What is International Advertising?

International Advertising, generally speaking, is the promotion of goods, services, companies and ideas, usually in more than one country performed by an identified sponsor. Marketers see advertising as part of an overall promotional strategy. Other components of the promotional mix include publicity, public relations, personal selling, and sales promotion. Advertising is a cogent communication attempt to change or reinforce ones’ prior attitude that is predictable of future behavior.

It can be viewed as a communication process that takes place in multiple cultures that differ in terms of values, communication styles, and consumption patterns. It is also a business activity involving advertisers and the advertising agencies that create ads and buy media in different countries. The sum total of these activities constitutes a worldwide industry that is growing in importance. International advertising is also a major force that both reflects social values, and propagates certain values worldwide.

International advertising involves recognizing that people all over the world have different needs. Companies like Gillette, Coca-Cola, BIC, and Cadbury Schweppes have brands that are recognized across the globe. While many of the products that these businesses sell are targeted at a global audience using a consistent marketing mix, it is also necessary to understand the regional differences, hence it is important to understand the importance of international marketing. Organizations must accept that differences in values, customs, languages and currencies will mean that some products will only suit certain countries and that as well as there being global markets e.g. for BIC and Gillette razors, and for Coca-Cola drinks, there are important regional differences for example advertising in China and India need to focus on local languages. Just as the marketing environment has to be assessed at home, the overseas potential of markets has to be carefully scrutinized. Finding relevant information takes longer because of the unfamiliarity of some locations. The potential market size, degree and type of competition, price, promotional differences, product differences as well as barriers to trade have to be analyzed in order to advertise our product effectively in different countries

Barriers of International Advertising


Culture is a problematic issue for many advertisers since it is inherently nebulous and often difficult to understand. One may violate the cultural norms of another country without being informed of this, and people from different cultures may feel uncomfortable in each other’s presence without knowing exactly why. Communication is more difficult because cultural factors largely determine the way various phenomena are perceived. If the perceptual framework is different, perception of the message itself differs.

It is a well known fact that the culture of a country influences the customer preferences. Customers are quite sensitive about cultural aspects depicted in advertisements. Advertising themes, incorporating social acceptance, mutual dependence, respect for elders, harmony with nature, use of seasons, innovation and novelty, distinctive use of celebrities. Some of the advertising blunders in international marketing are:

  • Procter and Gamble showed an animated stork delivering Pampers diapers in its ad campaigns in the US. The same ad copy was used in Japan, only the language was changed. However, this ad did not worked in Japan. The subsequent market research revealed that, unlike the western folklore, storks, according to the Japanese folklore, are not expected to deliver babies. On the contrary, Japanese people believe that it is the giant peaches that float on a river that bring babies to the deserving parents. Subsequently, Procter & Gamble changed the theme of the ad campaign to “expert mom”, a nurse who is also a mother theme.
  • Muhammad Ali is immensely popular in the Middle East. One of the car manufacturers used Muhammad Ali in its ad campaign for the region. The ad theme was, ‘I am the greatest’. The ad backfired and offended the Muslims who regard only the God was great.


Translation from one language to another language is crucial in international advertising. The literal translation may fail to convey the desired message across the countries due to cultural factors. For instance the word yes means in low context in USA and Europe and in Japan it means I am listening to what are you saying, in Thailand it means Ok. So there is a difference in the language of different countries. Some instances of the translation blunders in international advertisement are as follows:

  • Pepsi used the German translation of the slogan ‘come alive with Pepsi’ in its ad campaign in West Germany. However, the slogan when translated in German actually meant ‘come out of the grave with Pepsi’ and failed to generate any market response from the customers.
  • General Motors translated its slogan ‘Body by Fisher’ to ‘Corps by Fisher’ in Belgium that offended many Belgium customers.


The level of literacy plays an important role in deciding what advertisement tool and message should be used in international market. Market segments with lower level of adult literacy need to be addressed by way of more audio visual content rather than a written message. It should be ensured that the visuals convey the desired message rather than the text part of the advertisement.

Government Regulations

The regulatory framework of a country influences the advertisement strategy in international market. The government regulations regarding advertisements in some countries relate to following issues:

  • Advertisement in foreign language.
  • Use of sensuality
  • Comparative advertising referring to the competing product from rival firms
  • Use of children as models
  • Advertisement related to alcohol and tobacco
  • Advertisement related to health and pharmaceuticals

Some examples of various regulations in some countries are:

  • In Malaysia the Ministry of Information advertising code states that women should not be a principal object of an advertisement and should not be used to attract sales unless the advertisement product is relevant to women.
  • The Ministry of Information in Saudi Arabia prohibits any advertisement depicting unveiled woman.
  • Use of foreign words and expression when French equivalents can be used are prohibited in France.
  • Portuguese law prohibits sex discrimination or the subordination or objectification of women in advertising.
  • Norway prohibits any advertising that portrays men or women in an offensive manner or implies any derogatory judgment of either sex.
  • Most Arab countries prohibit explicit depiction of sensuality.

