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Advertising is not only an economic phenomenon, but also a cultural phenomenon, which is a kaleidoscope, the reflection of social culture. Linguists Wallace called the ads as the most culturally characterized social language among all the discourses. Culture is a compound entirety, and every community has its own unique culture. And language is an important part of culture, which mirrors the history and cultural background of a country, as well as contains the nation’s life style and thinking style. That is to say, the development of language has accumulated abundant culture, the writing of which reflects the most profound connotation of culture. Thus, as a part of language, inevitably, advertisement language can be influenced by culture. This thesis researches into the cultural differences between China and western countries reflected in advertising language, in order to make communication between China and western counties much easier.
[Key Words] Advertisement; Cultural Differences; Values; National Trait
In the age of information, advertising has become an important source of information for modern life. With the globalization of the economy, advertising is becoming a worldwide commercial activity nowadays. As different kinds of culture conflicted with each other, any commercial advertising can not only operate in the information conveying commodities, but also have a mission of cultural dissemination. Different cultural backgrounds, different values breed different advertising creativity. The study is attempted to explore the cultural differences between China and western countries through various examples, with the purpose of getting better understanding of the developing trend of advertising both at home and abroad.
Language is the mirror and reflection of culture. As a special kind of expression of language, advertisement, with no doubt, can’t be separated from language. Therefore, it was born with a deep print of culture inevitably. As for the cultural differences, a number of scholars have tried to explain it in different aspects. In the past on the study of cultural differences in advertising, people tended to pick the perspective of linguistics, focusing on the vocabulary, syntax and rhetoric identity, but it is not limited to language but rather a cultural phenomenon. Many academics are trying to explore cultural differences in advertisement between China and western countries. The Dutch scholar G Hofstede who took three dimensions to analyze East-West cultural differences: individualism and collectivism self-reference and ethnocentricity, color signs and symbols, were more successful. Many Chinese scholars also did some research from a variety of angles in this area, such as Niu Xiaojuan, Xu Dezhen and so on. On the basis of the formers, the author collected a large number of materials, trying to discuss cultural differences in advertisement between China and western countries.
Advertisement is part of culture. Culture includes philosophy, thinking, behavior, cultural psychology, ethics, customs, traditions and religious beliefs of history, and so on. The author have read a lot of books and collected a large number of materials concerning this study. Herein the author only chooses some aspects of culture to analyze and explore the differences between China and western countries.
II. Definitions of Culture & Advertisement
Culture, a hot issue at home and abroad, is a very complicated, multidimensional, and nonrepresentational subject. According to the definition from The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (Crystal, 1997: 784), culture is “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief and behavior”. “Culture defined consists of language, ideas, customs, beliefs, institutions, tools, techniques, taboos, and works of art, rituals, ceremonies, and other related components.” And Hurford (1987: 315) defines culture as the most general concept to describe the behavior of human being and history. It refers to many items at different levels of generality: ideas, values, emotions, actions, tendencies and accumulations.
In fact, although there are hundreds of definitions of culture, anthropologists agree that the learned ways of behaving and adapting are included in the culture, as contrasted to carry on behavioral patterns of instincts. Social scientists divide culture into several groups like family, politics, economics, education and religion.
Culture and language are connecting to each other. Culture can not be discussed without language used in it. According to Kirkpatrick (1995: 271-295), culture refers to “The life way and its manifestations that are specifically to a community that uses a particular language as its means of expression.” Culture is an abstraction concept; it includes almost everything, no matter material or spiritual. Language is the expression of culture. Different languages have its different cultural meanings. It is limited to accept diversity culture, especially the spiritual scope. But Language is the most important foundation of the transfer of culture. One aspect is, as the basic part of culture, language carries culture, reflects culture, and develops culture. Another aspect is language is influenced by culture deeply in many aspects of our life.
There are many definitions for advertisement; American Marketing Association defines advertising as “the non-personal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about products, services or ideas by dandified sponsor through various media.” With the development of technology and globalization, advertisement is run through into every aspect in various styles and becoming a rigueur part of our daily life. The advertisement is a commercial activity in the market economy for the image of enterprises and the brand of a product. The customers, as the audience of the advertisement, are edified by different cultural environment in their thoughts and consciousness.
