Intercultural Communication and International Marketing: Corporate Advertising on the Internet

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The possibly obsolete databases and the generalizations related to people outside IBM are frequent criticisms that Hofstede continuously counters. Universal aspects of social relationships of the kind referenced may also apply well to international marketing, which has to create relationships between the supply and the demand sides, which are culturally different. Culture is generally defined by nation, regardless of the relativity of national borders and the ethnic or cultural diversity within them. Some countries still may be characterized as historically developed social, linguistic, and cultural units, but surely not all countries.

This simplification, however, makes culture as a complex, influential soft factor more comprehensible and operational for international management and international marketing theories in particular. Holden , however, criticizes this concept of national culture and rejects such marketing models as synonymous with an obsolete notion of simply exporting goods and services from one country to another as homogeneous units. This rigid quantification, which makes the soft factor culture, or elements of it, equal to hard factors, might mask any dynamics of cultural change and individual as well as subcultural value differences inside national cultures cf.

Such generalizations about culture, however, are common practice and very operational, especially for international marketing. Often marketing deals with aggregated units, such as segmented clusters of thousands or millions of individuals; each cluster is to be addressed specifically as a homogeneous target group. Such clusters are differentiated or positioned with respect to their typical market-related characteristics e. Different individual values are distributed around this modus following the normal distribution de Mooij, , which is demonstrated for individualism in Figure 5 in a very simplified way.

Each country thus represents a five-dimensional cultural cluster, which may be combined with culturally similar countries i. As de Mooij states, his cultural dimensions provide excellent variables, as they can explain together with national wealth more than half of the differences in consumption and consumer behavior. According to them, his model includes only three independent dimensions Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance.

Not surprisingly, among these dimensions are the two that various research results have also confirmed to be relevant in Internet consumption, as has been discussed above. His model is also more hermeneutical and flexible, however, so it provides a good basis for cultural insights and tendencies, which in each single case should be combined with detailed cross-cultural and ethnographic research.

For example, with respect to Internet consumption, a study of U. The importance of this medium as a source of information among other media differs, however i. In addition, the Korean students, in contrast to their U. In general, distinct individual and subcultural or minority differences within a dominant national culture are a result of a more conscious processes of building or preserving a distinctive identity. They probably will not work well, however, if several individuals increasingly use the Internet to observe and to imitate a new lifestyle from abroad as a kind of resistance against their dominant culture, or if Internet usage by a part of the population of a country is denied because it is regarded as an attribute of a denied lifestyle of another undesirable part of the population.

Therefore, unless international and cross-cultural marketing research deals with intra-country, or multicultural but with intercountry, comparisons, their prevailing cultural models can make sense. They provide initial, if vague indicators about basic cultural factors, which require deeper research including additional cultural criteria and more ethnographic details.

This also holds true for the cultural criteria behind the Internet consumption patterns discussed above, which have manifest implications for global website design. Since the World Wide Web WWW is the most popular usage platform on the Internet, its interface design or Web site quality in particular is of high relevance for the cultural acceptability and diffusion of the Internet as a medium of communication. In sum, a culturally well designed website may be defined as communicating the right information at the right place with the right layout in the right manner and in the right time according to the culture of each of its users.

Often the general criteria: 1 site quality, which is also equated with usability, 2 establishment of trust, and 3 creation of positive effect during website use are quoted as most essential website characteristics Lengert, Regarding the establishment of impersonal, abstract trust on the Web, Morrison and Firmstone refer to the general phenomenon of a high trustworthiness of things that are familiar, expected, and conform to habits, in contrast to a low trustworthiness of things that are unfamiliar, strange, and unexpected.

This phenomenon can be carried over to the forms of communication via the Web. The more the design of a Web site conforms to culturally familiar communication styles and cultural habits, the more trust is established. Trust is another essential argument in support of culture-specific Web site design, something that also may increase general Internet acceptability.

In sum, these very general website characteristics are subject to cultural communication styles, but they also depend strongly on each other. Accordingly, some more operational, culture-related design criteria need to be introduced. In promoting people or organizations and their products, services, or ideas, communication via the Web is generally equivalent to marketing communication like advertising or public relations.

This is demonstrated by an increasing number of contributions from international advertising research. In general, the former advertising appeals prevail in high-context cultures whereas the latter prevail in low-context cultures de Mooij, ; Mueller, , Accordingly, the Japanese websites analyzed revealed the highest rate of soft sell appeals, whereas the U. Web sites revealed the highest rate of hard sell appeals and vice versa; the Spanish Web sites revealed a nearly equal rate of both appeals.

Her results reveal some remarkable national differences in preferred creative strategies and, in particular, in regard to verbal and visual content appeal. Rational, fact-based appeals especially visual are dominant in the United States and the U. The U. These differences are equivalent to the preferred advertising styles of low-context cultures here: U. This very general relation between content, layout, and the culturally preferred communication style best suited for advertising and Web site design is represented in Figure 6. With respect to the creative strategies chosen, messages of both traditional media print, TV and new media Web sites can generally be adapted in varying degrees to either high- or low-context communication preferences.

