Three types of ads and how to use them in Europe

We marketers have three main ad types at our disposal and a quick flip through a weekly news magazine gives us examples of each kind.

  • Entertainment – An Omega ad borrows a quote from astronaut Jim Lovell – “the moon is essentially gray” – to showcase their new line of gray watches. The ad riffs on an old Pink Floyd song, talking about the Grey Side of the Moon, and discusses the color sense of Lovell. The reader is intrigued by the lunar comparison while being amused by the commentary.
  • Information – A Great Courses ad describes an entrepreneur course, describing the content of the course and the reasons for taking the course. Information about the length and number of the lectures, as well as the delivery methods, are carefully explained. Most potential questions are answered through the ad, rather than forcing customers to search the company’s website for this information.
  • Brand building – A Huawei ad talks about the dedication of its employees and the joy its products bring to its customers. The ad features the battered and bandaged feet of a ballerina, creating the metaphor about hard work bringing about great performance. There isn’t information about Huawei products – simply statements about the company and what it stands for.

Each of the three ad types can be used to great effect for virtually any product or company. However, recent research looked at how these ad types are received in Europe and discovered some fascinating insights.

As it turns out, the level of individualism as well as the tolerance for uncertainty in a culture have a great deal to do with how an ad type is accepted.

In an individualist culture, such as Denmark, people feel that they are in control, or should be in control, of their decisions. If an individualistic consumer buys a big-screen TV, she wants to know that she has selected the best possible TV for her needs, with the right mix of features for the price she wants to spend. She feels responsible for her selection and may feel compelled to defend her decision at some point. This type of consumer responds best to information-type ads.

Conversely, in a more collectivist culture, such as Romania, people defer to the “wisdom” of their group, such as family and friends, about the credibility of a company. If the leaders in a “group” like a company, based on the company’s values and reputation, all the group members will also like the company. Therefore, this type of consumer responds best to brand-building ads.

In cultures with low tolerance for uncertainty, such as France or Germany, there is a strong need for facts to back up claims. Ads filled with marketing hyperbole will be literally dismissed as useless fluff. You only have to compare the brochures for medical device equipment to see the vast differences between US and Germany companies in their approaches to information fulfillment. US brochures will focus on pictures of the devices being used in their environment, while the text will focus on the experience of the patient and the physician. German brochures will focus on the included technology and the quantified advantages of those features. There will be considerably more specifications and other technical information included. Therefore, in low uncertainty tolerance cultures, an information-type ad is perfect. Entertainment ads are fine, as long as there is still concrete information about the product.

Finally, in a culture with a high tolerance for uncertainty, such as the UK, information doesn’t need to be spelled out. In fact, too much data is off-putting in these cultures; instead, there is a preference for the subtle, the understatement, and the soft sell. Therefore, entertainment-type ads work best in these cultures, since entertainment – particularly humor – can make its point indirectly without being pedantic.

So, how can you make sure you run the right type of ad in your target European country?

  1. Check the individualism and uncertainty tolerance values of the country (http://geert-hofstede.com/ shows country ratings on five different cultural values, including individualism and uncertainty tolerance).
  2. Evaluate the level of information, entertainment, or brand-building in the ad and confirm that it is appropriate for the rating.

Reference:

Hatzithomas, L., Zotos, T., & Boutsouki, C. (2011). Humor and cultural values in print advertising: a cross-cultural study. International Marketing Review. 28:1, pp. 57-80.

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