Cultural Profiles of Global and Local Advertising on Primetime Chinese
Television: A Comparative Content Analysis
Analyzing cultural profiles of Chinese advertising
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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A comparative content analysis explores the cultural profiles of global and
local advertising on primetime Chinese television by examining manifest
cultural values in advertising themes and cultural symbols and icons in
advertising executions. The purpose is to test the explanatory power of
three theoretical perspectives on the outcomes of global cultural
interactions: globalization, localization, and glocalization. The results
support the glocalization argument, showing that the outcomes of cultural
interaction represented in global and local advertising in China exemplify
the dialectical synthesis of globalization and localization.
Submitted to the International Communication Division, Association for
Education in Journalism and Mass Communication annual convention in Kansas
City, Missouri, August 2003.
Since the second half of the 20th century, many multinational
corporations have come to see the world as an increasingly homogeneous
market and have pushed products and services across national borders in
search of market expansion, market domination and economies of scale
(Kotler & Armstrong, 2001). Major advertising agencies have followed their
clients to business frontiers around the world, making advertising a global
industry (Jones, 2000).
The global expansion of the advertising industry has raised concerns about
its social and cultural effects in local markets. Many believe that it
entails a wholesale transfer of Western consumerist values into local
cultures, potentially transforming local diversity into a "bland
reproduction of the industrial capitalist West" (Hogan 1999; also see
Anderson, 1984; Barnet & Cavanagh, 1994; Tomlinson, 1991). This argument is
an extension of the cultural imperialism thesis begun in the 1970s
(Mattelart, 1979; Schiller, 1972; Wallerstein, 1974).
Others, in contrast, contend that globalization provokes indigenizing
forces in local cultures. As the local audience meets global culture, they
bring their own interpretative frameworks, resisting, reinterpreting, and
reinventing foreign cultural products (Ang, 1985; Fiske, 1987; Liebes &
Katz, 1990; Morley, 1983). By encountering other ways of life and
appropriating the cultural repertoires of others, local identities and
traditions can be revitalized and reinvigorated (Friedman, 1990; Thompson,
At the core of these debates are questions about the processes and
outcomes of today's ever-intensifying global-local interactions. How does
the global affect and negotiate with the local? How does the local respond
to the global? What are the cultural characteristics of the outcomes of
such interaction and negotiation? Do they exemplify globalization and
cultural Westernization, or localization and cultural heterogenization, or
a combination of these tendencies?
A possible entry point for answering these questions is an examination of
the output of today's international commercial and cultural circulations,
namely, the content of global and local advertising. Global advertising is
defined here as advertising for products and services of multinational
corporations, whereas local advertising is defined as advertising for
products and services of locally owned businesses. The present study
attempts to explore and compare the cultural profiles of global and local
advertising by examining cultural values, symbols and icons used in
advertising themes and executions.
This study focuses on China, the world's largest potential consumer market
craved by multinational advertisers. As an ancient Eastern culture with
distinct characteristics vis-à-vis the Western culture, and as a developing
economy with a booming advertising industry, China makes an ideal case for
studying the processes and outcomes of global-local interaction and
The study focuses on television advertising because television is China's
most popular and influential mass medium, and the leading advertising
medium in terms of business volume (Tian, 1995; Weber, 2000). Targeted
toward the mass rather than niche audience, television advertising is a
more accurate reflection of the Chinese society and culture as a whole.
This study is designed to empirically test the explanatory power of three
contrasting theoretical models of global cultural formations. The
globalization argument predicts a convergence in the direction of the
global, and foresees cultural homogenization and Westernization (Ritzer,
1996; Sklair, 1995). The localization hypothesis, in contrast, argues for
the reassertion and revitalization of local traditions and identification
as a backlash against escalating globalism (Friedman, 1994; Waters,
1995). A third alternative called "glocalization" argues for a dialectical
synthesis of globalization and localization, a Janus-faced process
characterized by the simultaneity, interpenetration and mutual adaptation
between the global and the local (Robertson, 1995). According to this
argument, modernist homogenization and cultural fragmentation are
inextricably bound together to become two constitutive trends of global
reality (Featherstone, 1996; Friedman, 1990). The interaction and
negotiation between the global and the local lead to the creation of a
cultural hybrid, which incorporates elements from both sides. This hybrid
falls on a continuum with complete globalization at one end and
localization at the other (see Figure 1). The purpose of this study is to
locate the position of Chinese advertising on this continuum.
Figure 1: The Global-local Continuum
Localization Glocalization Globalization
The global-local problem has become more important than ever in
contemporary life, as the interactions, negotiations, and sometimes clashes
between cultures exert increasing impact on peoples, nation states and
cultures. Robertson (1995, p27) regards the problem as an empirical one and
calls for research that "… [spells] out the ways in which homogenizing and
heterogenizing tendencies are mutually implicative." Advertising has been
considered a reflection of the culture in which it exists (Pollay, 1983;
Schudson, 1984). Analyzing advertising content can uncover important social
and cultural currents, countercurrents, and transformations under
conditions of globalization. By quantitatively measuring the
representations of global and local elements in televised advertising
content, this study estimates the cultural tendencies of globalization,
localization and glocalization reflected in advertising, thereby providing
empirical evidence for the ongoing scholarly debate on the processes and
outcomes of global cultural interaction.
