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Marketing Ambiguity in Cross-Cultural Communication: Commercials – Part 2


Effective commercial campaigns are critically important; otherwise, ineffective promotions will lead to failures and disappointments. This section will discuss major components of successful commercials, mainly related to global settings.

Taking into Account Norms and Expectations of Viewers

Marketing messages must be in harmony with the norms and expectations of the target market. For example, in general, Japanese, compared with Europeans and North Americans, prefer to see a commercial that mostly generates feelings rather than facts.4 So in Japan, advertisements about the performance and price of a product, particularly those that concern comparison with the competition, are not a common practice. Therefore, if a commercial is successful in the United States, that does not secure the same results in Japan.

What makes the matter more complex is that music in an advertisement may evoke different feelings and sentiments from one cultural setting to another. A soft drink company advertised its product with hip-hop and rap music in a few industrialized countries. The campaign resulted in great success. The soft drink company decided to continue with the same approach in one of the emerging markets. Soon it realized that the customers preferred native traditional music in the advertisements.

Regard for Legal Aspects of Commercials

Launching a commercial campaign in a new market necessitates careful inquiry into legal constraints.

As an illustration, in 1973, the Federal Trade Commission clarified that comparative advertisement is not an unfair practice.5 However, in many countries, including some in Western Europe, comparing one brand with another is prohibited.

Which products can or cannot be advertised is also an important consideration. J. Thomas Russell and W. Ronald Lane pointed out that “For example, fresh eggs may not be advertised in France, and cruise advertising is not allowed in Italy.”

Marketers should also be cognizant of nudity or messages with sexual connotations in their advertisements. The extent to which these approaches can be practiced varies significantly across countries.

Decision-Making Process

In almost any book on management or organizational behavior, a section is devoted to centralized and decentralized decision making. From an organizational perspective, centralized decision making refers to the authority to make decisions by one or a few individuals. Contrary to this is decentralized decision making, in which delegation of authority takes place. This is when decision makers pass on power to others at a lower echelon in the organization.

Centralized decision making has its own advantages. It delivers more uniformity of delivered goods and services. It also provides a better way to monitor pertinent performances and take corrective actions as needed. Moreover, it is a device to minimize duplication of the work process.

On the other hand, decentralized decision making delivers its own advantages. Decentralized decision making involves entrusting those who are involved in the work process with the authority to make decisions. That could help boost employee morale and motivation. Also, as a rule of thumb, decisions made by several individuals instead of one or a few individuals deliver better results.

In the case of promotional strategies in international landscapes, decentralized decision making has an underlying advantage. It is advisable to delegate the authority to make decisions to the local subsidiaries rather than decisions emanating from the headquarters. By using this process decisions can be made and implemented more efficiently by those who are more familiar with the local market. It is a particularly invaluable approach when a quick response to the competition, such as in pricing, is needed.

Appropriate Translation

More and more, international corporations are relying on well thought-out translations of a slogan or a message in order to prevent distorted meanings.

There is also a growing expansion of organizations that specialize in translation. Through both secondary and then primary research, they concern themselves with the meanings of a given message among various cultures.

Per Capita Income and Level of Literacy

There are a host of considerations in advertisement campaigns. The credibility of a given channel of advertisement is one thing that should be taken into account. For example, sending coupons or notices of sales to individuals is known as direct marketing by the marketers, whereas it is mostly known by the receivers as junk mail and is placed in the trash can. At this point, we refer to two important matters related to the effectiveness of advertisements, per capita income and consumer literacy rate.

Per Capita Income

There have been frequent situations in which marketing decisions have failed to take into account the purchasing power of their target market and have subsequently realized unfavorable outcomes in their commercial campaign. In many countries, the average yearly income per individual is less than $2,000.00. In such markets, advertisements for large packages of specific products or advertisements for expensive items may lose effectiveness.

With respect to per capita income, it is important to note that, for example, country A might have a higher per capita income than country B. But country B could be a more suitable market because of its higher purchasing ability. Why? It is because of the favorable monetary exchange rates and the pricing structures of that market. Therefore, it is important to look into both per capita income and the purchasing power of that given market.

Literacy Rate

Another important element to consider is the literacy level of the target market. Advertising with written descriptions might only be suitable in markets with a high literacy rate. In environments in which there is a low rate of literacy, written advertisements lose their effectiveness and, hence, should be in visual forms, such as billboards or similar channels of advertisements.

Concluding Points

Often, a major portion of marketing investment is allocated to promotional activities. Yet, it has always been a thorny task to measure and conclude the specific level of effectiveness of such activities. One thing is clear: promotional efforts are complicated, particularly with respect to international marketing. Considering a new market without ample knowledge of its socio-cultural and other environmental conditions is like walking in the dark in an unknown area. Therefore, a promotional campaign for a new market should be crafted with care to minimize the risk of unwanted consequences.


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