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Article Review: Cultural Effects on Marketing

April 18th, 2008

targeted-marketing.jpgIn our third and final article review of this series, Eliot Erfurt examines the cultural aspects that affect any successful marketing campaign. The review includes some rather humorous examples of what can happen when marketers fail to educate themselves about the cultural differences between the people of their own region and those of their target markets.


Article Reviewed:

Reese, S. (1998). Culture shock. Marketing Tools, 5 (4), 44-48.

Purpose of the article: Culture affects the buying behavior of consumers. If a business does not familiarize itself with the culture of a specific marketing group, advertising dollars and product sales may suffer. The article lists numerous examples of the adverse effects that may result if the culture of specific groups are ignored and also gives suggestions on how to avoid the pitfalls of ethnic marketing.

Summary: Culture is the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning. The author, Shelly Reese, begins the article with numerous and often humorous examples of what can happen if cultures clash in the marketplace. The author cites relevant facts to back up the assertion that culture cannot be ignored in today’s marketplace. Finally, a list of helpful suggestions on what and how to incorporate cultural differences into product design and advertising is given.

Excellent examples of cultural ignorance are listed in the article. Some of these include:

  • The Coors slogan, “Turn it loose”, was unfortunately translated into Spanish as, “Suffer from diarrhea”.
  • Pepsi’s slogan, “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” translated into Chinese as, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”.
  • A horrible implication was made in Africa when Gerber sold its baby food with a picture of a beautiful baby on the jar. Since most Africans cannot read English, the usual practice for companies, unknown or ignored by Gerber, was that the contents (not the consumers) were shown on the front of the product.
  • The brand name of the facial tissue “Puffs” means brothels in colloquial German! The product had been marketed before the mistake was discovered.
  • The people at Parker pen assumed the Spanish word “embarazar” means “to embarrass”. Unfortunately, part of their pen ad, “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” became “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.” The word “embarazar” means “to impregnate”.

As the world leans toward more free trade and accommodates an expansive global market, the necessity of incorporating culture into product decision making becomes clear. Even within the United States, the white population is becoming more fragmented. Reese explains, “…immigration from Europe has been on the rise. Between 1985 and 1995, more than 1.2 million European migrants settled in the U.S. That represents 14 percent of total immigration.” New immigrants offer a distinctly different target market as they acculturate into the mainstream American society. The minority populations in the United States will make up 50% of the total by the year 2050. Certainly, all Americans will continue to have many things in common, but the future points toward increasing growth from immigration and therefore more specific and numerous target markets.

Reese suggests some common sense, yet often overlooked, factors to consider before marketing a product. These timely ideas include:

  • Never assume you know a population different from your own. Many times your assumption many be based on erroneous stereotyping.
  • What works in one area of the market will not necessarily work in all places.
  • Advertising in an ethnic market means more than simply translating your brochure or ad. The words, although translated correctly, may not connect with the cultural norms of the group. As the author explains, “Real target marketing demands the creation of messages that appeal to the specific sensitivities of an audience.”
  • Even the colors used in an advertisement may carry significance. Koreans or Japanese would recognize the color red or gold as targeted for Chinese consumers – not for them.
  • Cultural relevance, explains Reese, means understanding a group’s values and customs and is very different from cultural opportunism.
  • Take the time to understand and learn what is important to a particular market. Brand names are not always enough.

Conclusion: The best ethnic marketing results from an understanding of what carries values within a culture. The business must make a commitment to the community and culture to establish a lasting relationship between themselves and the consumers.

Implications: The study of consumer behavior is a basic tenet of marketing strategy. It is used to promote the marketing approach and enhance the effectiveness of marketing strategy. Culture plays a vital role in consumer behavior particularly because of the increasing trend toward a global marketplace. The culture of specific consumer groups, therefore, has implications in brand image and branding, product positioning, marketing segmentation, new product development, pricing, choosing distributing channels, advertising, and promotion.



3 Responses to “Article Review: Cultural Effects on Marketing”

  1. comment number 1 by: book_it

    Always a plus to do your homework when dealing with a global market. ;)

  2. comment number 2 by: Mary

    This article has help me tremendously with my assignment on culture and the implications for marketers.

    Great job and thanks a mill.

  3. comment number 3 by: Sohail Hanif Satti

    It’s informative. :)

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