This study is one of the first to focus on a comparison of global and
local advertising in the same cultural context and the first such study
done in the Chinese context. Apart from its theoretical significance for
international communication, it yields practical knowledge about social and
cultural tendencies in today's complex marketing environment that is both
culturally diversified and globally connected. Such knowledge is crucial
for achieving better consumer insight and more effective marketing
The next section reviews research in the cultural characteristics of
advertising content, particularly those of global advertising in the local
context. The analytical instruments adopted in this study are also
reviewed. To put the study in context, this section includes a brief
overview of the past and present of Chinese advertising.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Cultural globalization, localization and glocalization tendencies reflected
Many studies have attested to the tendencies of cultural homogenization
and globalization reflected in advertising. Studies in Latin America have
shown that global advertising depicts Western lifestyles and excessive
consumption, and promotes Western values of materialism, hedonism, and
intense competitiveness (Janus, 1986; Santoro, 1975; Tapia, 1973).
In Asia, research concluded that global advertising was spreading
"Un-Asian" attitudes that can be linked to the rapid growth of consumerism
(Consumer Association of Penang 1986; Frith 1990; Goonasekera 1987). An
analysis of foreign ads in Chinese newspapers found that they echoed the
global capitalist emphasis on the values of materialism and modernity
(Wang, 1996). A longitudinal study of Chinese ads from 1979 to 1995 found
that ads promoting Western values such as competition, individualism,
modernity and sex have increased in frequency (McIntyre & Wei, 1998).
Studies of advertising in Hong Kong and Taiwan show the predominance of
Western values, such as materialism and consumption, and the gradual
displacement of traditional values, such as frugality (Chan, 1999; Pasadeos
& Chi, 1992; Wong, 2000).
On the other hand, studies comparing advertising content in Eastern
cultures with advertising in the West have documented localization
tendencies. Comparative studies of U.S. and Japanese advertising have found
that despite increasing Western influence expressed as the use of Western
cultural values, symbols and icons, deep-rooted Japanese values, such as
veneration for the elderly and tradition, emphasis on non-verbal
communication and social harmony, remain strong (Belk & Bryce 1986; Belk &
Pollay 1985; Belk et al., 1985). In fact, researchers believe that
advertising in Japan is becoming increasingly Japanese; its national
culture and identity are being reasserted in response to the pressures of
globalization (Hogan, 1999; Mueller, 1987, 1992).
Researchers have also found that advertising in Eastern cultures such as
Korea and India differs significantly from advertising in the West by
displaying distinctive Eastern cultural characteristics such as
collectivism, past time orientation, oneness with nature, and high
contextuality (Cho et al., 1999; Frith & Sengupta, 1991; Han & Shavitt,
1994). Chinese advertisers have also been found to use more typical
Eastern cultural values than their American counterparts (Cheng &
Recent studies have begun to show an increasing tendency toward
glocalization, a combination of globalization and localization tendencies.
Researchers have observed the phenomenon of "a melting pot" of Eastern and
Western cultural values in Chinese advertising (Cheng, 1994, 1997; Cheng &
Scheweizer, 1996). Others noted the reassertion of Chinese cultural
traditions, juxtaposed with evidence of Western cultural influence (Ji &
McNeal, 2001; Lin, 2001). In India, a study found the presence of Western
cultural values in both global and local advertising. However the authors
argued that the Western elements were appropriated as useful "otherness"
capable of contributing to India's modernization and development process
(Sengupta & Frith, 1997).
In sum, existing literature has documented globalization, localization and
glocalization tendencies reflected in advertising content, but with no
conclusive evidence about which tendency is more predominant and if there's
a predominant tendency, in what kind of advertising it manifests. Most
studies either compared advertising across cultures, or examined
advertising content in one culture without separating the global from the
local. To disentangle the complexities and nuance of cultural transactions
between the global and the local, it is necessary to examine and compare
global and local advertising in the same cultural context.
Instruments used in previous research
This study investigates the cultural profile of Chinese advertising on two
dimensions: cultural values in advertising themes and cultural symbols and
icons in advertising executions. Both dimensions have been examined by
previous research, though in most cases studied separately.
Scholars have long recognized that advertising is "a carrier of cultural
values" (Pollay, 1983, p 73). It aims to achieve a "transfer of values" by
establishing a nexus between the advertised commodity and what a culture
views as desirable, e.g., beauty, health, etc. In fact, no sophisticated
advertiser fails to study and determine consumer values before they craft
advertising messages and appeals (Donnelly, 1996). Certain cultural values
are perceived as instrumental in helping to move merchandize and are
therefore frequently endorsed, glamorized and reinforced at the core of
advertising messages. Critics argue that over time, advertising's
persistent highlighting and neglecting of particular cultural values can
have a cumulative effect on social and cultural transformations (Pollay &
Synthesizing previous research on human values, Pollay (1983) developed a
coding framework that measured manifest cultural values in advertising
themes. This framework has been widely adopted in subsequent research.
Reliability coefficients of the framework and its modified versions applied
to multiple historical, cultural and media contexts consistently fall
within the acceptable range of .85 and more. A modified version of the
framework is used in this study.
Previous research on advertising's cultural content mainly focused on
advertising themes, or the gist of the message in terms of what is
communicated. A few looked at creative executions, or the presentation of
the message in terms of how it is communicated. Cultural characteristics
may be apparent in not only what is said, but also in how it is said.
Therefore both advertising themes and executions should be examined to
capture the full picture.