Advertising language, including advertising words and pictures, is a peculiar form of language, and the particularity determined its close bond with culture. Therefore the advertisement composers are inclined to design the ads on the basis of good understanding of the cultural characteristics and rack their brains to make the ads catering to the customers’ cultural psychology through language skills and fancy pictures. On the contrary, without fail, we could realize the cultural differences through varied advertisements.
III. Cultural Differences in Advertisements between China and Western Counties
Today, with the development of the technology and the spread of the mass media, advertising has a widely influence to our daily life. However, whatever promoting strategies advertising companies use, the language is the main carrier of the message. As Vestergaard & Schroder (1985: 246) point out, “advertising takes many forms, but in most of them language is of crucial importance.” Advertising language is presented in a style that has immediate impact with the intent of rapid persuasion. In the world market, the translation of advertising language is essential for the effective transmission of advertising and thus the sale of products. However, before the translation is undertaken, having a good knowledge of both the similar and different characteristics of advertising language used in the West and in China is a must. In this section the author would like to talk about it in the following aspects.
Cultural values is a criterion that people judge the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the worthy and the unworthy, the clean and the dirty, the correct and the wrong, the kind and the cruel, the just and the unjust, the decent and the indecent and so on. Psychologist Henry Murray defined that value is the psychological reflection of basic demands, which should be changed by the real world. That is to say values are a kind of thought eager for something.
In this section the author like to talk about it in the following aspects.
3.1.1 Individual vs. Collectivity
Generally speaking, western culture encourages individual orientation that is more concerned about their own interests, as well as individual successes and achievements, and is self-centered, with emphasis on personal dignity, and encourages and praises those who have wealth to the challenges and difficulties of people. By comparison, the eastern nations show more hierarchical groups orientation and the orientation of the overall interests of nation and prominent family, with particular emphasis on finding family interests and family ethics and coordinating relations. Thus, the traditional Chinese culture recognizes the value of the individual, to a certain extent, from individuals and groups (family, religious and national) such cultural difference is a clear manifestation in advertising home and abroad.
China is a large traditional agricultural social pattern, so it focuses on the Chinese cultural system collectivism, authoritative character. Chinese people have strong patriotic feelings, emphasizing national self-esteem, self-belief. The following examples are inclined to illustrate this view.
Zhonghua toothpaste: åå¹´é£Žé›¨åŽ†ç¨‹ï¼Œä¸åŽæ°¸è¿œåœ¨æˆ‘å¿ƒä¸ (Hu Zhongli, Zhu Lijuan&Wang Yafei, 2007).
10 years of ups and downs, China forever in our hearts
The ads not only show this brand enjoys years’ of popularity but also expresses that Chinese people love their motherland through the homophonic pun. The following examples are no exception to this rule.
ç¾Žè±å†°ç®± MeiLing refrigerator
Chinese life, Chinese MeiLing
é•¿è™¹é›†å›¢ ChangHong Group Cooperation
ChangHong shoulder the mission of dedicating itself to the service of its motherland and nation prosperity.
This not only reflects the growth of China’s national industry is the reality, but also expresses people’s national pride and inspires love of national goods, contributing to the revitalization of the national industries.
In the United Statesï¼Œas a dominant social individualism, personal unique personality means the pursuit of his own words, behavior, thought and distinctiveness. Advertisement of American Opel car directly advertised product ‘unique’, highlighting their seeking personality traits. “All cars are the same these days”. We’ve all heard this said. But not by anybody who knows about Opel. Coincidentally, an advertisement of Porsche sports car with a brilliant attractive picture of a red sports car running rapidly on the Highway, creates “Lonely wolf ” image as luxury sport cars driving through a forest. There is no doubt that such advertising can meet management objectives, such as young consumers’ desire for self-expression, the pursuit of brilliant psychological cause. From the above examples, it is not difficult to see that self-expression, independent spirit and values of individuals struggling to be fully reflected in the advertising.
