Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Significance of Culture in Advertising

By Katherine Weider

The introduction of the iPod more than a decade ago led the Vatican to ask two questions – Is it good? And is it useful? Church officials weren't concerned with how much it cost, or where they could get it.  They simply wanted to know whether or not it would be of use in everyday life.  

Turns out, these two questions apply to the advertising world as well, and are considered when it comes to the strategic planning of an ad campaign.  The success of an ad depends on how well a message is presented to an audience; it must make people feel a need for the product or service being sold.  In order to create a good and useful ad, one must first have a full understanding of their audience’s culture and historical background. It is only from there, after considering a country’s cultural norms, that an advertiser can create an ad that is relevant to their audiences’ way of life.
The European culture that I was immersed in during my time abroad has made me aware of the differences between European and American advertising.  The countries in Europe are small and have their own cultural norms.  Each speaks a different language and has its own mannerisms and lifestyles, which is what causes their advertising to be the way it is.  Unlike America, were a company can target a broad range of people using a single ad, European advertisers are faced with the challenge of making multiple ads to fit the culture of each individual country. 

An ad for the Czech candy, Fidorka.
The use of humor in advertisements, for example, is something that European advertisers have to pay close attention to when trying to reach a certain geographic region.  Unlike America, where humor is universally understood, each European country we visited has its own sense of humor that is only understood and appreciated by those in each country. To successfully reach European audiences, it is crucial that advertisers understand these differences.  The Czech Republic's communist past has influenced national attitudes, leading it's people to develop a very negative, sarcastic sense of humor.  In knowing this, an advertiser is able to make an ad to fit the Czech’s distinct personality; and while it is successful in targeting people in Prague and surrounding areas, it may not work in other European countries because they would not understand the ad’s sarcastic tone. 
The many languages spoken throughout Europe are something ad agencies must consider when creating advertisements. Unlike America, were English is the dominant language, Europeans have to work with a wide range of languages. I was truly impressed with how easily people could switch in and out of languages depending on to whom they were talking.  People were not only able to speak and understand the language of a country but could also interpret that language within its cultural context.  Every news station we visited was very diverse and employed people from all around the world, most of whom were fluent in multiple languages. In America, language differences are considered to be a communication barrier because not many people are able to speak multiple languages. In Europe, however, having the ability to speak multiple languages is an absolute necessity when working with an ad agency because there is no one language everyone shares. 

The day-to-day European lifestyle plays a huge role in the way things are advertised in Europe and differ from American advertisements significantly.  I noticed that, in Europe, people seem to be a lot more laid back about things.  For example, they don’t go into work until 9, which is considered a late start in America, and do not dress very professionally when going to work. Jeans are acceptable to wear to work whereas, in America, jeans are considered casual and unprofessional.  Europeans also tend to be more personable when meeting new people and are accustomed to shaking hands and kissing cheeks upon introduction.  These lifestyle differences, though they may seem petty, have a big influence in European advertising. 

A friendly waitress handing out menus in front
of Trevi Restaurant.
In my opinion, European advertisements are a lot less ‘in-your-face,’ compared to American advertising, and are mainly used as a way to inform people.  In America, ads are used to highlight a brand’s unique differences and to set that brand apart from other competitors.  European advertisers do not so much promote a particular brand, but focus more on specific categories of goods. I noticed this particularly when it came to food advertisements. In Rome, for example, pizza was not advertised by the brand but rather advertised together as a category of food.  Rather than touting what kind of pizza a restaurant sold or what types of crust they offered, like the American pizzerias do, they simply placed a sign in the front window to inform people they served pizza.  There was no obvious difference between the type of pizza being sold; no brand identity.  Rather than using commercial advertisements, the restaurants in Europe rely more on good customer relations as a means of getting people to come back.  For example, the restaurant owners would often greet you as you walked in the door and took the time to get to know you throughout the course of your meal.  American restaurants, on the other hand, appeal to their customers needs by focusing their ads on quick service and inexpensive prices.  The reason for this advertising difference can be attributed to differring cultural mannerisms.  As mentioned earlier, Europe is more laid back so when it comes time to eat a meal, people like to take the time to enjoy it.  American advertisements would not be effective in Europe because quick service and inexpensive prices are not as important in European countries as it is in America.  The use of signs in front of shops and friendly workers is more effective in advertising to Europeans because it is more relevant to their laid-back way of life. 

Enjoying the dining experience.
In order to advertise to a certain country, you must first have a complete understanding of that countries culture and lifestyle. This journey to Europe has really opened my eyes to the broad range of advertising available across the world; and in order to successfully reach a certain geographic region, I have learned that you must first become a part of its culture by traveling there and experiencing its way of life for yourself.     

Click here to contact Katherine Weider.

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