We are living in virtual reality world where images, marketing, communication and the last not the least successful advertising can increase profitability, goodwill, and market access. Ours is the age of globalization too where integration of economies, merger & acquisition, cultural sensitivities, and social diversities tend to comply the companies/organizations to make the most suitable advertising campaigns in order to be competent in the domestic, regional and international markets. We live in an increasingly complex world. One element of this complexity is the mixing of different cultures, languages and faiths. Within the business world intercultural communication is vital for success. Poor cross cultural awareness and societal knowledge has many consequences, some serious others comical. It is imperative that in the global economy cross cultural awareness is seen a necessary investment to avoid such blunders as we have seen above.

Advertising is the ideal combination of science and art. It cares about the social ethics and cultural traditions & norms. It respects the political philosophies, economic parameters, psychological aspects, legal fame-work, and even environmental hurdles whiling making or starting an effective advertising campaign. It is crucial for today’s business personnel to understand the impact of cross socio-cultural differences on business, trade and internal company organization. The success or failure of a company, venture, merger or acquisition is essentially in the hands of people. If these people are not cross socio-culturally aware then misunderstandings, offence and a break down in communication can occur. The need for greater socio-cross cultural awareness is heightened in our global economies. Cross socio-cultural differences in matters such as language, etiquette, non-verbal communication, norms and values can, do and will lead to cross cultural blunders.

The relationship between advertising and cultural factors has been analysed from various and multiple perspectives and disciplines such as communication and media science, marketing, psychology and sociology, cultural anthropology and semiotics, cultural studies etc. To create successful ads, advertisers must consider the cultural context of their audience,” “Ads should carry messages that agree with cultural values.”

It is a research-oriented study which may be useful to teachers and students of international marketing, advertising, international relation, economics, sociology, and the last not the least development journalism alike.


The process of advertising has attracted scientific attention for a long time. For economists and marketing experts advertising is a very important tool of free-market economy, an element of successful trade. For linguists it is a pragmatically determined type of discourse, which functions in accordance with its main goals: to inform and to persuade. For ordinary people, it is a part of everyday life, which can be annoying or amusing, useful or misleading.

An advertisement is both a marketing tool, social awareness instrument and a cultural artifact. It is an element of popular culture. When people talk about their favourite or most hated ads, they expect other people to recognise them, to have opinions about them. Advertising is one of the most frequent types of messages that people encounter, sometimes in places people may not even recognise as being advertising. According to Harris (1999), an average person in USA is exposed to about 500 advertisements per day, 182,000 per year, and millions in a lifetime. An advertisement will normally offer some product or service that is represented as satisfying some consumer need or desire, a tablet which is represented as relieving pain or alleviating the symptoms of the cold, a frozen food that is represented as easy to prepare, nutritious and tasty, or a brand of beer that is said to taste great.

Advertising is a communicative situation in which language operates in accordance with the purposes and actual possibilities of this type of communication. According to Leech (1966), in order to describe and define any situation of linguistic communication the following questions should be answered: In the context of commerce, advertising is the communication of relevant information by a marketer to prospective buyers using mass, individualized and/or interactive media.”

Who are the participants?

Advertising is an institution which interprets the want-satisfying qualities of products, services and ideas in terms of the wants and needs of consumers. The participants of advertising communication are a copywriter and an audience. The first category is usually represented by an advertising agency, where a group of people works on the production of a certain message on behalf of the advertiser. Behind the second category also stand a group people, or audience, who usually by chance are exposed to advertising from different sources.

What objects are relevant to the communication?

The relevant objects are products or services being advertised. However, not all of them are actually mentioned or discussed in a message. Moreover, they might not be physically or sensibly present. Such advertising involves a complex process of creating a positive image of a certain company, or even an attempt to sell a life style, a value, an emotion etc (cf. Klein 2000).

What is the medium of communication?

The most important distinction of medium is between speech and writing. However, under this heading such types of media as television, radio, print can be specified. Furthermore, print advertising can be presented in form of newspaper messages, billboards, special advertising brochures etc. Each type has its own advantages, available facilities and flaws.

What is the purpose or effect of communication?

In the advertising situation, involving a form of inferential communication, “purpose” and “effect” are not the same thing. The effect of advertising may take different forms and need not coincide with the purpose. It is only partly a question of buying or not buying the product. However, the purpose remains fairly constant, that is to make people purchase products or services advertised.