3.1.2 Love vs. Respect
To some extent, love and respect are synonymy for they have much in common. By the respect love from, and love distillated to respect is a process of quantitative and qualitative change, but they cannot be the same. Respect is always from the lower to the upper while love is equal regardless of level and class. With traditional cultural influence of each own, Chinese advertisement is respect-oriented while western countries love-oriented. This is because in China, “filial piety” is a virtue. Chinese people deeply feel the responsibility of the family. Not only morally, but also legally, children have the obligation and responsibility of maintenance for the elderly. Filial piety is a faithful, honest basis. One Expression of filial piety is distinguishing elderly. Such values have been strengthened in advertising. Let’s take a look at two medicine ads in China and abroad.
Health Protection Yangshen in television advertising: On the Screen, the son acted by movie star Huang Rihua is worried about his father’s health, so he buys him today Yangshen which will probably benefit his physical condition. But probably as a result of little communication between the father and son, it’s a little difficult for the son to find the way to present Yangshen to his father. When the son is practicing “father, I love you” in his room, the father breaks in and looks at the son with surprise and misunderstanding. At this time, the son hands Yangshen over to his father and speaks out “father, I love you”, then we could see the tear in the father’s eyes.
Adalat Oros advertisement of preventing cardiovascular medicine: a picture of a healthy elderly full of energy and spirit and together with his newly young married wife wearing her wedding dress in front of the church, his self-confidence and charming smile on his face. Advertising language is: “He should live longer than he expected.”
Two commercials are both good advertising, but also illustrate different cultural foundation in Chinese and Western world. One is respect oriented, and the other love oriented.
YangShen advertising today shows that in the Chinese family, child shows respect to his father at first, then the love. Commercials take full advantage of the Chinese culture; achieving an effect that Yangshen is not only just for health supply but a token to express love.
Likewise, Adalat Oros is a kind of medicine. It takes the performance by using humor that two people with age gap get married, the advertisements feature mock language, relaxed and candidly conveying brand concept: Love for your health is treasure and cherish life! The high confidence from high-hold head of the young lady and the crafty smile of the old fellow clearly manifested the contest between love and life (Wang Chunmei, Wan Yinong&Zhang Lei, 2006).
3.1.3 Authority vs. Freedom
China has experienced a long history in the feudal society, as its mainstream culture, Confucianism has been widely influencing the lives of Chinese people, who have also formed a less thinking mode advocating moderation and upholding the authority. This is reflected in the life of the people, who will always take professional judgment and authority sector report as golden rule without any suspicion. Thus, China’s advertising is always full of experts and recommends certification of authority sector. By comparison, the Western advertisers are more inclined to create an image for the brand, giving expression to the people’s desire for individuality and freedom. We could see the differences in the following advertisement.
é«˜ éœ² æ´: é«˜éœ²æ´é€‰é«˜æ¡£ä¼˜è´¨çš„æ´é½¿ææ-™ï¼Œå®Œå…¨ç¬¦åˆå›½å®¶æ ‡å‡†ï¼Œæ›´ä¼˜äºŽå›½é™…æ ‡å‡†ï¼Œä¸ç£¨æŸç‰™é½¿ï¼Œä¿æŒç‰™é½¿è¡¨é¢æ´å‡€å…‰æ»‘ã€‚é«˜éœ²æ´ç‰™è†åœ¨ä¸-ç•Œä¸Šå-åˆ°è¶…è¿‡40ä¸ªç‰™åŒ»å¦ä¼šæ‰¿è®¤ï¼Œæ›´å¤šä¸å›½å£è…”æŠ¤ç†ä¸“å®¶é€‰ç”¨å“ç‰Œï¼Œä¸å›½å£è…”åŒ»å¦ä¼š(CSA )ï¼Œä¸åŽé¢„é˜²ç‰™åŒ»ä¼š(CPMA)æŽ¨èå“ç‰Œã€‚
The company selected high quality tooth-cleaning materials, fully in line with national standards. This toothpaste does not wear the teeth, but makes it clean and glossy. It has been recognized by more than 40 Dental Associations in the world and more Chinese experts choose this brand. CSA and CPMA recommend the brand.
Safeguard, a brand of fancy soap, also takes the print of Chinese Medical Association as an attractive point.
