Business Monday: The complexity of managing international marketing communications – Part 3

The international marketing environment comes with many uncertainties and issues. In last week’s edition, we looked at regional blocs, media fragmentation and competition. This week we will examine the other challenges that impact international marketing communications.

Cultural, language and societal Issues
Even though firms may be seeking to take a standardised approach, where their global, communication campaigns are concerned, language barriers, cultural barriers and local attitudes can create many constraints. For example, because of language barriers, advertisements have to be translated, and in some instances, not only into a generic language, but into specific “categories of a language”. An example of this is Portuguese, where different versions are spoken in different regions – for instance there is Brazilian Portuguese.

Culture can have a significant impact on international, marketing communications. The different lifestyles, beliefs, attitude norms, levels of social development, language, values and moral and ethical backgrounds that are shared among the individuals of a country, can considerably affect the success or failure of international, marketing communications, as well as how well the products or services of a company are accepted in a country.

An advertisement that may seem completely appropriate in one country, would be seen as inappropriate in another country. For example, an advertisement that showed a gentleman walking into the bathroom to meet his wife was considered extremely offensive and inappropriate in Japan, though it was considered funny and humorous in western countries.

Symbols and slang terms represent different things in different countries. For example, in the US and in Australia, an individual who is part of a group that excels is looked upon in a positive way, but in Japan, the person would be considered to be a person that is sticking out and is not looked upon favourably.

Another example is the early bird saying. In the US, the early bird gets the worm, which is a good thing, but in China, the saying goes, “the first bird in the flock gets shot down”, which is a more negative perception of being the early bird.
Another example is Pepsodent toothpaste in South East Asia. Pepsodent toothpaste was a failure in South East Asia because the company promised that persons who used it would have whiter teeth, which caused the communications campaign to fail, since persons from this part of the world saw black or yellow teeth as symbols of prestige.

Additionally, the concept of advertising is perceived differently in some countries. In the US, for instance, persons are accustomed to advertisements, whereas in some European countries, individuals view advertisements as crass and intrusive. Cold calling is banned in Germany, and in Germany and France, sales promotions, incentives, premiums and free gifts are seen as unacceptable.

Countries with struggling economies often have difficulty with the communication, transportation, financial and even educational infrastructures, as well as issues with distribution networks. This can make implementing marketing communication campaigns in these countries very challenging for international marketers, since unstable economic conditions often result in low income, which affect the level of purchasing power that consumers have.

For example, when there is a recession, most people cut back spending and consumers spend less money. Companies make budget cuts during tough economic times, which end up affecting promotions, advertising and design, as there is less money to dedicate to these campaigns.

Such occured in 2009 during the recession, when Nike, the global sports shoe and clothing producer, made plans to slash their marketing budget in an attempt to reduce their expenses due to the recession. Because consumers have less money to spend during bad economic periods, it becomes even more challenging for advertisers to convince persons to purchase products, especially during recessionary periods. For example, in Europe, Jaguar Land Rover suffered a major blow from the recession, because consumers had great difficulty obtaining loans and were unable to purchase vehicles.

During recessions, consumers look for better deals, extended terms, value-for-money and sales promotions, so advertisers have to tailor and create messages that counteract the effects of the recession by offering what consumers are looking for, as a result of the unstable economic climate. The scars of a recession can be permanent, and the effects of these scars are seen in buying patterns, attitudes, values and eventually the imagery of advertising. Understanding the country’s economic level is important, as it gives international marketers an idea as to where the country’s consumers are at, in terms of buying power, and what their needs are.

Legal and political
Countries have different legal systems that affect what can or cannot be advertised, and can create a number of challenges for international, marketing communications. Additionally, comparative advertising is banned in most countries outside of the US ,and particular products are banned from advertising on some types of media in some countries. For instance, big supermarket chains cannot advertise on French television.

Other forms of promotional activities may be banned or regulated, such as coupons. In some European countries, coupons are banned, because it is considered as discriminating against consumers, which is illegal. In Egypt, all local television and books are censored by the government, who controls the media entirely.

Furthermore, Islamic countries do not allow implicit sexual scenes, and in Saudi Arabi, television ads for alcohol are not allowed, even though they are allowed in the newspapers and magazines.

In Holland, marketers must ensure that any advertisements for sweets must have a toothbrush displayed in the advertisement. In 2013, the United Kingdom banned a Coca Cola advertisement which the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standard’s Authority thought was misleading, and fooled consumers by giving them the impression that they could easily burn the 139 calories in a can of soda by laughing out loudly for 75 seconds, when in reality the person would have to complete other activities that were noted in the advertisement, such as walking a dog for 25 minutes in order to work off the calories gained from drinking the soda.

To conclude, there are many factors that can make managing international, marketing communications a challenging task, but if proper market research is done to understand the competition, and an in depth analysis of countries’ economic, media, cultural, demographic, political and legal structure is completed before actual marketing communications plans are implemented, this can help to avoid some of the issues that can be encountered, such as a lack of financial resources, language barriers, etc.

Utilising media experts within each country can also help by giving marketers the information needed, such as consumer viewing patterns, so they can choose the most suitable media vehicles.

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