Before, discussing the basic types of advertising we should understand the different theoretical and practical aspects of advertising which is an institution that includes all the purposive communication efforts of an identified sponsor which, actively or passively, influence consumers’ perceptions about brands and issues. Advertising is a promotional activity that is used as a function of marketing to communicate persuasive information from an identified sponsor to an identified audience.”

All advertisements can be divided into different groups based on various criteria. One criterion is a geographical area for which the message is intended. Therefore, advertisements can be local, national and international. Another criterion relates to the form and medium of advertisement. Print advertising includes newspapers, magazines, posters, hoardings and street signs. Electronic advertising involves both sound and/or pictures, as on television or radio. Obviously, various media have their strengths and weaknesses. Television, combining sound, sight and motion, is considered to be the medium with the greatest impact. However, television advertisements, or commercials, are very expensive. Print advertisements’ advantage is that they do not disappear that quickly, and they are very suitable for detailed descriptions.

In general, advertising can be divided into two major groups: commercial and noncommercial. The commercial division includes consumer advertising, trade advertising and corporate advertising, where the first one is directed at a mass audience, the second type is used by manufacturers to communicate with their retailers via trade press, and the last one is advertising by companies to affect people’s awareness of and attitudes to the organisation as a whole rather than its products or services. The non-commercial division consists of government advertising (usually public service information) and charity advertising, which is intended to give publicity to the needs and objectives of an association or organization conducted for charitable or benevolent purposes (Hermerén 1999).

Cross Socio-Cultural Advertising

“Culture is a like dropping an Alka-seltzer into a glass – you don’t see it, but somehow it does something,”

Cross socio-cultural advertising is simply about using common sense and analysing how the different elements of an advertising campaign are impacted by culture and modifying them to best speak to the target audience. Culture affects everything we do. It applies to all areas of human life from personal relationships to conducting business abroad. When interacting within our native cultures, culture acts as a framework of understanding. However, when interacting with different cultures this framework no longer applies due to cross cultural differences.

Cross cultural communication aims to help minimize the negative impact of cross cultural differences through building common frameworks for people of different cultures to interact within. Cross cultural communication solutions are also critical to effective cross cultural advertising. Services and products are usually designed and marketed at a domestic audience. When a product is then marketed at an international audience the same domestic advertising campaign abroad will in most cases be ineffective.

The essence of advertising is convincing people that a product is meant for them. By purchasing it, they will receive some benefit, whether it be lifestyle, status, convenience or financial. However, when an advertising campaign is taken abroad different values and perceptions as to what enhances status or gives convenience exist. These differences make the original advertising campaign defunct. It is therefore critical to any cross cultural advertising campaign that an understanding of a particular culture is acquired. By way of highlighting areas of cross cultural differences in advertising a few examples shall be examined.

Language in Cross Cultural Advertising

It may seem somewhat obvious to state that language is the key to effective cross cultural advertising. However, the fact that companies persistently fail to check linguistic implications of company or product names and slogans demonstrates that such issues are not being properly addressed. The advertising world is littered with examples of linguistic cross cultural blunders. Of the more comical was Ford’s introduction of the ‘Pinto’ in Brazil. After seeing sales fail, they soon realised that this was due to the fact that Brazilians did not want to be seen driving a car meaning ‘tiny male genitals’.

Language must also be analyzed for its cultural suitability. For example, the slogan employed by the computer games manufacturer, EA Sports, “Challenge Everything” raises grumbles of disapproval in religious or hierarchical societies where harmonious relationships are maintained through the values of respect and non-confrontation. It is imperative therefore that language be examined carefully in any cross cultural advertising campaign

Communication Style in Cross Cultural Advertising

Understanding the way in which other cultures communicate allows the advertising campaign to speak to the potential customer in a way they understand and appreciate. For example, communication styles can be explicit or implicit. An explicit communicator (e.g. USA) assumes the listener is unaware of background information or related issues to the topic of discussion and therefore provides it themselves. Implicit communicators (e.g. Japan) assume the listener is well informed on the subject and minimises information relayed on the premise that the listener will understand from implication. An explicit communicator would find an implicit communication style vague, whereas an implicit communicator would find an explicit communication style exaggerated.

Colours, Numbers and Images in Cross Cultural Advertising

Even the simplest and most taken for granted aspects of advertising need to be inspected under a cross cultural microscope. Colours, numbers, symbols and images do not all translate well across cultures. In some cultures there are lucky colours, such as red in China and unlucky colours, such as black in Japan. Some colours have certain significance; green is considered a special colour in Islam and some colours have tribal associations in parts of Africa. Many hotels in the USA or UK do not have a room 13 or a 13th floor. Similarly, Nippon Airways in Japan do not have the seat numbers 4 or 9. If there are numbers with negative connotations abroad, presenting or packaging products in those numbers when advertising should be avoided. Images are also culturally sensitive. Whereas it is common to see pictures of women in bikinis on advertising posters on the streets of London, such images would cause outrage in the Middle East.