In the western advertisement, seldom do we find the reorganization of authority. As for the westerners, freedom and individualism is much more important.
Nike Just do it
Marlboro Come to where the flavor is
Come to Marlboro Country (Han Ping, 2005).
Marlboro is a name of cigarette. Here “Marlboro Country” refers to the people who smoke this kind of cigarette which makes people forget their manual processes, thus there is a yearning for freedom to return to the nature. “Flavor” has two meanings here. One is the unique taste; the other is the special dress and grace of the smoker. “Marlboro man” represents the most successful, most influential brand image in the century. He is dressed in jeans, riding a tall courser, with a cigarette in his mouth and blue sky as background. All this is a symbol of pizzazz, and freedom, which many young men pursue. Commercial advertisers take this image serving as a foil to the passionate, adventurous, exciting and free life which people are yearning and pursuing. Because this advertisement fully satisfies the westerners’ expectation for freedom, Marlboro receives an agreeable and delectable return.
3.1.4 Contribution vs. Enjoyment
China is a large agricultural social pattern; the Chinese put much stress on collectivism, authoritative character, submitting to nature. The advertisement reflected the characteristics of Chinese culture.
åŽåŠ›çèšŠå™¨,é»˜é»˜æ- èšŠçš„å¥‰çŒ® (Hua Li– mosquito killer)
Hua Li mosquito killer makes the world no mosquitoes.
This arouses resonance in the minds of consumers.
As for the westerners, they have a tendency of enjoyment. There is a popular saying in the USA: Work hard, and enjoy yourself. An important concept of Americans working is separating work hours and leisure time. In their view, the work is no doubt important, but entertainment and relaxation is the best way to improve efficiency.
The following ads are the best certification.
Enjoy absolute Vodka, enjoy life, it deserves you. (Vodka)
Just for the taste of it. (Coca Cola)
Be youngï¼Œhave fun, drink PEPSI.
Take time to indulgeï¼Žï¼ˆNES Ice creamï¼‰These advertisements demonstrate the consumer’s concept: enjoy life, seek for abundant consumption, and possession of pleasing products.
3.2 National Trait
Every country has its own nation trait, according to these nation traits; we mean the qualities, characteristics, tendencies, values, moral principles and beliefs. All of them are a part of culture. Here, the author from three aspects respective to illustrate and exhibit the cultural differences.
3.2.1 Traditional vs. Newfangled
Chinese people love jubilant scenes, love to listen to auspicious words. A lot of the advertising language starting from the basic mass psychology fully reflects radiant spare atmosphere. For example:
We won’t accept presents this festival except Naobaijin
(A kind of health protection food)
On the screen, the family, including old and young, with cheerful expression, shows the harmony and happiness.
ç¦æ°”å¤šå¤š, æ»¡æ„å¤šå¤š(Instant Noodle Advertisement)
(Much happiness, much satisfaction)
å”åºœå®¶é…’ï¼Œå«äººæƒ³å®¶(Wine Advertisement) (Kongfu family wine reminds people of home)
All in all, most advertisements of wine and food have an obvious Chinese characteristic, and also embody the traditional character of “ç¦ç¦„å¯¿å-œè´¢”(auspicious words in China).
Western culture encourages people to develop innovation, self-advocacy, and liberalism, emphasizing individuality, personal values, particularly advocating individual, equality, competition and frank vocal, active participation and self-affirmation of the export-oriented character. Reflected in the words in the language of advertising, it shows a personalized curriculum and creates something unconventional. The following is an ad for Motorola.
Baked, Drenched, Tested to the extreme. A Motorola cellular phone stands tough in the face of torture. Just ask Danielle Bel1, whose phone came back from the ashes of a three–alarm fire. Motorola, the best- sellingï¼Œmost preferred cellular phones in the world. This is a unique advertising idea; a picture of the Motorola mobile phone of deformation, there must be nothing but a big disaster. Clearly it will leave a lasting impression.
Another ad for tyre: Even its footprint tells you it’s different (Han Ping, 2005).
You will find everything unique and fresh in advertising language.
