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Book recommendation everyone!

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Cutting Edge Advertising: how to create the world’s best print for brands in the 21st century by Jim Aitchison

Chapter 9 is my favourite part of this book. Well, mostly because it’s talking about global advertising which is my project’s topic.

When talking to a global consumer, it is indeed very important to recognize the differences in their culture as well as their needs and values (this is what I’ve been talking about in my past blog posts, about cultural sensitivity being the key to a successful advertising campaign) but sometimes it is also important to find their similarities. The author, Aitchison stated that by seeking similarities in their global target audiences, marketers can liberate themselves from the lowest common denominator in advertising (p. 344). However, all this really would depend on the brand and the product being advertise itself. If the product is universal, universal idea will work. For example, brand like Levi’s which is selling an all American lifestyle probably should not change their advertising campaign depending on the target audience because once they do so, they would no longer be an all American brand. Another important factor is the consumer/target audience. One example from the book is Levi’s core target audience, male and female aged between 15 to 19 years old all around the world. They may be from different culture with completely different values but they are very similar in the sense that they worry about same things, such as growing up, relationship with their parents and school. So as long as you find a key message that touches those areas, global advertising will become possible. In other words, while the execution of the ad itself must be culturally specific (language, talents, communication methods), the key message does not have to be different for different culture. Well, as I said earlier this will also depend on the product being advertise. Bottom line, there are many different factors to consider while planning a global advertising campaign and this chapter explains it very clearly and also in an interesting way.

While doing my research on disastrous global advertising campaign, I came across an interesting story. Gerber, a baby food supplier, decided to take their product global, to West African country to be exact. They took their successful advertising campaign and translate it into appropriate language and ran the campaign. When the sales report came back sometimes after their product was launched, company chiefs were surprised by the number they saw, ZERO. Soon after, it was reported that people from Western African country were rioting in the streets, burning Gerber’s posters. Apparently, in many African countries, consumers believe that what you see on the label of a product is what you get. They assumed that white baby is what’s in the jar. It sounds crazy, I know, but it’s what they are accustomed to.

This is what lack of research and standardizing consumer from different cultural backgrounds will do to you.

“The wonderful moral of the story is that you can get into big trouble without even opening your mouth.”

Anholt, S 2000, Another One Bites The Grass: Making Sense of International Advertising, Ad Week Book edn, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., United States of America.

Marieke de Mooij, 2004, Consumer Behaviour and Culture: Consequences for Global Marketing and Advertising, Illustrated, Sage Publication, United States of America

Anholt, S 2000, Another One Bites The Grass: Making Sense of International Advertising, Ad Week Book, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., United States of America

Usunier, J.C and Lee, J.A 2005, Marketing Across Cultures, 4th edn, Prentice Hall Financial Times, Gosport

When launching an international advertising campaign, the most obvious difference between cultures is their languages. This is probably why language is the first thing advertisers worry about when asked to produce an international advertising campaign. Although it’s should not be the first concern, it still is a problem worth looking into. There’s no doubt that it’s very difficult to be responsible for the communication aspect of a campaign when you personally don’t speak the language. You may think the tagline says one thing but you would never know for sure if it really says what it suppose to and one small mistake can easily jeopardise the quality of the whole campaign.

There are two common mistakes advertisers tend to make when it comes to the aspect of language in an international advertising campaign.

  1. A false assumption of how globalisation has facilitated the spread of English to the rest of the world and therefore English can be used for any international campaign. Indeed English has become the number one spoken language in the world but to many it’s still their second or even third language and having to read an advertisement in foreign language is something unnatural. As stated by an international advertising consultant, Simon Anholt (2000, p. 49), why should the consumer make an effort to understand us when in fact we are the one who should be making an effort to be understood by them. It’s about respecting consumers and they’re culture. Unless of course the brand is unique to one country, for example the brand is uniquely Australian and its selling point is its Australian-ness then the use of English might push its attractiveness further. However it’s also worth remembering that due to the wide-spread of English as an international language in current global society, the use of English in an advertisement may simply implies that it’s an international brand instead of American or British brand.
  2. Many advertisers believe that the key ingredient of a successful international advertising campaign is simply to take a successful Western (in most cases American) ad campaign and directly translate it to other languages. There are two main problems with this approach. The first problem is a difficulty in finding appropriate words linguistically and conceptually. Language is a demonstration of culture and as Marieke de Mooij stated, people “develop a culture specific communication style” (2004, p. 188). In other words, people from different culture do not only communicate differently but they also perceive things differently and therefore experience things differently (Usunier & Lee 2005, p. 392). For example in Japanese there are no words equivalent to the word ‘YOU’ and ‘I’ in English. The use of these two words in Japanese society changes depending on speaker’s gender, age, social status, social situation they are in, as well as the person he/she is talking to and how the listener is related to the speaker. This is a direct result of social system unique only to Japan where the use of language would have to change depending on who you are communicating with. The second problem is not exactly the issue of language but it sure is worth mentioning; when an advertisement originally made for Australian audience gets translated into different language, let’s just say Japanese for now, it would still feels wrong. This is simply because the audiences are not stupid and they would realize something is wrong if the ad was not originally meant for them to see.

