Identify why and how advertising and promotional strategies might vary among countries.
Another critical element in the marketing mix is communicating the attributes of the product to prospective customers. A number of communication channels are available to a firm, including direct selling, sales promotion, direct marketing, and advertising. A firm’s communication strategy is partly defined by its choice of channel. Some firms rely primarily on direct selling, others on point-of-sale promotions or direct marketing, and others on mass advertising; still others use several channels simultaneously to communicate their message to prospective customers. This section looks first at the barriers to international communication. Then, we will survey the various factors that determine which communication strategy is most appropriate in a particular country. After that, we discuss global advertising.
BARRIERS TO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION
International communication occurs whenever a firm uses a marketing message to sell its products in another country. The effectiveness of a firm’s international communication can be jeopardized by three potentially critical variables: cultural barriers, source effects, and noise levels.
Cultural barriers can make it difficult to communicate messages across cultures. We discussed some sources and consequences of cultural differences between nations in Chapter 4 and in the previous section of this chapter. Because of cultural differences, a message that means one thing in one country may mean something quite different in another. For example, when Procter & Gamble first promoted its Camay soap in Japan, it ran into unexpected trouble. In a TV commercial, a Japanese man walked into the bathroom while his wife was bathing. The woman began telling her husband all about her new soap, but the husband, stroking her shoulder, hinted that suds were not on his mind. This ad had been popular in Europe, but it flopped in Japan because it is considered bad manners there for a man to intrude on his wife.12
Benetton, the Italian clothing manufacturer and retailer, is another firm that has run into cultural problems with its advertising. The company launched a worldwide advertising campaign with the theme “United Colors of Benetton” that had won awards in France. One of its ads featured a black woman breast-feeding a white baby, and another one showed a black man and a white man handcuffed together. Benetton was surprised when the ads were attacked by U.S. civil rights groups for promoting white racial domination. Benetton withdrew its ads and fired its advertising agency, Eldorado of France.
Clothing retailer Benetton has become famous for controversial ads, such as this one, which some countries have refused to run because they were deemed offensive or inappropriate.
The best way for a firm to overcome cultural barriers is to develop cross-cultural literacy (see Chapter 4). In addition, it should use local input, such as a local advertising agency, in developing its marketing message. If the firm uses direct selling rather than advertising to communicate its message, it should develop a local sales force whenever possible. Cultural differences limit a firm’s ability to use the same marketing message and selling approach worldwide. What works well in one country may be offensive in another.
Source and Country of Origin Effects
Source effects occur when the receiver of the message (the potential consumer in this case) evaluates the message on the basis of status or image of the sender. Source effects can be damaging for an international business when potential consumers in a target country have a bias against foreign firms. For example, a wave of “Japan bashing” swept the United States in the early 1990s. Worried that U.S. consumers might view its products negatively, Honda responded by creating ads that emphasized the U.S. content of its cars to show how “American” the company had become.
When the receiver of the message evaluates the message based on the status or image of the sender.
Many international businesses try to counter negative source effects by deemphasizing their foreign origins. When the French antiglobalization protester José Bové was hailed as a hero by some in France for razing a partly built McDonald’s in 1999, the French franchisees of McDonald’s responded with an ad depicting a fat, ignorant American who could not understand why McDonald’s France used locally produced food that wasn’t genetically modified. The edgy ad worked, and McDonald’s French operations are now among the most robust in the company’s global network.13
A subset of source effects is referred to as country of origin effects, or the extent to which the place of manufacturing influences product evaluations. Research suggests that the consumer may use country of origin as a cue when evaluating a product, particularly if he or she lacks more detailed knowledge of the product. For example, one study found that Japanese consumers tended to rate Japanese products more favorably than U.S. products across multiple dimensions, even when independent analysis showed that they were actually inferior.14 When a negative country of origin effect exists, an international business may have to work hard to counteract this effect by, for example, using promotional messages that stress the positive performance attributes of its product. Thus, the South Korean automobile company Hyundai tried to overcome negative perceptions about the quality of its vehicle in the United States by running advertisements that favorably compare the company’s cars to more prestigious brands.