Advertising across cultural borders

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This programming influences patterns of thinking which are reflected in the meaning people attach to various aspects of life and which become crystallized in the institutions of a society. Professor Hofstede identified six dimensions of culture, the country score for which can allow you to compare countries to understand key differences between the collective cultures.


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High power distance is the expectation and acceptance of unequal power distribution in businesses and public bodies, by people less powerful within them. High individualism is seen in countries where people see themselves as being independent "I" rather than low individualism where they see themselves as interdependent "We". High masculinity cultures are motivated by wanting to be the best, versus low masculinity feminine cultures, which are motivated by enjoying what you do. High uncertainty avoidance cultures feel threatened by and try to manage the uncertainty of the future whilst low uncertainty avoidance countries are more comfortable letting the future play out.

High long-term orientation is typified by societies that embrace and ready society for change pragmatic rather than holding onto traditions and approach change warily normative. In high indulgence societies, individuals are less likely to keep their desires and impulses in check whereas in low indulgence societies they are more restrained. With thousands of miles between them and cultures created over centuries, it might be surprising to see just how similar Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States appear to be.

However, look more closely and the differences are there. The challenge when dealing with culture is that the nuance and subtle differences make all the difference when it comes to communication effectiveness. Here you can see many great variances between the countries and their scores across the dimensions.

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For example, uncertainty avoidance is low in the United Kingdom 35 versus Germany Due to their proximity, a European brand manager could be forgiven for thinking a simple translation job needed to be done on a piece of content. While there may be nothing 'wrong' with the result, you will find the most compelling way to influence purchase in these two countries is quite different.

In practice, it means in the UK you can focus more heavily on the 'benefits' of a product or service, how it will overcome a problem or enhance your life. In Germany you need to elevate the 'reasons to believe' in the messaging, sharing the facts about the product or service that prove the benefits can be delivered. Selling a piece of technology in Germany will require sharing much more rational information about the product performance, lifetime software upgrades and how it can be integrated with other hardware or apps.

There will still be interest in the product benefits, but to be convinced they are making a good choice, and that the product offers good value for money, they will be much more likely to check out the product specifications and warranties. By contrast, in the UK you would use more emotion, show the product in action and how it fits into your life. The specs need to be there but will be less critical in the decision-making process, while offers and discounts are still important to increase value for money perceptions.

These differences in culture have an impact on the messages brands should serve at different points in the customer journey, and can be particularly effective in driving online shopping conversion rates. It is also often said a picture can speak a thousand words. So, we can just use strong visuals to express the message and minimize the words, right? For example, in a high power distance country like China, you would show more hierarchy in images of effective work, rather than collaboration in low power distance cultures like the US.

Across the world family size and form, personal space distance and individual aspiration look different. In a study of cultural codes, Chinese innovation agency Labbrand decoded the Hilfiger advertising below for Western and Chinese audiences. They suggested that to convey the same message in China, the Western cultural codes would need swapping with Chinese codes, which carry the same meaning.


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Both the London and Okinawan groups are a mix of people from multiple countries and Luscombe says that under the right circumstances, this type of group creates its own work culture. Luscombe is committed to teams with a flat structure and well-distributed interactions, so in the larger London group, he tries not to have too many people of one nationality at once to keep subgroups from forming.

For this reason, some multinational laboratories have an English-only policy, so people who share another language don't start speaking in their common tongue, excluding coworkers. Luscombe's group in Okinawa is small enough that no single nationality dominates. However, the team needed time to create a common culture that accommodates different work styles.

A simple example, says Luscombe, is that non-Japanese scientists might brainstorm out loud while Japanese scientists prefer thinking through ideas before talking. Whether the differences are cultural or personal, "It takes time to adjust and build trusting, working relationships," says Luscombe.

He maintains a productive research environment by holding videoconferenced meetings in both English and Japanese with the Okinawan group when he is not in Japan. The OIST team also came together around their unique project of studying developmental pathways using marine organisms, says Luscombe. We have people from different exotic backgrounds who left their original countries to be part of this scientific adventure on an island.