Hall (1992, p 293) defined national and cultural narrative as "a set of
stories, images, landscapes, scenarios, historical events, national symbols
and rituals which stand for or represent the shared experiences...which
give meaning to the nation." As a reflection of the culture in which it
exists, advertising typically articulates these cultural narratives in
Previous research in international advertising used cultural symbols and
icons such as arts and artifacts, settings, and models in terms of their
age, ethnicity and number (appearing individually vs. in a group) to
examine how national and cultural identities and preferences are
represented in advertising content. For example, researchers have treated
the number of models used in an ad as a symbolic representation of the
degree of individualism in any given culture (Frith & Sengupta, 1991; Han &
Shavitt, 1994). The degree of Westernization in advertising content has
been measured by the use of Western models and celebrities, languages,
artifacts, settings, music, and fashion (Mueller, 1992). Model age has been
used as an indicator of a culture's time orientation and its attitude
toward tradition and elderly people (Cho et al., 1999). These cultural
symbols and icons are modified and adopted in this study.
Advertising in China
Advertising as a tool to promote a product or service to the public
appeared in China as early as five thousand years ago (Xu, 1990). Its
modern version as an institution of commercial information and persuasion
that depends on the mass media emerged only at the turn of the 19th-to-20th
century as a product of Western colonial influence (Williams, 1980). In
the 1920s to 1930s, the industry experienced its first boom, in which
foreign advertising played a pivotal role (Xu, 1990).
After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came into power in 1949,
commercial advertising gradually disappeared as a result of the
revolutionary transformation in the country's political, ideological, and
economic environment (Hong, 1994). In the late 1970s, commercial
advertising was resurrected by the government's economic reform and
open-door policy that precipitated almost another revolution in China's
economic and cultural environment. The dramatic economic development,
enhanced consumer purchasing power and a proliferation of the mass media
are just a few factors that contributed to a stunning growth of the
advertising industry. Between 1987 and 1997, advertising spending increased
by 1000%, making China the world's fastest growing advertising market
Multinational corporations (MNC) and transnational ad agencies (TNAA)
play an important role in the growth of advertising in China. In 1992 the
International Monetary Fund rated China the third largest economy in the
world. Within just a few years, almost all the major MNCs have set up
production bases and marketing outlets in China. Compared with other
developing nations, China attracts the largest amount of direct foreign
investment, with an average annual increase of over 15% during the 1990s
(Knowledge@Wharton 2001). The world's leading TNAAs have followed their
clients to the newly discovered consumer wonderland. By 1997 the number of
TNAA branches in China had grown to 433 (China Advertising, 1998). They
have been instrumental in introducing and cultivating foreign consumer
products and images in the minds of Chinese consumers (Li and Gallup, 1995).
To estimate the cultural tendencies of globalization, localization and
glocalization reflected in primetime Chinese television advertising, these
research questions were asked:
RQ1: What are the most frequently used cultural elements, including
values, symbols, and icons, in global and local advertising themes and
RQ2: What are the differences in the use of cultural elements, including
values, symbols, and icons, between global and local advertising in themes
RQ3: based on answers to RQ1 and RQ2, which of the three theoretical
models has stronger explanatory power, globalization, localization, or
Table 1 summarizes all possible outcomes predicted by the three different
theoretical models that were tested in this study.
Predicted outcomes from three theoretical models
Predicted outcomes in global advertising
Predicted outcomes in local advertising
Predicted outcomes comparing global and local
More Western than Eastern cultural elements
More Western than Eastern cultural elements
More Western cultural elements in global than in local ads
More Eastern than Western cultural elements
More Eastern than Western cultural elements
More Eastern cultural elements in local than in global ads
Similar proportion of Eastern and Western cultural elements
More universal than culture-specific elements
Similar proportion of Eastern and Western cultural elements
More universal than culture-specific elements
Similar proportion of Eastern and Western cultural elements
China Central Television Channel One (CCTV 1) and Beijing Television
Channel One (BTV 1) were selected as the sampling frame. CCTV reached 600
million to 1 billion viewers in 2000 (Media 2000). CCTV 1 is the network's
primary news and entertainment channel. BTV 1 reaches 10 million viewers
in Beijing and its suburban areas. This population represents urban Chinese
who are the primary target consumers of global advertisers. The two
channels combined yield a representative sample of advertising on today's
national and regional Chinese television.
Two weeks of programming were recorded during the prime time period of
6:30-8:30 p.m. in February 2001 when there was no holiday or festival to
influence the generalizability of the data. The recording was conducted in
a rotating manner between the two channels. This procedure yielded 28 hours
of programming that included 1293 complete commercials, 1183 of them local
ads and 110 of them global ads. The unequal sample size between the two
groups reflects current marketing situation in China, where a majority of
television commercials are put on air by local Chinese advertisers. The
entire sample size is large enough to yield valid results from statistical
analyses (Howell, 2002). Duplicated ads were retained following the
practice of previous research, based on the rationale that each broadcast
of a commercial has an impact on the viewers and the repetition of
commercial broadcasts constitutes an aggregate effect (Belk & Pollay, 1985).
Drawing on research from cross-cultural psychology and international
advertising, two coding schemes were developed, one measuring manifest
cultural values in advertising themes and the other, cultural symbols and
icons in advertising executions (see appendix). A pretest on 10% of the
sample (N=130) was conducted for the cultural values scheme and items that
rarely appeared in the sample were identified. They were either discarded
or collapsed with others, resulting in a modified list of 26 cultural values.
