Do individualist advertising themes work in collectivist cultures?

The differences between individualistic and collectivist cultures are numerous and have been described elsewhere in this blog. In the US, we have become accustomed to advertising that appeals to our individualistic traits; for example, ads that show:

  • Nuclear family interactions
  • Pursuing hobbies or athletic interests
  • Status related to certain luxury brands
  • Achieving goals

In contrast, many collectivist cultures feature the following themes in their ads:

  • Groups socializing or working together
  • Community-based activities
  • Loyalty and respect for hierarchy

However, Diehl, Terlutter, & Weinberg (2003) set out to discover if individualistic themes would be accepted or rejected by collectivist societies. They created two clothing ads, one emphasizing “self sufficiency and the individual being distinct and unlike others” and the other emphasizing “the individual in relation to his group of colleagues and the need to dress appropriately for the sake of the group.” The ads were shown to samples of German and Chinese consumers.

Not unexpectedly, the German audience overwhelmingly preferred the individualist ad, finding the premise more believable. However, surprisingly, the Chinese audience was neutral about the collectivist ad. They did not rank it higher than the individualistic ad and they did not find the premise to be more believable.

From a marketer’s perspective, this small area of research could indicate that if global advertising focuses on individualistic themes, the ads could work equally effectively in collectivist cultures.


Diehl, S., Terlutter, R., Weinberg, P. (2003). “Advertising effectiveness in different cultures: results of an experiment analyzing the effects of individualistic and collectivistic advertising on Germans and Chinese.” European Advances in Consumer Research. 6, pp. 128-136.


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