Learning from watching

When marketers attempt to learn more about a new market, particularly a new international market, they often rely on “serious” sources of information such as government reports and newspaper/magazine articles to get a feel for the market.

Ryan (2003) argues that a much better source of information would be the local television advertisements aired in that country. Ryan notes:

“The cryptic nature of advertisements, their use of innuendo, their evocation of shared experience and value, and their easily perceived if artfully disguised goals make them an especially useful medium for peeking into other cultures and pondering the concerns and aspirations that drive them.”

While the messages in ads are generally simple and sales oriented, the context is generally subtle and must be fleshed out by the viewer from their “cultural stores” of knowledge, so to speak.

One of the more superb sources of international ads is www.culturepub.fr. While the site is in French, it is visually easy to navigate and locate ads from specific countries.

It should be noted, however, that merely watching an ad from another country doesn’t mean that you will interpret it in the same manner as intended. Instead, the exercise should, at best, make you more conscious and reflective of the tones and themes used in ads in your target market. True cultural understanding, as Ryan mentions, comes from “serious study of many subjects (e.g. history, culture, foreign languages, psychology, sociology, economic systems) and in-depth encounters with the peoples and institutions of other cultures.” However, observing ads from a particular country does constitute an area of serious study about that country and, therefore, should be part of every marketer’s research.


Ryan. J. (2011). “Using web-based foreign advertisements in international marketing classes.” Journal of Education for Business. 86. pp. 171-177.


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