Cultural Values in Cross Cultural Advertising

When advertising abroad, the cultural values underpinning the society must be analysed carefully. Is there a religion that is practised by the majority of the people? Is the society collectivist or individualist? Is it family orientated? Is it hierarchical? Is there a dominant political or economic ideology? All of these will impact an advertising campaign if left unexamined.

For example, advertising that focuses on individual success, independence and stressing the word “I” would be received negatively in countries where teamwork is considered a positive quality. Rebelliousness or lack of respect for authority should always be avoided in family orientated or hierarchical societies.

Impact of Cultural Blunders: A comparative study

Following are given some famous examples where even multinational companies badly suffered with huge losses due to ignoring some special and basic socio-cultural consideration into account.

• An American oil rig supervisor in Indonesia shouted at an employee to take a boat to shore. Since no-one berates an Indonesian in public, a mob of outraged workers chased the supervisor with axes.

• Pepsodent tried to sell its toothpaste in Southeast Asia by emphasizing that it “whitens your teeth.” They found out that the local natives chew betel nuts to blacken their teeth which they find attractive.

• A company advertised eyeglasses in Thailand by featuring a variety of cute animals wearing glasses. The ad was a poor choice since animals are considered to be a form of low life and no self respecting Thai would wear anything worn by animals.

• The soft drink Fresca was being promoted by a saleswoman in Mexico. She was surprised that her sales pitch was greeted with laughter, and later embarrassed when she learned that fresca is slang for “lesbian.”

• When President George Bush went to Japan with Lee Iacocca and other American business magnates, and directly made explicit and direct demands on Japanese leaders, they violated Japanese etiquette. To the Japanese (who use high context language) it is considered rude and a sign of ignorance or desperation to lower oneself to make direct demands. Some analysts believe it severely damaged the negotiations and confirmed to the Japanese that Americans are barbarians.

• A soft drink was introduced into Arab countries with an attractive label that had stars on it six-pointed stars. The Arabs interpreted this as pro-Israeli and refused to buy it. Another label was printed in ten languages, one of which was Hebrew–again the Arabs did not buy it.

• U.S. and British negotiators found themselves at a standstill when the American company proposed that they “table” particular key points. In the U.S. “Tabling a motion” means to not discuss it, while the same phrase in Great Britain means to “bring it to the table for discussion.”

In addition to interpersonal cross cultural gaffes, the translation of documents, brochures, advertisements and signs also offers us some comical cross cultural blunders:

• When Pepsico advertised Pepsi in Taiwan with the ad “Come Alive With Pepsi” they had no idea that it would be translated into Chinese as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.”

• American medical containers were distributed in Great Britain and caused quite a stir. The instructions to “Take off top and push in bottom,” innocuous to Americans, had very strong sexual connotations to the British.

• In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into “Schweppes Toilet Water.”

• In a Belgrade hotel elevator: To move the cabin, push the button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.

• In a Yugoslavian hotel: The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.

• Traficante” and Italian mineral water found a great reception in Spain’s underworld. In Spanish it translates as “drug dealer”.

• In 2002, Umbro the UK sports manufacturer had to withdraw its new trainers (sneakers) called the Zyklon. The firm received complaints from many organisations and individuals as it was the name of the gas used by the Nazi regime to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps.

• Sharwoods, a UK food manufacturer, spent £6 million on a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh’ sauces. It received calls from numerous Punjabi speakers telling them that “bundh” sounded just like the Punjabi word for “arse”.

• Honda introduced their new car “Fitta” into Nordic countries in 2001. If they had taken the time to undertake some cross cultural marketing research they may have discovered that “fitta” was an old word used in vulgar language to refer to a woman’s genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. In the end they renamed it “Honda Jazz”.

• A nice cross cultural example of the fact that all pictures or symbols are not interpreted the same across the world: staff at the African port of Stevadores saw the “internationally recognised” symbol for “fragile” (i.e. broken wine glass) and presumed it was a box of broken glass. Rather than waste space they threw all the boxes into the sea!

The above examples verify the importance of socio-cultural consideration in making and launching of a specific advertising messages or ads communication. There are many ways of overcoming the language barrier to allow for some cross cultural communication.

