Wednesday 3 November 2010

Culture creates an illusion of similarity

Ghauri and Cateora (2006) state that “for the inexperienced marketer, the ‘similar but different’ aspect of culture creates an illusion of similarity that usually does not exist”. Explain and give specific examples to illustrate the points made.

By the above statement Cateora and Ghauri mean that the there are many nations that uses the same language to communicate or have identical heritage and race and this sometimes make the marketers to believe or assume similarities in all elements of culture of the nations. But the authors point out similarities in other respects may not exist. Therefore, a product that is accepted in one national or regional culture may not be readily acceptable in other cultures that have similar language or race and heritage. In fact, the authors point out that a promotional message that is successful in a nation may not be equally successful in other country that speaks same language. This is because countries that have same language may not interpret some words or phrases in a similar manner. A classic example in this case is that of England and United States. Both nations speak the same language English but their cultures are different in many respects and this leads to different interpretations of many words or phrases. People in England when speaking of an elevator generally refer to it as a ‘lift’ unlike Americans who refer to it as an elevator.

The authors argue further that the difference in cultures are not limited to interpretations of a same language but goes further to include things such as outlook to life, lifestyle, values, manners, acceptable and unacceptable ways to behave. Nations may have a common heritage and therefore may seem similar on a superficial level but in reality significant differences exists between them. A good example is that of Spanish speaking Latin American countries. In these countries, the idiom is unique to each country and people associate national pride to the language and this makes them to reject ‘foreign-Spanish language’. (Ghauri and Cateora, 2006, p.91).

Often, countries in the same continent could be mistaken by marketers to have similar culture. The Japanese, Koreans and Chinese are often placed together in the same group by international marketers because of similarities in some components of their cultures but there are several cultural distinctions between these countries. Moreover, each country has its own unique national character. Therefore, marketers must analyse the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between cultures (Ghauri and Cateora, 2006, p.91).

Ghauri and Cateora also point out that even a single geopolitical boundary does not assure a single culture. Countries like United States, Canada, Germany, India etc are countries that have many subcultures. Culture of south United States is not similar to the culture of northeastern parts of USA in all respects. India is another example that has many subcultures. People in southern parts of India speak different languages than that of northern India. In fact, India has 25 official languages and more than 100 languages are spoken in different parts of India. Therefore, a successful marketing strategy among the North Indians may not be equally successful among South Indians (Ghauri and Cateora, 2006, p.91).


Due to globalisation, culture is no longer confined by territory boundaries and each culture is being influenced by the elements of other culture (Doole and Lowe, 2008, p. 85). Therefore, it is becoming difficult for marketers to research on cultures and distinguish between them. This may lead to considerable costs for international organizations. For example, Knorr dry soup, having been successful in other western countries, launched its products in America assuming affinity to other western nations’ culture. However, its products were unsuccessful as American customers were not prepared to spend 15 to 20 minutes in front of their stoves (Keegan & Schlegelmilch, 2001, p. 87). Therefore, to become a global marketer it is important to let go of cultural assumptions because of culture of any nation or region is made of many underlying layers and core values which vary across cultures (Lamb et al, 2008, p. 153).

In order to enable comparison between cultures by international marketers and to draw contrasts and similarities across cultural groupings, an appropriate framework or conceptual schemata is required. One such is framework is Hofstede’s model. Hofstede’s model consists of 5 national and regional culture dimensions. This dimension enables an understanding of basic value differences between cultures of different nations. The 5 dimensions of Hofstede’s model are as below:

Power Distance: The limit to which unequal distribution of power is acceptable in a culture (Hofstede, 2001, p.29).

Uncertainty avoidance: The extent of stress level in a culture in facing uncertain future (Hofstede, 2001, p.29).

Individualism: Individualism refers to the extent of grouping of individuals into groups that are primary in nature (Hofstede, 2001, p.29).

Masculinity versus femininity: The classification of roles of males and females in a culture (Hofstede, 2001, p.29).

Long term v/s Short term orientation: Focus of the people in their roles in terms of long term gains or short term gains (Hofstede, 2001, p.29).

According to Mooij (2004, p. 29), typologies are also used to differentiate between cultures. Typologies can be described as ideal types that are easy to imagine and are therefore very popular with marketing and advertising people who create marketing communications for prospective customers. The study of social milieus in Europe is a good example of a typology. A social milieu can be described as the framework of society in respect of social classes and value orientations. Marketers classify the target audience who share a common set of values and beliefs. For example, delineating people who have similar values regarding work, leisure and relationships. Under the study, groups are classified under the labels such as ‘conservative’, ‘modern’, ‘proactive’ and ‘materialist’ (Mooij, 2004, p. 29-30).


Therefore, it is concluded that cultures could be mistaken to be same in two or more nations due to a few similarities in some components of the culture like language etc. Such blunders should be avoided by marketers as it could cost companies a lot of money, time and reputation. In fact, even a single geo-political boundary does not guarantee same culture across the nation as a nation could have many subcultures as seen above in the case of India and United States. Therefore, marketers must conduct a proper cross-cultural analysis before employing homogenous marketing strategy in similar looking cultures.


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