The unit of analysis is one complete television commercial. The predictor
variable is the origin of the advertised product or service, namely, global
and local advertising. Global ads are defined as commercials for products
and services of multinational corporations (MNC) and joint ventures. Local
ads are defined as commercials for products and services of Chinese owned
businesses (COB) and joint ventures. In cases of joint ventures, company
websites are consulted to determine whether they are MNC or COB ads based
on the relative proportions of foreign and Chinese investments. The
criterion variables are: (1) cultural values manifest in advertising
themes; and (2) cultural symbols and icons used in advertising creative
executions, including (a) arts and artifacts, (b) settings, (c) age of
models/celebrities, (d) ethnicity of models/celebrities, and (e) number of
Cultural values tend to manifest in the video footage, voice-over, and
copy of a television commercial (Cheng, 1996). All three components were
taken into consideration in the coding process. Since more than one value
could be used in any given ad (Pollay, 1983), the coder identified the most
dominant one, which was determined by the overall impression or "gestalt"
conveyed by the commercial, that is, the end result or total message
possibly received by the viewer (Goffman, 1979). This is because ads are
polysemic with complex interrelations between the signs employed. Since no
one-to-one correspondence between signs and their intended meanings can be
established, one possible approach is to discern overall effects, or
"gestalts," of the ads.
After the initial coding, the author categorized cultural values into
three groups, (1) Eastern values, (2) Western values, and (3) universal
values, based on theories from cross-cultural psychology (see Cho et al.,
1999, for a review of cross-cultural theories distinguishing Eastern and
Western cultural dimensions; see Table 2 for categorization of cultural
values). This categorization was discussed and validated in interviews with
four individuals from China and the United States representing Eastern and
Western cultures (A. Lee, C. Hall, G. W. Scott, & X. Zhao, personal
A graduate student, proficient in English and Chinese but with no
knowledge of the research questions, coded the data after receiving a
two-hour training session. Eight weeks later, 15% (N =215) of the sample (N
= 1293) were randomly selected and coded independently by the author and
the student coder. The two-step coding procedure yielded two sets of
reliability scores. The intra-coder reliability (also called stability
test) coefficient measures the internal consistency of the student coder
using the ratio of coding agreements to the total number of coding
decisions made under a test-retest condition (Muller, 1987). For all the
criterion variables, intra-coder reliability coefficients ranged from 93.5%
to 100%. The inter-coder reliability (also called reproducibility test)
coefficient measures the commonality of perception and judgment between two
coders using the ratio of coding agreements to the total number of coding
decisions each coder had to make under the same test condition (Kassarjian,
1977). For all the criterion variables, inter-coder reliability
coefficients ranged from 86% to 100%. Both sets of reliability coefficients
compared favorably with Kassarjian's (1977) acceptability criterion of 85%
agreement. With the combination of stability and reproducibility tests, the
coding schemes are believed to be sufficiently reliable (Mueller, 1987;
Cultural values in advertising themes
RQ1 asked about the most frequently used cultural elements, including
values, in global and local advertising themes. As shown in Table 2, both
global and local advertising used the value of practicality most frequently
(21.9% in local advertising and 39.1% in global advertising). The second
most frequently used value was modernity (7.6%) in local advertising and
individualism (10.9%) in global advertising.
RQ2 asked about the difference in the use of cultural elements, including
values, between global and local advertising themes. As shown in Table 2,
global ads used the values of practicality, individualism, economy, and
extravagance more frequently than local ads. Local ads used the values of
modernity and status more frequently than global ads. Another difference
was that more local ads (8.1%) than global ads (1.8%) did not use any
values at all.
To assess the tendencies of globalization, localization, and glocalization
reflected in advertising, the 26 values were recoded into three summary
categories of Eastern, Western, and universal values. As shown in Table 3,
both global and local advertisers preferred universal to culture-specific
values. 66% of the global ads and 55% of the local ads used universal
values. When using culture-specific values, local advertisers used more
Western (20.7%) than Eastern values (16.5%), supporting the globalization
argument (see Table 1 on p. 10). In contrast, global advertising used
similar proportions of Western (15.4%) and Eastern (16.4%) values,
supporting the glocalization argument.
Between-group comparison shows that global advertising used more universal
values than local advertising, but there was no difference in the use of
Eastern and Western values, again supporting the glocalization argument:
16.5% of the local ads and 16.4% of the global ads used Eastern values;
20.7% of the local ads and 15.4% of the global ads used Western values;
neither difference of proportion was statistically significant.
Cultural symbols and icons in advertising executions
RQ1 also asked about the most frequently used cultural elements, including
cultural symbols and icons, in global and local advertising executions. As
shown in Table 4, in both global and local advertising, a majority of the
ads opted for non-culture-specific tactics in the use of arts and artifacts
and settings: in the use of arts and artifacts, 83.3% in local ads and
83.6% in global ads were not culture-specific; in the use of settings,
90.2% in local ads and 88.2% in global ads were not culture-specific.
Between-group comparison shows that more global ads (10%) used Western arts
and artifacts than local ads (4.1%). There was no difference in the use of
Eastern and Western settings between global and local advertising. In the
use of models, almost half of the local ads (49.6%) did not use models,
whereas the majority of the global ads used models (90.9%).