When faced with a situation in which there is no common language these points may help you to get your message across:

Different integrated strategies

• Say it without words: use hands, arms, legs, gestures, facial expressions and everything else your charades experience has taught you.

• Use emotions: even in our own language and culture we do not always use language to express fright, frustration, anger or joy. Emotions transcend linguistic barriers.

• Try out words: sometimes we share common words and we do not know it. Additionally people from different cultures will have a passive knowledge of English gained through the media. Try saying the word slowly or with a different pronunciation.

• Draw it: if you really cannot explain ‘milk’ to the Greek shop owner draw the cow, the udders and the milk. Pictures speak louder than words. Most cultures will be able to spot what you are getting at straight away.

• Ask for help: if there are others around you do not be shy to ask for their assistance. It is often possible to find a willing translator.

• Confirm meanings: if you are unsure whether the message has been understood confirm meanings. When doing so do not ask, ‘Do you understand?’ as the answer will often be ‘yes’ even if it is ‘no’. Try re-phrasing what you have agreed or discussed.

• Be patient: the key to overcoming the language barrier is to exercise patience. It is not your fault or the other person’s that you cannot speak each others language.

The above points will help you to overcome cross cultural communication problems and ensure you manage to get your message across in one form or another.

Cross socio-cultural advertising research

Cross socio-cultural research on advertising is a relatively new field which reflects the developments and trends of the last decades in economic and commercial activities. In recent years there has been an evident tendency to economic integration, especially for the countries who have reached a certain level of wealth. One of the main issues in international marketing and advertising is whether consumers from different countries will become more and more alike or whether the differences will remain stable or even will grow more. Global campaigns would be successful only in a context of cultural and behavioural convergence between the countries were they are delivered; opposite conditions would lead to failure.

Advertising is strongly culture-bound, dependent on cultural factors such as language, values, lifestyle, communication style and media habits” is the component of the marketing-mix most difficult to standardize. International companies believe in the convergence of consuming habits and prefer global strategies as the success of some brands as Coca-Cola, Levi’s or L’Oréal may prove; on the other hand standardized campaigns may prove the opposite: C&A failed and has been forced to close all shops in UK while Marks & Spencer had the same fate in Europe. An interesting and unique trend may be traced in last Fanta campaigns where very culturally specific advertisements and messages, created in one country are delivered in completely different and distant cultural contexts across the world (an example could be “Brazil” commercial in Japan). In 2000 Coca-Cola revealed the option for campaigns, and even introduction of new brands and packaging solutions more adapted to local sensibility (Financial Times, 27 March 2000).

According to anthropologist Tylor Reads, “culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”

The dimensions of Advertising and culture

• Cultural change
• Cultural change and sustainability
• Promotion of new culture
• Consumer behavior and culture
• Advertising brings change in the material and non material change by introducing
• New products tools, home appliances, machines, automobiles, luxurious goods, dairy products etc.
• New ideas
• Women empowerment, education, and rights, health, politics, child labor,
• Continuity

A number of factors influence the process of decision making

• Culture
• Sub Culture
• Social Class
• Reference Group
• Situational Determinants

Cultural challenges

• A baby soap company ad in which a mother held a baby in her arms was considered scandalous in Hungary. The mother had her wedding ring on her left hand, he sign of and unwed mother. (Hungarians wear their rings on their right hands.)

• In case of Pakistan you cant sell your family planning products by an effective, bold and attractive advertising on TV or even in print media. Same is true with LUX soap’s ads in India and Pakistan

• In Saudi Arabic, it’s illegal to mix men and women in focus groups

• In Spain it’s discourteous to say negative things about products, even in focus groups.

• The discovery channel learned that viewers in Mexico prefer programs about history and architecture, Russians like do-it yourself series, Indians like travel shows, and Australian viewers prefer science and technology.


Integrity of cultures, emergence of financial services, sensitivities of social values, traditions, norms, ethics, interdependence of economics, interrelation of legality, dawn of computer revolution and the last not the least, scarcity of resources has forced the advertising companies to adopt holistic approach to reach to global audiences/consumers and sell their products. Advertising has become more systematic, accurate and even risky due to volatility in the international political power game and economic system. A successful company should and must respect ones socio-cultural taboos, religious values, national prestige, history, philosophy, and even personal preferences which can ultimately enhance its overall profitability, goodwill, market access, productivity, acceptability and overall popularity.

Effective, attractive and yet simple advertising campaign can do wonders for multinational as well local companies around the globe. The different comparative socio-cultural studies can be instrumental to rectify the fallacies in one advertising messages/ads. To be precise, the glory and downfall lies in the hands of advertising team.


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