Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
March 22, 1999
Consumer response to ads depends on culture, prof says
Want to sell a pair of shoes to a Canuck? Push qualities that are important to Canada's culture, such as functionality and individualism.
Those are the findings of research conducted by University of Guelph professor Lianxi Zhou, Department of Consumer Studies. "To create successful ads, advertisers must consider the cultural context of their audience," he said. "Ads should carry messages that agree with cultural values."
Zhou wanted to find out which messages and strategies were used most prominently in different cultures. Using advertising samples featuring athletic shoes from China and Canada, he analyzed the content, messages and overall strategies. He used mail surveys to determine audience response.
There are three main advertising techniques: the functional approach, focusing on the product's utility; the social approach, or how the product will enhance social status; and the sensory approach, or the personal pleasure the product brings.
Zhou predicted Canadian advertisements would rely primarily on the sensory and functional techniques because Canadians tend to seek personal pleasure and value individualism. He anticipated Chinese audiences would be more receptive to ads that emphasized a product's social function because their culture places high value on community.
The results supported Zhou's hypotheses. Advertisements in China were targeted at an audience interested in a strong community and enhancing social status, and highlighted the product's social utility. By comparison, Canadian ads played up the product's pleasurable and useful qualities.
Zhou also found the media are the most powerful vehicle for conveying ideas. He said advertisers can use the media to their advantage if they know the audience's cultural context. "Cultural differences affect many aspects of life. This includes the role and the slant of the media. Product advertisers must remember that."
Contact: Lianxi Zhou Department of Consumer Studies and Family Relations (519) 824-4120 Ext. 2111