To get a clearer picture of the use of cultural symbols and icons in global
and local advertising, an advertising execution index was built by
combining the five execution variables, each measured on a 0- to- 3 scale
and recoded into a –1-to-1 scale, with –1 standing for presence of Eastern
cultural symbols and icons, 0 for absence or mixture of Eastern and Western
symbols and icons, and 1 for presence of Western symbols and icons. An
independent-samples t test was conducted to evaluate the difference in the
mean scores of global and local advertising on the execution index with a
score range of –5 to 5. Global advertising (M =-.24, SD = 1.995) obtained a
higher score than local advertising (M =-.89, SD = 1.630), t (123) = 3.352,
p = 0.001, representing a higher level of Westernization in creative
executions. This also means that local advertising has a higher level of
localization than global advertising in creative executions. However, both
global and local advertising scored close to but lower than 0, the midpoint
on the execution index representing a mixture or absence of Eastern and
Western cultural characteristics. Therefore, both global and local
advertising displayed a stronger tendency for neutral or mixed cultural
characteristics in creative execution. This evidence lent support to the
Frequencies of cultural values in global and local advertising themes
Cultural Values Local advertising Global advertising X2 Values Cramer's V
Freq. % Freq. % (df = 1)
No value 96 8.1 2 1.8 5.70* .066*
Naturalness 73 6.2 11 10 2.43 ns
Courtesy 34 2.9 0 0 3.25 ns
Tradition 32 2.7 0 0 3.05 ns
Collectivism 25 2.1 0 0 2.37 ns
Economy 17 1.4 7 6.4 13.41*** .102***
Maturity 14 1.2 0 0 1.32 ns
Modernity 90 7.6 2 1.8 5.10* .063*
Technology 50 4.2 2 1.8 1.51 ns
Competition 34 2.9 0 0 3.25 ns
Uniqueness 22 1.9 0 0 2.08 ns
Individualism 16 1.4 12 10.9 43.38*** .183***
Sex & romance 16 1.4 1 .9 .15 ns
Youth 15 1.3 0 0 1.41 ns
Practicality 259 21.9 43 39.1 16.63*** .113***
Enjoyment 61 5.2 6 5.5 .02 ns
Health 56 4.7 3 2.7 .93 ns
Work 54 4.6 3 2.7 .81 ns
Status 45 3.8 0 0 4.34* .058*
Beauty 41 3.5 5 4.5 .34 ns
Extravagance 37 3.1 10 9.1 10.22** .089**
Wisdom 28 2.4 0 0 2.66 ns
Popularity 26 2.2 0 0 2.47 ns
Safety 24 2 1 .9 .67 ns
Neatness 10 .8 0 0 .94 ns
Magic 8 .7 0 0 .75 ns
Ornamentality 0 0 2 1.8 NA NA
Total 1183 100 110 99.9
Frequencies of Eastern, Western, and universal cultural values in global
and local advertisinga
Summary categories Global advertising Local advertising X2 Valuesb
Freq. % Freq. % (df=1)
No values 2 1.8 96 8.1 5.70*
Eastern values 18 16.4 195 16.5 .001
Western values 17 15.4 243 20.7 1.62
Universal values 73 66.3 649 54.7 5.40*
Total 110 99.9 1183 100
X2 (df=1)c .03 5.26*
a Percentages may not total 100% because of rounding.
b Between-group X2 values test differences in the use of Eastern, Western,
and universal cultural values between global and local advertising.
c Within-groups X2 values test differences in the use of Eastern and
Western cultural values within global and local advertising respectively.
* P<. 05
Frequencies of cultural symbols and icons in global and local advertising
Cultural symbols/icons Local advertising Global
advertising X2 values
Freq. % Freq. % (df= 1)
Arts and Artifacts
Eastern 149 12.6 7 6.4 3.68
Western 48 4.1 11 10 8.16**
No distinctive 986 83.3 92 83.6 .006
Total 1183 100 110 100
Age of models
Older 59 5 6 5.5 .05
Younger 456 38.5 82 74.5 53.68***
All ages 81 6.8 12 10.9 2.49
No models 587 49.6 10 9.1 66.52***
Total 1183 99.9 110 100
Ethnicity of models
Eastern 496 41.9 84 76.4 48.25***
Western 43 3.6 13 11.8 16.27***
Mixed-race 57 4.8 3 2.7 .99
No models 587 49.6 10 9.1 66.52***
Total 1183 99.9 110 100
Number of models
Group 389 32.9 65 59.1 30.34***
Individual 207 17.5 35 31.8 13.57***
No models 587 49.6 10 9.1 66.52***
Total 1183 100 110 100
Eastern 64 5.4 5 4.5 .15
Western 52 4.4 8 7.3 1.88
No distinctive 1067 90.2 97 88.2 .45
Total 1183 100 110 100
Discussion and conclusion
This research explores the cultural profiles of global and local
advertising in China on two dimensions: cultural values in advertising
themes and cultural symbols and icons in advertising executions. The
purpose was to estimate cultural tendencies reflected in advertising so as
to empirically test the explanatory power of three different theoretical
arguments for the processes and outcomes of global-local interaction. The
main findings supporting each argument are summarized in Table 5.
Evidence supporting each of the theoretical models
Empirical evidence in global advertising
Empirical evidence in local advertising
Empirical evidence comparing global and local advertising
More Western than Eastern cultural values in advertising themes
More universal than culture-specific values in advertising themes
Similar proportion of Eastern and Western cultural values in advertising
More neutral or mixed than culture-specific symbols and icons in
More universal than
culture-specific values in advertising themes
More neutral or mixed than culture-specific symbols and icons in
More universal cultural values in global than in local advertising themes
Similar proportion of Eastern and Western cultural values between global
and local advertising themes
Discussion and conclusions
The cultural profile of global advertising in China. As shown in Table 5,
the most frequently used cultural elements in global advertising, including
cultural values in themes and cultural symbols and icons in executions, are
universal, neutral, and mixed ones. Moreover, the proportions of Eastern
and Western values in global advertising themes are similar. When compared
with local advertising, global advertising does not demonstrate more
Western cultural values. This finding is contrary to earlier research that
found more Western values in global advertising (Cheng, 1997; Wang, 1996).
