Message framing effects in different cultures

Marketers have long known that message framing works very well in marketing communications, particularly persuasive advertising. Essentially, framing is presenting a problem that must be decided using either a gain or loss scenario. In advertising, a gain scenario is when the positive product attributes are emphasized (the benefits of using the product, such as whiter teeth, cleaner floors, etc.). A loss scenario is when the negative product attributes are emphasized (the loss of benefits from not using the product, such as social shunning due to bad breath or an unhappy family due to a late-served meal).

Over the years, much research has been done to learn whether message framing has a similar effect across different cultures. For the most part, the answer has been yes.

However, Orth, Koenig, and Firbasova (2007) examined framed advertising messages across a group of countries that might otherwise be considered very similar culturally – central European countries including Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. They found that consumers in all four countries were emotionally affected by the framing; however, the type of emotion (pleased, downbeat, or attentive), magnitude of the emotion, and the direction of the resulting effects (i.e. purchase intention) were significantly different in each country.

For marketers, this research should give us pause. As Orth et al. note, the “small geographical distance and similarities in cultural dimensions” should have translated into significant levels of similarities in framing response; however, this was not the case. The main lesson is that managers, when advertising in central Europe, should steer away from considering the block to be homogeneous.

These findings challenge one of the classic compromises in the globalization vs. standardization debate, i.e. to glocalize, or to create standard communications for smaller groups of countries with similar demographics and cultural markers. It appears that “ignoring even subtle national differences can lead to consumer misperceptions and may result in serious damage to the brand image.”

References:

Orth, U., Koenig, H., & Firbasova, Z. (2007) “Cross-national differences in consumer response to the framing of advertising messages. An exploratory comparison from Central Europe.” European Journal of Marketing. 41 (3/4) pp. 327-348.

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