So what can be done to improve communication in international advertising? According to Jean-Claude Usunier and Julie Anne Lee (2005, p 392), three things can be done to improve this issue; 1) by preserving culturally unique concepts in the native language form to indicate their uniqueness, 2) by finding out the exact meaning of the words or expressions in cultural context and 3) by identifying other possible connotation of words being used.

The process of producing an international ad campaign for human rights should be the same as creating any other international ad campaign; in terms of what I have discussed in my previous blog posts about understanding consumer’s culture and respecting their values. However, in doing so, problem such as ‘human rights themselves are not culturally bias’ would rise. According to the universal declaration of human rights, all human beings are born equals and freedom is not a luxury, instead it’s something that all human beings possess at the time of their birth. However, the term ‘equality’ varies depending on which culture you are from. For example, in Japanese work environment, there are a lot less female workers compare to male workers and most of the time their salary is lower than the male workers. Some cultures, especially Western culture, see this as inequality between genders but in Japan, it’s nothing unusual. Many Japanese women would want to leave the workforce as soon as they get married and therefore stay in lower payed positions (just to clarify I’m not generalising). Japanese women don’t see this as a problem because its part of their culture; male and female have their roles in society and they are happy with it. So does that mean universal declaration of human rights don’t apply to Japan? My short answer would be no. While many researchers are against the idea of universal human rights, I personally think that human rights and culture should be able to find their middle ground to coexist. There are times when universal human rights’ law should interfere with culture and there are also times that it shouldn’t. So in order for me to create ads that would work for different culture, I should first find when are these ‘times’. The example I gave above on women’s role in workforce would be the time that human rights law should not interfere with culture but the example I gave in my previous post; “It’s See No Evil, Have No Harassment in Japan” is probably one of those times that human rights law should interfere.

An interesting quote from the book:

Almqvist, J 2005, Human Rights, Culture and Rule of Law: Human Rights Law in Perspective, Hart Publishing, Great Britain

“… Culture as a quality possessed by the individual with a serious impact on her ability to enjoy the rights and freedoms as recognised in international human rights law in meaningful and effective ways” (Almqvist, J 2005, pp. 1)

More from the book:

Marieke de Mooij, 2004, Consumer Behaviour and Culture: Consequences for Global Marketing and Advertising, Illustrated, Sage Publication, United States of America

And a bit from the book:

Anholt, S 2000, Another One Bites The Grass: Making Sense of International Advertising, Ad Week Book, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., United States of America

Culture and Value

Different culture means different value and therefore different preference. This seems like a simple thing to understand but many advertisers somehow leave out this fact when developing an advertising campaign. Understanding culture and value of the consumer is absolutely crucial because this is the key ingredient of a successful advertising. Culture is what ties group of people together. It includes beliefs, attitudes, norms, roles and values which have been passed on from generation to generation. These attributes then became a set of rules that help manage people’s behaviour within one’s society (often defined by geographic region). “Value is preference of one stage of being over another” (Mooij, M.D 2004, pp. 23). It’s the first few things that children would unconsciously learn growing up, mostly from their parents and other grown ups around them. Some examples would be freedom, equality, fairness, achievement, and democracy for American; pragmatism and hard work for Japanese; and Chinese Confucian values. Despite of modernization, these traditional attitudes continues to influence consumer behaviour and how they react to different advertising messages.

Familiarity

Other than understanding consumer’s culture and value, there are some other minor factors to be considered when launching a global-scale advertising campaign. One is the importance of familiarity. Recognition and judgment of emotions or expressions of emotion vary across culture. Expressions of emotion are something people learn growing up in particular culture and therefore it’s important to find culturally correct expressions. Expression such as protruding your tongue, for example, means ‘contempt’ in Western culture but ‘surprise’ in Chinese culture. In addition, because emotions are better understood from facial expressions, it’s wise for advertisers to select the right expressions as well as the right face. Language is another factor to be considered. It’s not the most important thing but it’s something to think about when creating an international campaign. As stated by Simon Anholt, “Language is often the first thing people worry about when planning an international ad campaign. Perhaps it should be the last.” What he meant is advertisers should first worry about what are the concept of the campaign and weather it is the suitable one for that particular culture or not, then should worry about translating it to the correct language. Linking it back to the previous paragraph of ‘Culture and Value’, it’s important for the advertisers to always have their priority in place.

I will write more about Simon Anholt’s reading a little later ‘cause it’s lunch time!

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