3.2.2 Implicative vs. Outright
Different cultural backgrounds decide different expressions. Chinese people express affection, friendship and love with implicit personality in the advertising language.
é›•ç‰Œæ´-è¡£ç²‰å¹¿å‘Š: A Little girl used Diaopai washing powder to wash clothes while her mother went out to find job. And she left a note: Mum, I can help you with housework.
This love for Mum touched all the people who watched it.
å-æ±‡å…ƒè‚¾å®ï¼Œä»-å¥½æˆ‘ä¹Ÿå¥½ã€‚ (Health Products Advertisement) (Xu Dezhen, 2003).
The advertisement expressed the implicative and self-evident affection between wife and husband.
But in western countries the expression of affection is very explicit. For instanceï¼šTake the phone to pass your loveï¼The originality is that the daughter from thousands of miles away called her parents, who were having their dinner, and said: “I love you.”
There is another advertisement on TOYOTA:
I love what you do for me (Xu Dezhen, 2003).
The open-and-shut character fully revealed its candor.
3.2.3 Conservative vs. Extroverted
Chinese and western culture has differences in orientation and understanding on sex. Our advertising regulations specifically prohibit a picture of temptation and seduction or sexual content. Even if it is necessary to involve related content, it will become implicit and hidden.
Owing to the relatively conservative nature of the concept, many perfume and cosmetics advertisements stress implicitness.
For instance: ä»Šå¹´äºŒåï¼Œæ˜Žå¹´åå…«
This year you are 20, next year 18. (Baili Soap) (Xu Dezhen, 2003).
Keep young, keep charming. (Cosmetics advertisement)
Pox disappears. (Cosmetics advertisement)
But in the western countriesï¼Œadvertisement concerning sex can be found everywhere, and the exposed beautiful women is common.
An ad for Charlie perfume:
The generous, sexy-young fragrance. By Revlon (Wu Keming, 1999: 178).
Your perfume turns him on. Will your breath turn him off?
Such an advertisement is not allowed in China, but it seems that the Western advertisement composers take delight in it.
3.3 Thinking Mode
Thinking is an important part, highest rally, main designer and commitment of human culture. In other words, thinking is the underlying essence of human cultural phenomenon. Thinking can be divided into two basic types: intuitive thinking and logical thinking. Chinese advertisements focus on intuitive thinking while the westerners stress logical thinking.
The advertisement witnessed the different thinking modes in China and West. Take telecom advertisement as an illustration.
In order to express the concept of “Telecom communicates, heart communicates”, Chinese telecom spares no efforts in five different dribs and drabs in daily life: Communication is solicitude (father and son); Communication is love (mine worker date); Communication is share (quarrel between couple); Communication is understood (father and son); Communication is respect (teacher and student). Directly, it tells the customers that telecom can shorten distance between people and make communication convenient without space limitation but intendment and true feelings (Xu Dezhen, 2003). China telecom spends so much time, only in hope of passing the concept clearly and directly. It’s not difficult for us to realize the thinking way of the originality is intuitive thinking. It not only tallies with the Chinese traditional thinking way but suits the cultural habit of the audiences. And the same is telecommunications advertising. The United States ingeniously introduced only one life detail: Yawning. A man walking on the street has a causal yawn, a woman not far follows him— another yawn, and then one elderly is also infected with a yawn. And what even more interesting is the pet doggie accompanying them with yawning. At the sight of this picture, at first, I didn’t realize what it wants to appeal for at the very moment. Just then the words hit the mark with a single comment: Communicating is very simple.
This is a perfect advertising; I can’t but admire the western logical ideation. Yawning is only a normal phenomenon, but the western advertisers tell the customers that communication is as easy as yawning. You can communicate with any one at any time if you are willing to.
3.4 Attitudes towards Animals, Numbers, and Plants
People living in different cultures backgrounds may have their own different attitudes and thoughts towards animals, numbers, and plants. One culture may not mean the same in another. That is why the same words have different meaning in different countries. The differences caused by such words in advertising may be illustrated with the following examples.