Media Limitation

Media may diminish the role of advertising in the promotional program and may force the marketers to emphasis the other elements of promotional mix. A marketer’s creativity is certainly challenged when a television commercial is limited to 10 showing a year with no two exposures closer than 10 days. In some African countries advertisers run boats up and down the rivers playing popular music and broadcasting commercial into the bush as they travel.

International Advertising Concept

International advertising is becoming increasingly complex; more and more local and international companies are competing for consumers who are increasingly sophisticated and demanding. International advertising is defined as the non personal communication by an identified sponsor across international borders, using broadcast, print, and or interactive media. It requires dissemination of a commercial message to target audiences in more than one country. Target audiences vary from country to country in terms of how they perceive or interpret symbols or stimuli; respond to humor or emotional appeals, as well as in levels of literacy and languages spoken. How the advertising function is organized also varies.

International advertising can be explained as the communication process that takes place in different cultures that varies in terms of values, communication styles, and consumption patterns. International advertising is also a business activity involving advertisers and the advertising agencies that create ads and buy media in different countries. It is also a major force that both reflects social values, and propagates certain values all over the world.

The International Communication Process

The international communication process involves using the entire promotional mix to communicate with the final consumer. First, the appropriate message is determined for the target audience by the advertiser. Next, the international sponsor (sender), usually represented by an advertising agency, encodes a message into words and images. The message is then translated into the language of target market and transmitted through a channel of media channels to the audience who then decodes and reacts to the message. Cultural barriers may hamper effective transmission of the message at each stage in the process and result in miscommunication.

Art Direction

Art direction is involved with visual presentation- the body language of print and broadcast advertising. Some types of visual presentation are universally understood. Revlon, for example, has used a French producer to develop television commercials, English and Spanish for use in the international markets. These commercials, which are filmed in Parisian settings, communicate the universal appeals and specific advantages of Revlon products. By producing its ads In France, Revlon obtains effective television commercials at a much lower price than it would have to pay for similar —length commercials produced in US. Pepsi Co has used four basic commercials to communicate its advertising themes. The basic setting of young people having fun at a party or on a beach has been adapted to reflect the general physical environment and racial characteristics of North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia,. The music in these commercials has also been adapted to suite regional tastes.

The international advertiser must make sure that visual executions are not inappropriately extended into markets. Benetton recently encountered a problem with its “United Colors of Benetton” campaign. The campaign appeared in 77 countries, primarily in print and on billboards. The art direction focused on striking, provocative interracial juxtapositions- a white hand a black hand handcuffed together, for example another version of campaign, depicting a black woman nursing a white baby, won adverting awards in France and Italy. However, because the image evoked the history of slavery in America, that particular creative execution was not in the U.S market.

Cultural Considerations

Knowledge of cultural diversity, especially the symbolism associated with cultural traits, is essential when creating advertising. Local country managers will be able to share important information, such as when to use cautions in advertising creativity. Use of colors and man-women relationships can often be stumbling blocks. For example, white in Asia is associated with death. In Japan, intimate scenes between men and women are considered to be in bad taste; they are outlawed in Saudi Arabia.

Advertising Communication System

Advertising communication always involves a perception process and four of the elements shown in the model: the source, a message, a communication channel, and a receiver. In addition, the receiver will sometimes become a source of information by talking to friends or associates. This type of communication is termed word-of-mouth communication, and it involves social interactions between two or more people and the important ideas of group influence and the diffusion of information.

An advertising message can have a variety of effects upon the receiver. It can

  • Create awareness
  • Communicate information about attributes and benefits
  • Develop or change an image or personality
  • Associate a brand with feelings and emotions
  • Forms group norms
  • Precipitate behavior

International Advertising as a Business Practice

International advertising can also be explained as a business activity through which a firm attempts to inform target audiences in different countries about itself and its product or service offerings. In some cases the advertising message relates to the firm and its activities, i.e. its corporate image. In other cases, the message relates to a specific product or service marketed by the firm. In either case, the firm will use the services of an advertising agency to determine the appropriate message, advertising copy and make the media placement.

Advertising has gone through five major stages of development: domestic, export, international, multi-national, and global. For global advertisers, there are four, potentially competing, business objectives that must be balanced when developing worldwide advertising: building a brand while speaking with one voice, developing economies of scale in the creative process, maximizing local effectiveness of ads, and increasing the company’s speed of implementation. Born from the evolutionary stages of global marketing are the three primary and fundamentally different approaches to the development of global advertising executions: exporting executions, producing local executions, and importing ideas that travel.

Advertising research is key to determining the success of an ad in any country or region. The ability to identify which elements and/or moments of an ad that contributes to its success is how economies of scale are maximized. Once one knows what works in an ad, that idea or ideas can be imported by any other market. Market research measures, such as Flow of Attention, Flow of Emotion and branding moments provide insight into what is working in an ad in any country or region because the measures are based on the visual, not verbal, elements of the ad

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