In addition, global advertising is even more likely than local advertising
to emphasize universal rather than culture-specific values. These findings
suggest that at least in the case of global advertising on primetime
Chinese television, there is little evidence for the predominant tendency
of cultural Westernization and globalization. Instead, the simultaneity and
hybridization of global and local elements in global advertising content
may be results of cultural negotiation and adaptation between global and
local forces. This constitutes a synthesis of globalization and
localization tendencies, thus lending support to the glocalization argument.
There are a number of possible explanations for this finding. First, many
of today's media and cultural products, including advertising, are
manufactured and marketed for a global audience (Robertson, 1995). Part of
the outcomes of economic globalization is the international allocation of
resources, production, management and even ownership. In the case of global
advertising, productions by MNCs' affiliated local branches and talents may
be able to alleviate the degree of cultural transmission from Western
standardized advertising. In China for example, many MNC ads are modified
and in some cases, produced by local affiliates and personnel whose values
resonate with and reflect the local Chinese culture (D. M. Haygood, former
Group Account Director, DMB&B Beijing office, personal communication, 2001).
Second, recent research found that global advertisers doing business in
China increasingly acknowledge the unique cultural preferences of the
Chinese consumers when crafting advertising messages (Yin, 1999).
Advertising by nature only highlight cultural elements that will help move
merchandize, making it a "distorted mirror" of the culture in which it
exists (Mueller, 1987; Pollay, 1983). Western cultural elements that oppose
and have not been incorporated into the Chinese culture are therefore
unlikely to be adopted in global advertising content.
Third, the Chinese media are owned by the government, who has always been
vigilant about possible "spiritual pollution" of the Chinese people by
Western culture. Advertising regulations aimed at screening Western
cultural influence have been in place since 1995 (Weber, 2000).
Consequently, Western cultural elements that are considered incompatible
with and a threat to the purity of traditional Chinese culture are unlikely
to pass through regulatory hurdles set by dominant political institutions.
Last but not least, advertising on primetime television is generally
geared toward the mass audience regardless of age, gender, income,
education, and other key demographic variables. On one hand, this could
subject advertising on TV, especially global advertising, to stricter
government regulations. On the other hand, global advertisers who choose
the medium of television may be engaged in heightened self-censorship in
order to appeal to the mass TV audience who is less responsive to Western
cultural elements than certain demographic groups such as 18-35 year-olds
(Zhang and Shavitt, 2003).
In sum, the cultural profile of global advertising in China represents the
complexity of the outcomes of global cultural interaction. A whole spectrum
of factors, in this case the diversification of global media production,
the resistant reading of local audience, the political and regulatory
peculiarity of the local environment, and advertising media
characteristics, work together to mediate the effect of cultural
globalization, making the end result a dialectical synthesis of
globalization and localization.
The cultural profile of local advertising in China. In local advertising,
the most frequently used cultural elements are also universal, neutral, and
mixed ones, again lending support to the glocalization argument which
predicts hybridization as a result of cultural interaction. However, local
Chinese advertising does use more Western than Eastern cultural values in
advertising themes, providing evidence for the argument of cultural
globalization and Westernization. This finding is consistent with some
previous research (Cheng, 1997; McIntyre & Wei, 1998), although it should
be interpreted in conjunction with the finding that local Chinese
advertising tends to use more universal than culture-specific values, which
means that the globalization model receives only limited support from this
To understand why there are more Western than Eastern values in local
Chinese advertising, an examination of the frequency distribution of
culture-specific values is in order. The results indicate that the
relatively frequent use of two Western values contributes to this finding.
They are modernity and technology. Interestingly modernity is also used
more frequently in local than in global advertising. This finding must be
interpreted in context. The presence of modernity as a recurring theme in
Chinese advertising is partly due to advertising's defining characteristic
of promoting newness and encouraging change in consumer behavior. More
importantly, this reflects a long-held cultural complex for national
empowerment that can be traced back to the early 1900s as a response to
more than a century's oppression and exploitation from the West. This
national complex was reawakened in the late 1970s when China was opened
after decades of isolation to a much more modernized outside world. For the
subsequent three decades, modernity has become an overriding and defining
theme in the Chinese political, economic, and social experience, both at
the societal and the individual level. The adoption of this Western value
in Chinese advertising, instead of being considered as the dominance and
imposition of the global over the local, should be viewed at a situational
level as a historical and contemporary reaction of the local to pressures
from the global, and as an assimilation of the global into the local's "own
realm of practiced meaning" (Friedman, 1995, p78). An argument can be made
that the value of modernity in China has been historically hybridized. It
represents a recombination of the global code to form a re-articulation
from the local voice.
Another cultural value that contributes to the higher frequency of Western
than Eastern values in Chinese advertising is technology. Along with
modernity, it is part and parcel of the whole notion of useful "otherness"
that are perceived to be instrumental for national development and
empowerment. Thus the value of technology constitutes another hybridized
value being incorporated into the local culture for the same historical
reasons as modernity.
