How to Create Culturally Appealing Ads

By Kaye Marks Published 12/31/1969 | Advertising
Culture is the beliefs, social norms and traits of a group. Culture affects everyone in everything they do. From personal relationships to the business culture at work, the way we conduct ourselves is defined. Culture helps us understand each other.

When you are creating your advertising strategy, you need to think about your target audience and the cultures that define them. Cross-cultural communication tries to lessen the negative impact of clashing cultural differences by assembling common frameworks for people of different cultures to interact in. In the business world, cross cultural communication is used in areas such as negotiations, human resources, Web site design, and of course, advertising.

Products are generally designed and marketed at a domestic audience. When companies want to take their business international, they generally take their advertising campaign with them. However, the advertising campaign used domestically will rarely work internationally. Different perceptions and values exist abroad, which leaves the original advertising campaign obsolete. Therefore, it is vital to any cross-cultural campaign to understand the cultures you are going to advertise to.

Here are a few things to consider when launching a cross-cultural advertising campaign.

Language. Okay, duh. You know that there could be language barriers or nuances that need to be worked out to get your message across. You should consult with a native speaker, if possible, to check that none of your language is offensive and means what you think it means.

Even the big guys make this kind of mistake. For instance, Ford marketed the Pinto in Brazil. Sales were falling rapidly and they did not know why until someone told them that Brazilians did not want to drive a car whose name means ‘tiny male genitals’ in their language.

In addition, the ideas behind the language used needs to be suited for many cultures. Mainly religious cultures disapprove of one game manufacturer’s slogan to “Challenge Everything.” Religious cultures do not challenge their religious leaders and their gods.

The way you communicate. How you present information can make cultures cringe or accept your message with open arms. For example, you can communicate explicitly or implicitly. Explicit advertising communication assumes the customer does not know any background information or anything related to the product. The United States uses explicit communication. Implicit advertising communication assumes the customer is well informed about the product and related topics, and that the customers will understand the message from what is implied. Japan uses implicit communication.

Colors, numbers and images. Just like colors can mean something to gangs, in different cultures, colors have meanings. For instance, in China, red is considered a lucky color. In Japan, black is considered unlucky.  If you use color printing, or even if you do not by using the standard black and white motif, be careful where you use these colors.

Numbers can also be considered unlucky or lucky. In the United States, the number 13 is considered unlucky and is not usually used in advertising. In Japan, the numbers four and nine are considered unlucky because of their pronunciation.

Images or photos can also offend cultural norms. Women in bathing suits on billboards are common in the United States, but infuriate people in the Middle East.

Consider cultural values. If a culture values its religion, it is best not to poke fun at any religious leader or image. For example, if you want to advertise in Asia, it is not a good idea to poke fun at Buddha. If a culture relies on and values family, do not downplay family values or promote individuality.

Kaye Z. Marks is an avid writer and follower of developments in commercial color printing industry and how these improvements can benefit small to medium-scale business.