences and barriers between cultures, spoken languages, historical contexts, and socio-economic factors between various countries affects the way in which advertising messages are perceived and translated.
It is therefore does not make sense to implement only one form of advertisement that is meant to span a variety of countries and cultures, because one single campaign cannot apply and appeal to every market worldwide. Perhaps the arguments in favor of standardizing international campaigns, particularly the language that is being used, stems from the fact that English has become the dominant language in the world.
The majority of advertisers and other people who work in the global marketing industry speak English, regardless of what is their country of origin; and it appears as if many advertisers are beginning to apply this theory to the consumers. Despite the widespread use of English and the fact that is the most commonly used language in advertising worldwide, the concept of advertising standardization has been widely criticized in favor of adaptation. It is somewhat hasty to assume, after all, that all people worldwide are fluent in English, simply because most of those working in the business sector happen to speak the language.
What about those in smaller towns or non-Western countries such as Cairo, Egypt? Egyptians who work in the tourist or hospitality industry are likely to speak English, but many of the average citizens—who are all potential consumers—will not necessarily speak English or be able to understand the writing. Studies have also shown that the use of a local language tends to appeal more to those who live in the area, especially within countries that perceive their spoken and written language to be a valuable part of their culture.
Hornikx, Van Meurs, and De Boer write that “…ads that appeal to important cultural values (such as independence in the United States or loyalty in Mexico) should be more persuasive than ads that appeal to relatively unimportant cultural values (such as loyalty in the United States or independence in Mexico)” (2010: 171). Empirical studies have also proven that ads using the local language and cultural values of a country tend to be favored as opposed to those with a standardized language and advertising message (Hornikx, Van Meurs, and De Boer 2010: 171).
Although it is clear that language adaption is important, the preference that locals have for their language does not imply that advertisers should not use English in foreign countries. They simply need to use English in a way that is effective in conveying the message behind a campaign, and have an understanding of how the English language is perceived in each particular market they are trying to enter. Among Chinese consumers who frequently purchase upscale or luxury goods, global advertising, brands, and products tend to be preferred over domestic good.
This is because in Chinese culture, in particular, “…global advertising elements are valued as signs or surrogates for status, cosmopolitanism, excitement, modernity, quality, technology, and beauty” (Zou and Belk 2004: 71). If advertisers are going to use English, however, it is crucial that they simplify the language as much as possible in order to minimize the risk of misinterpretation. There is no point in using a standardized advertising campaign in China if nobody is going to understand what it says.
In the Netherlands, the use of English slogans in advertising was also preferred to Dutch, so long as the slogans were easy to read and translate (Louhiala-Salminen and Rogerson-Revell 2010: 95). This shows how the use of English, in many countries, could actually be beneficial and profitable for a company; but since not all countries perceive English the same way, it is important for advertisers to understand how and English campaign will be accepted within their target market.
English will not necessarily be preferred to the local language, nor will global brands necessarily be favored over domestic products— which proves that language adaptation should still be used in some situations as opposed to absolute language standardization. Along with deciding whether or not the local language should be used in an international advertising campaign, companies need to consider the visuals that they are using. What is the significance of the images within that culture?
Could they possibly be negatively misinterpreted? What do the local consumers consider to be visually appealing? All of these factors, of course, differ between countries and cultures. Studies have shown that there is a significant difference between the way in which high-context cultures and low-context cultures interpret ads. These high-context cultures include China, Japan, the Mediterranean, and Arab nations, where a lot of information is left unspoken and messages are often coded.
Low-context cultures, however, refer to the United States, Germany, the UK, and other Western European countries. In these countries, everything is relatively straight-forward and messages are made clear (An 2007: 307). An describes the findings from many studies, which all “…imply that the idea of employing advertising visuals that reflect the communication styles of a particular national market appears to be a promising strategy to effectively reach consumers around the world” (2007: 303).
This suggests that multinational advertisers should seek to differentiate their visuals between Eastern and Western cultures if they wish to make a product or service appeal to the people. In the United States, for example, celebrities—from singers, to socialites, to athletes—dominate magazine pages, commercials, and billboards as the spokes models for various brands. This tends to attract the attention of the American public, as they recognize the celebrities and typically create a positive association between that celebrity and the product.
In the Middle East, however, using a celebrity athlete to represent a box of cereal will not make that cereal appear any more appealing than if the box were blank. Advertisers, instead, must determine what will be visually pleasing to consumers in countries that have different values than those from more Western countries. In addition to finding what a will attract people in terms of advertising visuals, it is essential to be and respectful of cultural beliefs and customs. Consider countries in the Middle East, where Islam is a dominant part of society.
