Role of Communication Process in International Advertising

Advertising is one of the most visible forms of communication. Because of its wide use and its limitations as one-way method of communication, advertising in international markets is subject to a number of difficulties. Advertising is often the most important part of the communication mix for the consumer goods, where there is a large number of small volume customers who can be reached through mass media.

International advertising entails dissemination of a commercial message to target audiences in more than one country. Target audiences differ 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. International advertising can, therefore, be viewed as a communication process that takes place in multiple cultures that differ 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. The total sum 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.

Advertising, as one of the most visible forms of communication and as an element of the promotion mix, is a critical tool for an internationally oriented company. Viability and effectiveness of international advertising depend on the climate for advertising in the foreign target markets as well as the differences in the availability and usefulness of advertising media.

In international markets, the process of communicating to a target audience is more complex because communication takes place across multiple contexts, which differ in terms of language, literacy and other cultural factors. In addition, media differ in their effectiveness in carrying different appeals. A message may, therefore, not get through to the audience because of people’s inability to understand it (due to literacy problems), because they misinterpret the message by attaching different meanings to the words or symbols used, or because they do not respond to the message due to a lack of income to purchase the advertised product. Media limitations also play a role in the failure of a communication to reach its intended audience.

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
  • Create group norms
  • Precipitate behavior

The process of communication in international markets involves the seven identifiable steps which can ultimately affect the accuracy of the process. The communication process consists on the following:

  1. An information source. An international marketing executive with a product message to communicate.
  2. Encoding. The message from the source converted into effective symbols for transmission to a receiver.
  3. A message channel. The sales force and/or advertising media that convey the encoded message to the intended receiver.
  4. Decoding. The interpretation by the receiver of the symbolism transmitted from the information source.
  5. Receiver. Consumer action by those who receive the message and are the target for the thought transmitted.
  6. Feedback. Information about the effectiveness of the message that flows from the receiver (the intended target) back to the information source for evaluation of the effectiveness of the process.
  7. Noise. Uncontrollable and unpredictable influences such as competitive activities and confusion that detract from the process and affect any or all of the other six steps.

Role of Communication Process in International Advertising

In encoding a verbal message, care needs to be taken in translation. Numerous examples exist of translation problems with colloquial phrases. For example, when the American Dairy Association entered Mexico with its “Got Milk?” campaign, the Spanish translation read “Are you Lactating?” Low levels of literacy may result in the need to use visual symbols. Here again, pitfalls can arise due to the differences in color association or perception. In many tropical countries, green is associated with danger and has negative connotations. Red, on the other hand, is associated with weddings and happiness in China. Appeal to humor also needs to be treated with considerable care as its expression and effectiveness varies from one culture to another. The dry British sense of humor does not always translate effectively even to other English-speaking countries.

In addition to encoding the message so that it attracts the attention of the target audience and is interpreted correctly, advertisers need to select media channels that reach the intended target audience. For example, use of TV advertising may only reach a relatively select audience in certain countries. Equally, print media will not be effective where there are low levels of literacy. Certain media may also be more effective in certain cultures. For example, radio advertising has substantial appeal in South America where popular music is a key aspect of the local culture.

Decoding problems are generally created by improper encoding, which caused such errors as Pepsi’s “Come Alive” slogan being decoded as “Come out of the grave”. Chevrolet’s brand name for the Nova model (which means new star) was decoded into Spanish as No Va!, meaning “it doesn’t go”. In another misstep, a translation that was supposed to be decoded as “hydraulic ram” was instead decoded as “wet sheep”. In a Nigerian ad, a platinum blonde sitting next to the driver of a Renault was intended to enhance the image of the automobile. However, the model was perceived as not respectable and so created feeling of shame. An ad used for Everyday Energizer batteries.

Finally, the feedback step of the communications process is important as a check on the effectiveness of the other steps. Companies that do not measure their communications efforts are apt to allow errors of source, media selection, decoding, or receiver to continue longer than necessary. In fact, a prosper feedback system (ad testing) allows a company to correct errors before substantial damage occurs.

In addition to the problems inherent in the steps outlined, the effectiveness of the international communications process can be impaired by noise. Noise comprises all other external influences, such as competitive advertising, other sales personnel, and confusion at the receiving end, that can detract from the ultimate effectiveness of the communication. Noise is a disruptive force interfering with the process at any step and is frequently beyond the control of the sender or the receiver.

The cultural context also impacts the effectiveness of communication. In “high context” cultures, such as the collectivist Asian cultures of Japan and China, the context in which information is embedded is as important as what is said. In low context cultures, which include most Western societies, the information is contained in the verbal messages. In these cultures, it is important to provide adequate information relating to the product or service in order to satisfy their need for content. Conversely, people in high context cultures are often more effectively reached by image or mood appeals and rely on personal networks for information and content. Awareness of these differences in communication styles is essential to ensure effective communication.

The problems associated with communicating to people in diverse cultures present one of the great challenge in advertising. One advertising executive puts it bluntly: “International adverting is almost uniformly dreadful mostly because people don’t understand language and culture”. 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.

Language is one of the major barriers to effective communication through advertising. The problem involves different languages of different countries, different languages or dialects within one country, and the subtler problems of linguistic nuance and vernacular. For many countries language is a matter of cultural pride and preservation – France is the best example, of course.

Language raises innumerable barriers that impede effective, idiomatic translation and thereby hamper communication. This is especially apparent in advertising materials and on the Internet. Abstraction, terse writing, and word economy, the most effective tools of the advertiser, pose problems for translators. Communication is impeded by the great diversity of cultural heritage and education that exists within countries and which causes varying interpretations of even single sentences and simple concepts. Some companies tried to solve the translation problem by hiring foreign translators who live in their domestic country. This often is not satisfactory because both the language and the translator change, so the expatriate is out of touch after a few years. Everyday words have different meanings in different cultures. Even pronunciation causes problems: Wrigley had trouble selling it s Spearmint gum in Germany until it changed the spelling to Speermint.

In addition to translation challenges, low literacy in many countries seriously impedes communications and calls for greater creativity and use of verbal media. Multiple languages within a country or advertising area pose another problem for the advertiser. Even a tiny country as Switzerland has four separate languages. The melting-pot character of the Israeli population accounts for some 50 languages. A Jerusalem commentator says that even though Hebrew “has become a negotiable instrument of daily speech, this has yet to be converted into advertising idiom”. Advertising communications must be perfect and linguistic differences at all levels cause problems. In-country testing with the target consumer group is the only way to avoid such problems.

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