Cultural Differences in Advertising

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Sara Barakat Costa

Marketing Consultant

Project Member

With a more globalized world it would be easy to assume that companies would fall into the trap of one size fits all advertising, but this is not the case. As marketeers it is important to look at all the factors that might make your ad a hit or a miss. A common tool that provides guidance is the PESTEL (Political; Economic; Social; Technological; Environmental and Legal) framework. Today we will look at the Social factor and how it shapes a company’s communication approach for each country. It is believed that you can learn a lot from a country’s culture by turning on the tv and watching a few adverts. While each country’s culture has its specific traits and quirks that are complex to grasp, a well-done advert will give you a bite size feel for the customs of that country.

To exemplify this point, let us look at two different adverts for shampoos, one from 2015 and the other from 2016, from two very different countries: Egypt and Portugal.

Although they are not from the same brand, they are the same product which gives us a good baseline to start. In the Egyptian ad you are presented with a classroom full of girls where three of them are having the dreaded bad hair day, in comes another woman with long silky hair that starts telling them which shampoos to use, each targeted at the specific problem that each one of them is facing. The interesting part is how they use a jolly song that everyone knows the tune of to communicate all of this, almost like a musical for the shampoo.

By contrast, in the Portuguese ad, the focus is in just one person, with slightly dry and weak hair, a beautiful field as the background and soft, calm music that you might find in a spa. The ad is meant to relax you and not make you feel guilty about the fact that you have not yet achieved your perfect hair routine. You might find some ads in Portuguese television that are more upbeat but, in general; in comparison with other countries, Portugal tends to depict an individual and music that is not very upbeat. In the cases in which more people appear in the adverts, it tends to be families (Continente) or a tight group of friends (Superbock).

Another, more recent examples, are Garnier’s adverts for the same product, that has slightly different formulas: their masks. In this case we look at an advert from Brazil and another one from Portugal.

You can easily see the group vs individual dynamic here. While it is important to note that Portugal’s advert was adapted with the pandemic in mind, the same would likely have happened if there were no distancing norms in place. The individual could either be enjoying the product by themselves or with a large group, however at the current situation it would be more responsible if they were in a group of five or less. It is also interesting that both adverts mention the one ingredient that will solve all your problems. This goes to show that although every culture will react differently to different aspects of your advert, there are common characteristics that will make your advert succeed in two countries with highly different customs.

In sum, we have seen how the culture of a country will influence how an advert is made, and how subtle these differences can be. I challenge you to look up adverts from your home country and compare it with an advert from a completely different country. You might be surprised with the results!

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