This religion stresses modesty, especially amongst women. Kalliny et al describe how in countries such as Saudi Arabia, “…women are not allowed to walk in the streets with their faces uncovered… [and there are] women wearing long clothing in 83 percent of Arabic magazine advertisements showing women, compared to the 29 percent in U. S. advertisements” (2008: 218). With female modesty being so important within certain cultures, it is extremely important that multinational advertisers be cautious about whether their visuals will be appropriate.
It would not be a good choice, for example, for an advertiser to market a brand of women’s perfume in Saudi Arabia with an enormous billboard showing Britney Spears wearing a bikini and holding a bottle of perfume. This would be considered offensive and would not be beneficial for the popularity of a product. The Japanese cosmetics industry also presents an interesting example of the importance of visual marketing and how advertisers need to pay attention to what will efficiently sell a product. As the second largest market in the world in terms of cosmetics, it was estimated to be worth roughly 1. trillion yen back in 2003 (Barnes and Yamamoto 2008: 299).
Research regarding what type of models Japanese women prefer in beauty campaigns indicated a surprising fact. Although white models are widely used in Japan, because they are considered to be the ideal form of beauty, Japanese women actually preferred to buy cosmetics that used Japanese models in the advertisements. Barnes and Yamamoto discuss how this is due to white models not being applicable to Japanese women in terms of physical beauty. The Japanese, for example, value fair complexions, while Westerners typically prefer tans.
Additionally, “…since the Japanese facial structure is different from that of Westerners, they will not become similar in appearance if they use the same make-up as a Western model” (2008: 310). This proves how a choice of visual representation in an advertising campaign can greatly affect how a product is accepted within different countries, and how advertisers must adjust their images or models accordingly. As research within the Japanese beauty industry has shown, applicability is crucial in global advertising. If a product or service has no value, necessity, or appeal in a certain country, hen consumers will not purchase the product.
An advertisement’s message and content, therefore, is important and can determine how much interest is generated amongst consumers. In one particular study involving 40 different advertising campaigns and 1200 consumers, the significance of content was examined. Van Den Putte states that the study indicates that “…after controlling for the effect of previous purchase behavior, the effect of message content strategy is generally larger than the effect of advertising expenditure” (2009: 669).
This shows how it is not necessarily a campaign’s budget that determines the success of a product, but the message and content that it contains. Alcohol advertisements have been successful in tailoring their ads to suit the requirements of different countries and cultures. One example is the comparison of alcohol advertisements between the United Kingdom and Ukraine. Beefeater Dry Gin, a spirit brand that often appears in GQ magazine, markets their gin in Britain quite minimally. Their ad consists of a lime splashing into a bottle of gin, with the splash pattern forming the British flag.
The slogan simply reads “Refreshingly London”, with one more line that says “Distilled in London since 1820” (Wolburg and Venger 2009: 15). That is all that is needed in order for British consumers to understand the product and find some sort of value in the liquor. In Ukraine, however, alcohol companies have to take a much different approach. Wolburg and Venger state that, because drinking has not been instilled as a cultural norm in Ukrainian society, “…marketers have had to educate Ukrainians about drinking various alcoholic beverages.
Ads, magazine articles, and Web sites must not only teach Ukrainians how these drinks are prepared and consumed; they must also explain what makes certain brands authentic” (2009: 15). This involves the importance of cultural applicability—if alcohol advertisers do not understand the need to educate certain consumer markets about their product in detail, then consumers will not see a need for the product altogether. McDonalds has been one of the most successful companies in terms of launching their fast-food chains globally and adjusting their products and advertising campaigns to appeal to local consumers.
In India, for example, many of the people do not eat beef; so to increase its appeal, McDonalds in India sells a lamb burger as part of its menu, and markets its fish fillet sandwich much more than it does in the United States. It also utilizes many small, local farmers and food suppliers in order to make the company seem more localized and appealing to the Indian consumer base (Sarin and Barrows 2005: 23). The original, American version of McDonalds would most likely have been unsuccessful in countries such as India if the company had not made some adjustments.
If McDonalds in Indian maintained the same American menu, then the Indian public would undoubtedly not have been as accepting of the brand and its products. Not only was the company culturally sensitive to the dietary restrictions that many Indian people have due to religious meanings, but it also used local suppliers as an acculturation strategy. With a menu that conforms to the eating habits of India, along with the use of their own famers and suppliers, McDonalds has become well-adjusted to the global community and has effectively made itself applicable to a wide variety of cultures and consumers.
Culture is the most important factor in any advertising campaign, regardless of its origin. Advertisers cannot simply use one campaign and expect it to be accepted, appealing, and applicable to every country. Standardization also forfeits the competitive edge that one brand may have over another if it is able to successfully integrate its product into a foreign market. Paying attention to the language, visuals, and significance of a product is essential in global advertising, and advertisers must alter their campaign in order to better suit the tastes and values of individual cultures.