Because of its visual and acoustic nature, however, to date TV is the most appropriate medium for the transformational or entertaining communication highly preferred in high-context cultures, whereas print media based on written texts are more appropriate for the rational, informative communication preferred in low-context cultures.

Some additional design characteristics analyzed by Ju-Pak reveal cultural differences that are not unexpected. The length of each web page seems to correspond to copy format, as the U. As Ju-Pak points out, the type of products featured differs by country, but the national differences in website design mentioned above are not due to the products featured.

Interestingly, the vast majority of products of the South Korean websites analyzed, as well as the majority of products of the other two countries, were computer-related, digital high-tech, or high-interest goods. These products are alleged to be culture-free and easily marketable in a standardized way. With respect to their promotion via the Web, this is clearly not the case.

Nevertheless, some differentiation into both brand and the product type represented is necessary in general, since the familiarity with a certain brand or type of product, its complexity or required know-how, and its relevance for consumer B2C or business B2B interests may influence the demand for explicit information as well as the time budgeted for Web site use, and may therefore influence the creative strategy for website design as well.

In an attempt to order and to verify these vague cultural tendencies, the author has started a qualitative, long-term research project that has compared many randomly chosen websites of different international companies and brand types in various European countries Germany, U. The initial background was a Web site design consultation project for a multinational European company that has been continuously followed by diverse student research surveys.

The structural design criteria already mentioned:. Of course, many external conditions exist in addition to the represented brand and product type. This is shown in Figure 7. Some of the general findings are that Web sites of global companies of the New Economy that are based primarily on the Web and e-commerce both tend to be strongly standardized and dominated by rational content appeals, by text-heavy layout presenting small pictures only, by low multimodality, high interactivity, large website volume, and by deeply structured content accompanied by intensive navigation support.

In the Old Economy, Web sites of companies representing industrial goods and primarily addressing business users B2B tend to be standardized to a similar degree. Thus action chains very often are compartmentalized and sequential; one thing is completed after the other. Correspondingly, the Web sites that carry a great deal of explicit informational content are detailed, compartmentalized, structured in an orderly way, and also supported by many explicit navigation tools such as sitemaps, index registers, and search engines to facilitate quick orientation and time-saving site use.

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In addition, low multimodality and a text-heavy layout of voluminous Web sites reduce download times and correspond to a monochronic time orientation. Web sites that mainly address consumers B2C reveal different tendencies. Global brands of durable, high-interest products are generally characterized by only modest standardization, which is focused on universal brand-related colors or graphics and uniform frames or structures of content.

With respect to other design criteria, high-context cultures generally exhibit a higher degree of cultural adaptation, often revealing text-limited layouts including more colored backgrounds, larger pictures, and a much higher rate of animated illustrations or moving visuals in particular.

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Multimodality tends to be somewhat higher in high-context cultures, including jingles or occasional options for downloads of video or radio interviews, for example. Corresponding to the visual layout, navigation support tends to be less intensive in high-context cultures, where symbolic visual elements like pictures or hidden pop-up icons are frequently used as clickable items to lead to further Web site content; such Web sites consequently appear to be less detailed and voluminous.

Web sites representing global brands of nondurable, low-interest products reveal an even higher degree of cultural adaptation. In polychronic cultures, time is often regarded as circular and repeating, subject to social relationships or needs and therefore handled in a flexible, imprecise way. Action chains are structured in a less detailed way and interrupted more often since many things are done simultaneously. Polychronic appropriate Web sites include lots of entertaining visuals, animated illustrations, and even real multimedia elements.


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These elements certainly increase download time, but this does not matter so much. Explicit navigation support is rare since neither a strictly ordered route through the less detailed site structure nor very quick orientation is necessary. Implicit symbolic cues, however, support an intuitive navigation, which enhances both preferred entertainment appeals and positive affect in Web site use.

The higher degree of cultural adaptation of Web sites for nondurable compared to durable products is also confirmed by Okazaki , who analyzed homepages of United States companies in four European countries.

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The analysis of nondurable product Web sites is the best starting point to demonstrate cultural adaptation on the Web. In contrast to such cultural adaptation, local Web sites of global consumer brands occasionally seem to be more standardized worldwide by utilizing the typical communication style of their brands country of origin. Worldwide Web sites of a French food brand, for example, would tend to be somewhat more dominated by French high-context style, whereas worldwide Web sites of a German car brand would tend to represent more German low-context style.

It works only in those cases where the images of the product and its country of origin are positively related in the targeted countries. International marketing and advertising research has introduced some additional criteria that are also relevant for culture-specific Web site design. These culture-specific symbolic and aesthetic concepts also relate to visual and pictorial presentations, which tend to reveal the highest degree of adaptation.

