The Role Of Cultural Impacts Cultural Studies Essay

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Culture has numerous definitions and its impact on international marketing networks has been discussed from several perspectives (Möller and Svahn 2002). Culture is seen as a complex and interrelated set of elements, comprising knowledge, beliefs, values, arts, law, manners and morals, and all other kind of skills and habits acquired by a human being as a member of a particular society (Usunier 1996). One of the important elements in culture is language, especially for international marketing. But not only verbal communication is of importance, also the messages given through non-verbal communication; gestures, gesticulations and attitudes are significant. Eye contact, touching, space and privacy are understood and used differently in different cultures. At least 75% of all communication is non-verbal (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner 1997, p.76). The sources of culture have been divided into the following categories: language, nationality, education, profession, ethnic group, religion, family, sex, social class and corporate or organisational culture (Usunier 1996, p.12). In addition, all these sources of culture have its value and judge differently across cultures

Since value judgements vary between and within cultures, perceptions of what constitutes acceptable behaviour also differ: for example a gift in one country may be considered a bribe in another (Cateora and Ghauri, 2000; Doole and Lowe, 2001). Kotabe and Helsen (2004 p.171) highlight the significance of this for international marketers who "must understand and respect cultural subtleties, whilst finding the limits of ethical behaviour"; since a company's ethical stance may affect its ability to do business in some countries. For example, Motorola's lengthy "Code of Business Conduct", sets out standards for accepted behaviour throughout the organisation ( They recognise the "ethical legitimacy" of gift-giving in Japan, but decline to "participate in the practice" (Hamilton and Knouse, 2001 p.87). This allows the company to show respect for Japanese culture, whilst maintaining its own corporate values. Similarly, consideration should be given to product usage and promotion processes, which may not be appropriate in certain cultures or environments."

For example, Benetton, the Italian clothing manufacturer and retailer, is a firm that run into cultural problems with its advert promotion. The company launched a worldwide advertising campaign with the theme 'United Colours of Benetton' that had won awards in France. One of ads feature a black woman breast-feeding a white baby, and another one showed a black and a white man handcuffed together. Benetton was surprised when the U.S. civil rights groups attacked the ads for promoting white racial domination. Cultural sensitivity must pave way for cultural empathy in international marketing policy formulation.

In trying to understand cultural diversity in business, Hofstede (1980) created four dimensions of national cultures measured for management and organisational practices: individualism/collectivism, power distance, masculinity/femininity and uncertainty avoidance. For example, the Power Distance Index is used by Hofstede to show the power inequality between superiors and subordinates within a social system. The dimension helps the marketer to make sense of the structured nature of societies and how their culture influence organisational systems.

Inferences from different cultures should help develop international marketing policy that take into account cross-cultural diversity driven by key cultural factors which is subject to further discussion in this paper.


The scope of the term culture is determined by its elements and this is illustrated in the sketch below.

These elements constitute the environment within which the marketer should operate. Thus, the success or failure of marketing policy will be determined by these different cultural environments.

Exhibit: Ghauri & Cateora (2006), p83



The cultural factors that are key to the success of marketing policy strategy are considered as follows:

Social institution: This includes social organisation and political structures, which help to shape the way a group of people live, relate to one another, organise their activities and govern themselves to ensure peaceful co-existence. The position of men and women in society, the family, social classes, group behaviour and age groups are interpreted differently within every culture. Each institution has an effect on marketing because each influence behaviour, values and the overall patterns. In close -knit family units, for example, it is more effective to aim a promotional campaign at the family unit than at individual family members. Travel advertising in culturally divided Canada pictures a wife alone for the English audience, but a man and wife together for the French segments of the population because the French are traditionally more closely bound by family ties.

Education: the literacy rate in each society is an important aspect and influences the behaviour of people. For the marketer it is important to know the role and level of education in a particular market. It would influence the marketing strategy and techniques used. Which type of advertising and communication is used depends highly on the level of education.

As indicated material culture, has technology that depicts the techniques possessed by a group of people to create material goods. What people create by technology is what they understand it uses. For example, while reading gauges may be understood easily by westerners, the concept can prove difficult for others because of it technical limitation. Again, material culture affects the level of demand and their functional features, as well as the means of production of these goods and their distribution. The marketing implications of the material culture of a country are many: electrical appliances sell in England and France, but have few buyers in other countries where less than 1 percent of the homes have electricity. Even with electrification, economic characteristics represented by the level and distribution of income may limit the desirability of the product.

Belief System: with this category are religion, superstitions and their related power structures. The impact of religion on the value systems of a society and the effect of value systems on marketing must not be underestimated. Religion has an impact upon people's habits, their outlook on life, the products they buy, the way they buy them, even the newspapers they read. For example, advertising of product where there is more emphasis on human body will not be accepted in Islamic countries.

Language: international marketer must take communication in a foreign language seriously since wrong use of language for promotion can be interpreted differently. For example, the adverts 'Pepsi familiar Come Alive with Pepsi' when translated in German, conveyed the idea of coming alive grave. Language has literary, colloquial, slang and idiomatic interpretation. It dynamism and influences on culture makes extremely important for the marketer to acquire excellent communication skills for promotional purposes. Electrolux's advertisement for its vacuum cleaner with the slogan 'Nothing Sucks Better than Electrolux' was not particularly appreciated in Ireland (Ghauri & Cateora, 2006).

Carelessly translated advertising statements not only lose their intended meaning, but suggest something very different, obscene, offensive, or just plain ridiculous.