It is important to note that the use of Western values such as modernity
and technology does not replace conflicting local values such as tradition
and naturalness. Although the value of naturalness has always maintained a
presence in Chinese advertising, this is the first time that it is
documented as one of the most frequently used. This new development
suggests that there is some indication of the rediscovery and reassertion
of Chinese cultural traditions reflected in advertising at the beginning of
the 21st century.
In sum, the cultural profile of local Chinese advertising exemplifies the
dialectical moment of globalization and localization. On one hand, local
cultural elements are maintaining a strong hold and arguably asserting an
increasing influence, demonstrating a localization tendency; on the other,
Western cultural elements make their inroads, but this presence, instead of
suggesting the dominance of global culture, indicates that cultural
formations are the results of historical hybridization. Again, outcomes of
cultural interaction reflected in local Chinese advertising exemplify the
practice of glocalization.
Implications and future research
This study tested three theoretical models of cultural formations using
empirical evidence from global and local advertising in China. Although
both the globalization and the glocalization arguments capture some aspects
of the cultural phenomena of global and local advertising in China, the
glocalization argument seems to explain and predict more in this case, and
thus exhibits more explanatory power. Overall, the cultural profiles of
global and local television advertising in China exemplify a glocalization
tendency. These profiles are hybridization of the global and the local,
with elements from both represented at varying degrees, and therefore
should be positioned in the middle of the globalization-localization
One implication of this finding is that cultural formations must be
examined within specific temporal and spatial contexts. They are not fixed
but fluid, as cultural negotiations and interactions produce a spectrum of
possibilities between the unilateral opposites of dominance/globalization
and opposition/localization. Our results show that globalization and
localization tendencies are not only bound together, but also mutually
implicative of the creation of cultural hybrids. Such tendencies of
glocalization and hybridization, whether reflected in media and cultural
products or in the population, deserve constant monitoring and studying.
This study is limited in scope in that it only captures outcomes of a
particular kind of cultural interaction, in this case that occurring in the
advertising arena, in a particular moment, at a particular location. But it
is indicative of current cultural tendencies in the developing world under
conditions of economic globalization. Future studies could examine other
media and cultural products, in different media environments, and under
different social and cultural conditions to obtain more empirical evidence
for the outcomes of cultural interactions. Finally, longitudinal studies
can help unravel the processes and directions of potential cultural change
as a result of global-local interaction.
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Coding schemes for global and local advertising on primetime Chinese
I. Cultural values manifest in advertising themes
View the ad (video footage image, voice-over, text) and identify the
dominant cultural value; enter the corresponding number of that cultural
value into coding sheet; if no cultural value can be identified, code as 0;
review list of values for final checking.
--Emphasis on the product's ability to improve the physical appearance of
its user; to help achieve a socially desirable appearance; to become
fashionable, graceful, glamorous and handsome.
--Emphasis on the value of being accepted or becoming an integral part of
family or social group; stressing benefits to the family or social group as
a whole; emphasis on family or group integrity, group welfare, goals,
choices, and achievements.
--Focusing on interdependence, harmony, conformity, solidarity, and
consensus; to join, unite, or bond in friendship, fellowship, and
companionship; to conform to social norms.
--Stressing relation to communities, ethnic groups, or national publics;
public spiritedness; social awareness; consideration for other people's
viewpoints and happiness; nurturance of the weak, disabled, young and
--Emphasis on the value of being or becoming self-sufficient, independent,
confident, secure, proud, and autonomous; stressing benefits to the
individual; emphasis on individual well being, self improvement,
self-fulfillment, self-development, self-realization, feelings of
self-worth, personal choices, goals, ambitions, and achievements.
--Focusing on the individual being distinct, unique, unconventional,
nonconformist and standing out from the crowd.
--Emphasis on showing politeness, friendliness, and sincerity toward the
consumer by using polished and affable language.
--Focusing on distinguishing the product from its counterparts by explicit
or implicit comparisons; may mention competition's name, or use such terms
as "number one", "leader", "outstanding", and "the best".
--Emphasizing the attributes of being inexpensive, affordable, discounted,
and cost saving; being a good value.
--Emphasizing the attributes of being expensive, highly valuable, highly
regarded, high quality, exorbitant, luxurious, and priceless.
--Emphasizing the value of being rich, affluent and prosperous; focusing on
the product's ability to bring wealth, a higher material living standard,
and a better material life to the consumer.
--Emphasis on the product's ability to bring fun, enjoyment, and happiness
and good fortune to the user; this may be achieved by showing consumers
enjoying, having fun with and/or celebrating the consumption experience.
--Stressing the importance of being physically fit, strong, active,
athletic, and free from disease, infection or addiction.
--Emphasis on the product's ability to enhance or improve physical
vitality, strength and robustness of its consumers.
--Emphasizing the attributes of being miraculous, mysterious; resulting
from witchcraft, superstition, and occult sciences; emphasis on the
product's ability to mesmerize, astonish, bewitch, and fill the consumer
with wonder, e.g., "cleans like magic".
--Stressing the importance of being knowledgeable, intelligent, informed;
focusing on the product's attributes as being resulted from education,
expertise, judgment, and experience, e.g. "experts agree…"
--Emphasis on the product's educational and informational function, e.g.
"enrich your knowledge".
--Highlighting detailed product information, instruction, or recipe.
--Emphasizing the value of being grown-up, elderly, senior, having
age-related insight, wisdom and mellowness; highlighting elderly people
being asked for opinion because of these age-related qualities.