Even strongly standardized Web sites tend to be different in their visual presentations of people, products, artifacts, nature, etc. Of course, verbal headlines or slogans presented in Web sites differ in quite the same respect. Finally, according to Galtung , even logical styles and forms of rational expression differ across some cultures. In summary, many of the Web sites compared tended to be both standardized and dominated by a general low-context communication style—regardless of the preferred communication styles in the related countries.

This may be surprising with regard to many local Web site designers and native speakers as translators who, as members of their specific culture, quite automatically might provide for cultural adaptation of the various design elements mentioned above. An exception to this general finding, however, is consumer brand Web sites nondurable products in particular , which tend to be more culturally adapted to the relevant degree of high-context communication in some related countries.

Therefore, they may be less open to being addressed in culturally inappropriate low-context styles.

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In addition, nondurable consumer products are generally characterized by low involvement with respect to buying decisions e. As a preliminary result, the differing degree of Web site adaptation with respect to the represented product or business category is shown in Figure To increase Web site acceptability and Internet consumption worldwide, a higher degree of Web site adaptation in general seems to be necessary. The operational cultural design criteria and elements that have been described above provide a basis or starting point from which a higher degree of culturally appropriate Web site design can be approached.

These general findings, of course, represent only preliminary tendencies. One of the main reasons for this is the high complexity and contingency of influences on Web site design beyond cultural values and communication styles see Figure 6. In addition, research on randomly chosen samples out of millions of Web sites can hardly provide representative, precise results.

Moreover, the design of Web sites is subject to continuous change over time because of the highly dynamic nature of the medium, which, for example, transforms strongly standardized Web sites into strongly localized ones and vice versa. This phenomenon of change, however, might be interpreted as an evolutionary stage of the Internet as a new medium of communication that is striving for acceptance in many different cultures and that is following the principle of trial and error in its interface design.

In spite of their ostensible universality and important role as engines of globalization, the Internet and its Web neither eliminate cultural differences nor are they culture-free products. Cross-cultural marketing and advertising research provides some useful findings that can demonstrate the broad influence of culture on this new medium.

Though global Internet diffusion is still increasing, there are enormous and persistent disparities in worldwide Internet consumption. This phenomenon is similar to the persistently differing consumption of traditional media like newspapers and TV across different countries, which can be interpreted as a result of culture-specific communication preferences.


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Various hard factors political, economical or technical also have influence on media consumption, including the Internet, but in highly developed countries, they generally are less significant. The reasons for their popularity and the limitations and utilities of their implied concepts of culture are worth considering. Both models have high relevance only for international contexts of unconscious national cultural differences; they provide a useful first basis for research into cultural backgrounds.

The significance of these cultural categories—including high- and low-context communication in particular—has also been demonstrated by many cross-cultural comparisons of preferred advertising styles and creative strategies. Cross-cultural advertising messages reveal remarkable similarities with cross-cultural Web site communication.

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Following that, eight culture-related, structural Web site design criteria and some basic external conditions for their implementation were introduced, and additional design aspects were discussed. Comparisons of Web sites of various global companies and brands in different countries according to these structural design criteria show a frequent lack of adaptation and appropriateness to specific cultural communication styles.

Although an increasing number of Web sites reveal some cultural adaptation on a moderate degree, too many Web sites are still characterized by a dominant low-context style e. Like the worldwide disparity in print media consumption, a significant Digital Divide will be normal unless the design of Web sites—and perhaps of the Web in general—completely meets the communication preferences of many high-context cultures. These findings seem to verify the cultural relevance of the Web site design criteria introduced; thus they may be taken as an operational basis for more intensive cultural adaptations of the Web.

Since technical conditions are becoming increasingly favorable to such adaptations, this could make the Internet a truly world-wide medium in the future. However, the present discussion is based on a small, probably not truly representative sample of Web sites out of many millions , so its conclusions should be regarded as preliminary. This highly complex subject matter richly deserves further investigation.

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Sign In or Create an Account. DOI: This book chapter examines the purpose of international advertising research and how to establish equivalence in constructs and research implementation issues in international advertising research. Ha, Louisa. Advertising research on Asian countries and Asian ethnic groups: A year trend analysis and a state-of-the-art review.

Dimensions 1. This content analysis of published advertising research articles from to on Asian countries and Asian ethnic groups reveals that most of them adopted quantitative approaches, focused on single countries, and were authored by Asian ethnic scholars. Advertising management issues, advertising styles, cultures, and values in Asia were the most common topics. International Advertising Resource Center.

A website created in by Louisa Ha; its bibliography section compiles the books and journal articles published on topics related to international advertising published before Taylor, Charles C. Moving international advertising research forward: A new research agenda. Journal of Advertising This editorial on the status of international advertising research calls for more equivalence of data, measuring the cultural dimensions of consumers, more interactions between academics and practitioners, testing existing theories in cross-cultural contexts, and development of new theories.

Zinkhan, George. International advertising: A research agenda. This special issue editorial essay addresses the reason for studying international advertising and argues that culture is only one of the many factors accounting for differences in advertising practices and consumer behaviors. Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login. Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions.

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