Although communications have become global through an increasing use of modern technologies, local cultural values are still embedded into each of us. Sending the wrong message, or a message deemed inappropriate by a given culture, could be potentially damaging for a brand.
Take the following advert for an erectile dysfunction treatment:
This U.S. advert follows observations made by ethnographers and various academic observers that communications in this country are often extremely explicit and very direct.
On another hand, here is an advert shown in the Middle East for another erectile dysfunction treatment:
Although one could argue the difference between these ads simply results from a different positioning between the two brands, there is probably more to it: Cultural value differences. Researchers such as Geert Hofstede have long observed that middle-eastern and Asian culture tend to favour high context communications, where a lot of the message is left unsaid, is implicit. This advert is a striking example of such communications. The erectile dysfunction treatment is promoted through suggestive and humorous scenes but little is shown. In contrast, fondling couples depicted in the American ad may not have been appropriate to air on Middle-Eastern TV. Moreover, text displayed during the US ad brings product attributes to the audience attention where the Middle-Eastern ad ignores factual information and entirely relies on the audience emotions.
Considering cultural differences is critical for global brand teams to optimise the implementation of their brand positioning and maximise their ROI in the different markets. These two adverts highlight how advertising and communication standards vary across the globe. Some cultures expect a high amount of explicit information whilst the same might be considered inappropriate in others. Marketers need to be aware of these different levels of communication and of what is expected/appropriate, in order to make the most of their marketing actions and maximise opportunities in each market.
The author: Axel Rousseau is brand scientist (SRE) at Branding-Science and has been working on international market research projects for the past 3 years. He has explored the influence of cultural differences in both academic studies and market research.