--Focusing on the deification of the young generation; emphasis on the
youthful and rejuvenating benefits of the product, e.g. "feel young again".
--Emphasizing the value of being orderly, tidy, clean, spotless, and free
from dirt, refuse, pests, vermin, stains and smells.
--Stressing the attributes of being unadulterated, un-processed, pure,
organic, and natural by making reference to the elements, animals,
vegetations, and minerals; emphasis is on the beauty of nature, the product
as a means of becoming one with nature and back to nature, the harmonic
interaction and affinity between man and nature, and/or preservation and
protection of the natural environment.
--Stressing the attributes of being engineered, manufactured, resulting
from science, invention, discovery and research; emphasis is on the
advanced and sophisticated technologies used in the product and man's
manipulation of and superiority over nature through the use of technology.
--Stressing the attributes of being commonplace, customary, conventional,
regular, usual, ordinary, normal, typical, everyday, as well as being
universally recognized and accepted, e.g., "largest seller", "well known
--Stressing the attributes of being rare, distinctive, unusual, unrivaled,
and incomparable, e.g., "the only..." emphasizing a unique selling proposition.
--Focusing on the attributes of being effective, workable, useful,
pragmatic, functional, efficient, helpful, comfortable (clothes), tasty
(food), and capable of achieving certain ends.
--Being durable, long lasting, permanent, stable, strong, powerful, and tough.
--Being convenient, handy, easy to use, timesaving, accessible, and versatile.
--Emphasis on variety.
--Focusing on the attributes of being beautiful, decorative, adorned,
embellished, detailed, designed, and stylish.
--Emphasis on the attributes of being classic, historical, antique,
legendary, time-honored, long-standing, venerable, and nostalgic; having
accumulated experience and wisdom, e.g. "a hundred years' experience in…"
--Focusing on the attributes of being contemporary, new, up-to-date, ahead
of time, advanced, improved, progressive, relating to the future, e.g.
"introducing…" "new …".
--Highlighting reference to whatever is foreign, e.g. "international leader".
--Emphasis on the attributes of being reliable, stable, trustworthy, absent
from potential hazard, harmful ingredients, injury or other risks; having
guarantees, reassurances, and warranties.
24.Sex and romance
--Emphasizing erotic and romantic relations by highlighting scenes of
couples holding hands, gazing at each other, kissing, embracing and dating.
--Emphasizing the product's ability to enhance the sexual attractiveness of
its users; this may be achieved by using glamorous models with
attractiveness of clearly sexual nature.
--Emphasizing the value of being socially competitive, powerful,
successful, and dominant.
--Associating the use of the product with the experience or benefits of
seeking compliments from others, setting trends, and elevating one's
position or rank in the eyes of others.
--Emphasis on the value of being occupationally ambitious, proficient,
competent, accomplished, and successful; the importance of being diligent,
persistent, and dedicated to one's career.
--Stressing the product's ability to help consumers obtain these qualities
and achieve these goals.
--Highlighting occupational settings and behaviors.
II. Cultural symbols and icons used in advertising executions
1. Arts and artifacts
--Code as 0 if there is no arts and artifacts used in the commercial or if
it's hard to tell their cultural nature.
--Code as 1 if the ad uses only distinctive Chinese artistic forms such as
music, opera, dance, and mythical and fictional figures; distinctive
Chinese artifacts such as costumes, national currency, national flag, and
festive decorations; and historical and contemporary Chinese figures.
--Code as 2 if both Chinese and Western arts and artifacts are used.
--Code as 3 if the ad uses only distinctive Western artistic forms such as
English language pop songs, ballet, and legendary, fictional and mythical
characters; distinctive Western artifacts such as costumes, national
currency, national flag, and festive decorations; and historical and
contemporary Western figures.
2. Models' age
--Code as 0 if the ad doesn't use human models or if it's hard to tell the
--Code as 1 if the model (s) appear to be above middle age.
--Code as 2 if there are both below and above middle-aged model(s).
--Code as 3 if the model (s) appear to be below middle age.
3. Models' ethnicity
--Code as 0 if the ad doesn't use human models or if it's hard to tell the
--Code as 1 if the ad uses only Chinese celebrities and models.
--Code as 2 if it uses both Chinese and Western models and celebrities.
--Code as 3 if it uses only Western models or celebrities
4. Models' numbers
--Code as 0 if the ad doesn't use human models.
--Code as 1 if the ad uses a group of models (more than 2) interacting with
--Code as 2 if the ad uses both individual and group models.
--Code as 3 if the ad uses one model, or if more than one, appearing in
different frames and having no interaction with one another.
--Code as 0 if there is no settings used in the ad or if it's hard to tell
the setting's cultural nature.
--Code as 1 if the ad is set in distinctive Chinese traditional
occupations, leisure activities, landmarks, and landscapes.
--Code as 2 if there is a mixture of Chinese and Western settings.
--Code as 3 if the ad is set in distinctive Western occupations, leisure
activities, landmarks, and landscapes.
 Percentages may not total 100% because of rounding; values are listed
in three groups, within each in descending order of frequency distribution
in local advertising.
 X2 values test differences in the use of cultural values between
global and local advertising.
 More than 20% of the cells have expected count of less than 5;
therefore the test cannot yield a valid chi-square.
*p<. 05. **p<. 01. ***p<. 001.
 Percentages may not total 100% because of rounding.
 X2 values test differences in the use of cultural symbols and icons
between global and local advertising.
*p <. 05. **p<. 01. ***p<. 001.