The Center for Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University also has a distinct, global work culture, thanks to director Jim Tiedje, who has hosted more than one hundred international students, postdocs, and visiting scientists. Be clear about expectations and if possible, arrange for multiple visits.

Wang visited the Tiedje lab in and agrees that straightforward discussions at the start of a partnership prevent surprises later. For example, she says, international collaborations taught her the importance of early discussions about publications.

When Culture Doesn’t Translate

To find international collaborators who will be a good fit, experienced scientists advise looking for people who share your enthusiasm for the field and have innovative ideas. Screen out people who are mainly interested in travel. If possible, follow Goldsmith's principle about face-to-face interactions and meet in person, for example at a conference.

At least have an Internet video conversation to test interactions in real-time. Be sensitive to potential cultural differences when interacting with researchers from another country, says Tiedje, but don't worry too much. Dedysh, whose first international research experience was in the Tiedje lab, agrees, saying, "Scientists share an interest in research that is the same all over the world.

It helps us recognize each other as colleagues. When hosting international researchers, look for open-minded visitors who understand that they and their families will change their daily routines, be challenged in simple activities such as shopping, and encounter new and unusual customs.

Both Tiedje and Luscombe emphasize the importance of meeting visitors' basic needs. Give new group members a contact person in the lab to answer questions about science and everyday life. Luscombe adds that social support for family members is crucial, saying, "If the family isn't happy, the scientist won't be happy. It takes time to settle in. At the annual Tiedje holiday dinner, new lab members, including non-Americans, get a full immersion experience: They cook the turkeys. Additionally, we compare these results with the Louvain clustering algorithm [ 48 ] and establish that both methods show high agreement.

Our cluster analysis suggests that no language community is completely separated from other communities, and in fact, there are significant topics of common interest between almost any two language pairs. We reveal 21 clusters of two and more languages, plus 9 languages that are identified as separate clusters see SI for full information on the clusters. Notably, English forms a self-cluster, and this independent standing means little interest similarity between English and other languages.

Hall of shame: More multicultural brand blunders

This is an interesting finding in the light of the recent discussions on whether English is becoming a global language and the most suitable lingua franca for cross-national communication [ 49 ]. The links within clusters are weighted according to the amount of positive deviation of z -score per language pair from the threshold of randomness. Stronger weights indicate higher similarity. The inter-cluster links should be interpreted with care in the context of this study, as they are weighted according to the aggregated strength of connection between all nodes of both clusters.

The network is undirected since it depicts mutual topical interest of both language communities, which is inherently bidirectional. For visualisation purposes, we display only the strongest inter-cluster links and 23 language clusters. The network of significant Wikipedia co-editing ties between language pairs.

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For visualisation purposes we display only 23 clusters and the strongest inter-cluster links in the network. The inter-cluster links show the aggregated z -scores between all nodes of a pair of clusters. The network suggests that local factors such as shared language, linguistic similarity of languages, shared religion, and geographical proximity play a role in interest similarity of language communities. Notably, English forms a separate cluster, which suggest little interest similarity between English speakers and other communities. Cluster interpretation. Visual inspection of language clusters suggests a number of hypotheses which might explain such network configuration.

For example, 1 geographical proximity might explain the Swedish-Norwegian-Danish-Faroese-Finnish-Icelandic cluster light blue , since those are the languages mostly spoken in the Nordic countries. Other groups of languages form around 2 a local lingua franca , which is often an official language of a multilingual country, and include other regional languages which are spoken as second- and even third language within the local community. This way, Indonesian and Malay form a cluster with Javanese and Sundanese brown , which are two largest regional languages of Indonesia.

Similarly, one of the largest clusters in the network purple consists of 11 languages native to India, where cases of multilingualism are especially common, since one might need to use different languages for contacts with the state government, with the local community, and at home [ 49 ].

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