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Truly understanding cultural diversity is as essential for global marketers as it is for foreign diplomats or anyone who seeks to communicate with people of different cultures. This goes far beyond translating ads, or speaking, in various languages. It means understanding who you are as a result of your cultural background, understanding others in context of their cultures and then understanding how they interact.

In the 1960s, now-retired Dutch Professor Geert Hofstede created a model which distinguishes five dimensions of culture. The model has been used for intercultural management training but Marieke de Mooij, president of Cross Cultural Communications Co., Amsterdam, applies it to advertising.

She has tested the model in countries including the Netherlands, Italy, Egypt, South Africa, Japan and Australia, and she has concluded that any one ad cannot really work globally. "There are a few basic advertising forms which travel, such as pure [visual] presentation, but they do not differentiate brands from others."

She suggests marketers consider five dimensions which can help categorize and explain different cultures: power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance and Confucian dynamism.

Power distance, Ms. de Mooij says, is "the extent to which less powerful members of a society accept that power is distributed unequally." In high power distance cultures, which show respect for old age and where status is important to show power, both will be reflected in advertising.

In individualistic societies, people look after themselves and their immediate families only; in collectivistic cultures, people belong to groups who look after them in exchange for loyalty. Thus, in Hong Kong, I was told, the Marlboro Man looked too alone and without friends, so ads were created to show him as part of a group.

"The dominant values in a masculine society are achievement and success [while] the dominant values in a feminine society are caring for others and quality of life." Celebrity endorsements, a type of hero-worshipping, is more acceptable in masculine societies.

People in a country that scores high in uncertainty avoidance "feel threatened by uncertainty and ambiguity and try to avoid these situations." Countries scoring highest are Germany and Italy, whose advertising styles include more structure, long copy and testimonials by experts.

As for Confucian dynamism, east Asian countries score highest because their cultures look beyond the next quarter. Their ads reflect the desire to be in harmony with nature and longevity.

Being mindful of individual cultures is an undeniable component of a successful modern marketing program.

Increasingly, Ms. de Mooij notes, global advertisers are moving away from the American model of marketing toward more individualized campaigns.

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