Aesthetics: closely interwoven with the effect of people and the universe on a culture are its aesthetics; that is, the arts, folklore, music, drama and dance. Aesthetics are of particular interest to the marketer because of their role in interpreting the symbolic meanings of various methods of artistic expression, colour and standards of beauty in culture. Without a culturally correct interpretation of a country's aesthetics, a whole host of marketing problems can arise. Insensitivity to aesthetics values can offend, create a negative impression and, in general, render marketing efforts ineffective. Strong symbolic meanings may be overlooked if one is not familiar with a culture's aesthetics value. The Japanese, for example, revere the crane as being very lucky, for it is said to live a thousand years; however, the use of the number four should be completely avoided since the word for four, shi, is also the Japanese word for death.


Culture differs; its influence on society is as vibrant and dynamic as society itself. Every element needs to be evaluated in the light of how it could affect the design of a marketing programme. While others may have some indirect impacts, others may have total involvement.

It is prudent to say that the degree of the marketing involvement will depend on the uniqueness of the product being promoted. Culture must be seen as a total picture that gives a complete reflection of how a group of people behaviour. Fragmenting culture will give a vague understanding of how they influence marketing policy. All the facets of culture are intricately intertwined and cannot be viewed singly. However, the potential of any marketing strategy must be defined within the context of the immediate cultural milieu.

Finally, the marketer should only be aware that the buying behaviour of people is fundamentally driven by some degree of underpinning cultures.




For the inexperienced marketer, the similar-but-different aspect of culture creates illusions of similarity that usually do not exist. Several nationalities can speak the same language or have similar race and heritage, but it does not follow that similarities exist in other respects - that a product acceptable to one culture will be readily acceptable to the other, or that promotional message that succeeds in one country will succeed in the other.

Making cross-cultural comparison within cultures using the 'Akan' speaking tribe in my native Ghana, an illusion of similarity could exist for the inexperienced marketer when promoting marketing message in their language. That is, the 'Akan' speaking tribe in Ghana is made up of the 'Twi (Ashantes) and the 'Fantes'. These two tribes have a language that is both synonymic and homonymic. For example the vernacular 'Me da wo asse' means thank you for the 'Twi (Asante) but for the 'Fantse' the same phrase means 'prostrate for sex' which is vulgar or indecent phrase for public consumption. Therefore, an inexperienced marketer would be wrong to promote his marketing message based on similarities without the due diligence to the cultural nuances that exist between the two people.

That is, a common language does not guarantee a similar interpretation of even a word or phrase. Both the American and the British speak English, but their cultures are sufficiently different that a single phrase has different meanings to each and can even be completely misunderstood. In England, one asks to be directed to a lift instead of an elevator, and an American, when speaking of speaking of a bathroom, generally refers to a toilet, while in England a bathroom is a place to take a tub bath. Also, the England 'hoover' a carpet whereas Americans vacuum clean it. Differences run deep than language differences. In reality, profound differences do exist.

According to Axtell, there are a number of things that one should or should not do when conducting business in France. For example:

- Never eat sandwiches with your fingers (Axtell et al. 1997, 59).

- The French are "appalled by the way anyone else speaks French - it is safer to stick to English except for greetings, toasts and an occasional isolated phrase"(Axtell 1993, 27).

- Avoid using toothpicks, nail clippers or combs in public, yawning or scratching in public or slapping an open palm over the closed fist - it has a vulgar meaning (Axtell 1991, 136).

- Using the index and middle fingers to push the nose upward signals "It's so easy I could do it with my fingers up my nose" (Axtell 1991, 136).

- Don't smile excessively; the French don't smile unless there is a good reason (Axtell et al. 1997, 61).

Again, the European Union is "guided by the principle of the equality of national languages" (Conseil Européen pour les Langues 2001, 6). The Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) "declares that all Union citizens have the right to write to any European institution in one of the official languages and to receive a response in the same language. Furthermore, the Representatives of the Member States, that is to say the Ministers, as well as Members of the European Parliament, have the right to speak in any of the 11 official languages. Finally, European legislation must be available in all the Union languages" (Conseil Européen pour les Langues 2001, 6-7). The importance of this treaty is that the union does not see itself as a homogeneous entity. Clear differences exist which must be given the prominence it deserve regarding any business of the house.

There is also the tendency to speak of the 'European consumer' as a result of growing integration in Europe. Many of the obstacles to doing business in Europe have been or will be eliminated as the EU takes shape, but marketers anxious to enter the market must not jump to the conclusion that a unified Europe means a common set of consumer wants and needs. Cultural differences among the members of the EU are the products of centuries of history that will take further centuries to erase.

A single geopolitical boundary does not necessarily mean a single culture: Canada is divided culturally between its French and English heritages although it is politically one country. A successful marketing strategy among the French Canadians may be a certain failure among remaining Canadians. With most cultures there are many subcultures that can have marketing significance.

Asians are frequently grouped together as if there were no cultural distinctions among Japanese, Koreans and Chinese, to name but a few of the many ethnic groups in the Pacific regions. Asian cannot be viewed as a homogeneous entity and the marketer must understand the subtle and not-so-subtle differences among Asian cultures. Each country (culture) has its own unique national character.

Finally, another good example is in my native Ghana: people from the north who are predominantly 'Hausa' speak different language and do not even understand the 'Akan' in the south. Within the same geographical borders, distinctive cultural differences exist but the uniqueness of these subcultures converge to portray national character. The marketer should be weary of the potential conflict could erupt when subcultures within cultures are lumped together as one for promotional purposes.

Similarity does not mean the same but can be an illusion.


A complete and thorough dimensions of culture may be the single most important gain to a global marketer in the preparation of marketing plans and strategies. For this reasons, special effort and study are needed to absorb enough understanding of a foreign culture to cope with all its complex features.

Perhaps, it is safe to generalise that of all the tools the global marketer must have, those that help generate empathy for another culture are most valuable.