We all know that Chinese people often regard bats as a good luck because the Chinese character “è ” sounds the same as “ç¦” (meaning “good fortune” or “blessing”). Some Chinese legends say that when a bat lives 100 years, it turns white in color and hangs upside down from a tree, and eating that bat could bring person longevity. A red bat foretells even better luck for “çº¢è ” sounds exactly the same as “æ´ªç¦” (being supremely fortunate) (Hu Wenzhong, 2005). But in western cultures the translator must adapts their linguistic habit to the different attitude towards the animal, they do not think “Bat” is a good name, because bat is regarded as an extremely evil omen in much European folklore. So may be translations like “Fortunes” better.
Sometimes numbers can lead to a variety of associations. Common speaking, every culture has some numbers. It is believed to be either “fortunate” or sometimes” sinister”, However, that may sometimes different. Then we take the translation of “7-up” for example, which is a brand of soft drink. Many English speaking countries deem that the number “7” is a very luck number for the peopleï¼Œwhile Chinese people don’t think so. The meaning is different in Chinese eyes. According to the cultural difference, the translator is trying to make the same effect among the Chinese buyer. So they work out the name “ä¸ƒå-œ”. The name of it is very acceptable for the people because its first part “ä¸ƒ” is faithful to the brand name without transmitting any unfavorable meaning, and its second part “å-œ”transmit the meaning of “happy and good luck”, and so offset the loss of connotation in the number “7”.
Finally, plant words also have different meanings in different cultures. For example, the brand named “æ°´ä»™”, Chinese people think it means clean and honest. But to English people, the word “narcissus” means a self-loving person. So if these washing machines use such a brand name, cultural adaptation is necessary to western consumers. So the word “Daffodil” might be more suitable.
In brief, using these types of words as brand names in a global market often means taking a risk. As we have said, the producers should be more careful when creating such brand names in advertising (Zhou Ruxin, 2004). Cultural conflict and difference is almost everywhere, even the exiguous part shouldn’t be neglected. So it is a wise decision to take the above cultural element into consideration while bringing the products into world market.
3.5 Geographical Location Differences
In cultures, the location may be regard as an important element. In languages, different locations have different languages cultures, and it can interpret differently in different cultures. For example, snow has become an indispensable part of Eskimos’ life. So they have a quite large vocabulary of different kinds of snow in their language. While people living in India can hardly imagine what is snow, what snow looks like. So there is no word for “snow”.
There is another example: China has once produced a series of agricultural machines called “ä¸œé£Ž” because of the geographical location of China. Chinese people think that “ä¸œé£Ž” is a symbol of warmth which means good omen. In China, it means “advantageous conditions” as the Chinese “ä¸‡äº‹ä¿±å¤‡ï¼Œåªæ¬ ä¸œé£Ž” (Zhou Ruxin, 2004). But in western countries, “east wind” has totally different meaning. For them, their “west wind” is the same as our “east wind”. Therefore, though the brand name was put into “East Wind”, many people hold that the more proper name might be “West Wind”.
Culture is the product of historical development of human beings. Advertising is the product of social and economic highly development. In modern society, advertising plays an increasingly heavy role. In a sense, the advertising impacts on our lives all aspects. It not only transmits product information to us, more transmit a kind of cultural awareness. As for the cultural differences, a number of scholars have tried to explain it in different aspects. In the past on the study of cultural differences in advertising, people tended to pick the perspective of linguistics, focusing on the vocabulary, syntax and rhetoric identity, but it is not limited to language but rather a cultural phenomenon.
Advertisement , as a community cultural patterns, since its naissanceï¼Œembodies cultural uniqueness and nationality. On the basis of the formers, the author collected a large number of materials, trying to discuss cultural differences in advertisement between China and western countries. But cultural background of one nation, after all, has obstacle. In the contemporary world, with the development of globalization, no matter Chinese or Western advertising, cultural dialogue and cross-cultural communication is absolutely necessary to survive and make further development. Thus the advertisement both in China and west can win amalgamation. Boldly speaking, our purpose is to make the current advertisement to achieve a bourn of “seeking common points while reserving difference, seeking uniqueness while together.” This study attempts to provide some information for the advertisers through comparison between Chinese and Western advertisements in the process of international and intercultural communication.
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