A Comparison of Magazine Advertising
From the United States and Hong Kong
Department of Mass Communication
Bemidji State University
Mailing Address: P. O. Box 1201, Bemidji, MN 56601
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A Comparison of Magazine Advertising
From the United States and Hong Kong
This study extends the research on cross-cultural advertising by comparing
print advertisements from the United States and Hong Kong in terms of
information content, sex appeal, use of humor, and comparativeness. A
content analysis of advertisements revealed that American advertisements
make greater use of humor and comparativeness. Hong Kong
were found to contain more information cues, and were evaluated to
least as many sex appeals as American advertisements.
A Comparison of Magazine Advertising
From the United States and Hong Kong
There is an increasing desire among marketers to utilize similar
advertising campaigns throughout the world (Biswas, Olsen & Carlet 1992).
Advocates of such "standardized" approach believe that advertisers who
develop just one set of ads for their multinational markets will realize
benefits such as reduced costs, increased control over advertising
stronger brand images, and simplified strategic planning (Tansey, Hyman &
Zinkhan 1990). Most marketers also recognize that a policy of
advertising must assume a high degree of cultural and economic homogeneity
between countries (Tansey, Hyman & Zinkhan 1990). However, advertising
policies are more sensitive to cultural differences than are policies
product, price, and distribution. As Boddewyn et al. (1986) said,
"standardization of product, brand, and advertising do not necessarily move
apace, and advertising is more resistant to uniformization than are the
Other advertising theorists supporting the specialization of commercial
messages, and suggest that advertising is one of the most difficult
marketing elements to standardize. Sometimes this is because of the legal
restrictions that require changes in copy or make certain media
unavailable, but more often it is because of cultural differences (Mueller,
1987). Hong et al. (1987) suggested that advertising that portrays the
value of the indigenous culture is more effective than advertising
ignores these values. In a pilot project, Hornik (1980) found
differences in the way advertisements are perceived. He said, "While
concepts like product attributes are probably universal, and while the
product function is probably similar across nations, the exact form of
attribute perception in each society might differ considerably."(p.43)
Over the years, as the distinction between marketing and advertising
standardization grew clearer, a new area of research emerged: the content
analysis of advertising from different countries (Ramaprasad &
1992). As a form of social communication, advertising is considered
particularly reflective of culture. Advertising tends to reflect the
prevalent values of the culture in which it exists, insofar as those
can be used to shape the consumption ethic (Mueller 1987). Consequently,
cross-cultural differences in advertising expression has become a
and important area of research. The understanding of these
an important element in formulating international advertising
and targeting consumers by their cultural values has proven an
marketing strategy (Tansey, Hyman & Zinkhan 1990).
A Comparison of Magazine Advertising
From the United States and Hong Kong
A number of studies have made valuable contributions to the understanding
of the differences among cultures in advertising, in terms of
and emotional contents, values, appeals, themes, use of humor, comparative
cues, and sex role portrayal (Hong, Muderrisoglu & Zinkhan 1987; Mueller
1987; Tansey, Hyman & Zinkhan 1990; Biswas, Olsen & Carlet 1992; Wiles
Tjernlund 1991). Some studies have examined advertising expression
cultures that clearly have very dissimilar value systems(e.g., India
the United States, by Griffin, Viswanath & Schwartz 1994); and some
have analyzed advertising expressions in countries that have less obvious
cultural differences(e.g., Great Britain and the United States, by
Weinberger & Spotts 1989).
The present study extends the research in cross-cultural advertising by
investigating the differences in advertising expressions in magazine
advertisements from the United States and Hong Kong. The research focuses
on the differences between American and Hong Kong advertisements in
of information content, sexual appeals, and the use of humor and
Background and Hypotheses:
In addition to culture, advertising expression is affected by many other
socioeconomic factors such as the political system and the level of
economic development (Hong, Muderrisoglu & Zinkhan 1987). According to
Britt (1974), consumption patterns, psychosocial characteristics, and
general cultural factors are three factors that influence international
advertising. American and Hong Kong magazine advertisements were
for comparison here because the United States and Hong Kong are in
stages of development in these respects. They are both capitalistic
developed, and they are both among the 25 countries with the highest
per capita ($22,560 and $13,200 for the U.S. and Hong Kong
(The Universal Almanac 1994). However, it should be noted that the
cultural traditions of these two countries are quite dissimilar. As a
consequence, if there are distinctive differences in the advertising
expression, they are likely attributable to cultural differences and
probably not to socioeconomic factors.
The United States is a typically Western culture. Hong Kong, as a colony
of Great Britain for almost a hundred years, has a mixed culture of
and Western influence. To a certain extent, Hong Kong can be said to
a Westernized society, but the deep-seated Chinese cultural values
remain distinct. According to Hong et al. (1987), Western culture
from Eastern in that the former is more adventurous in nature than the
latter. The Western mode of living is characterized by confrontation
the external environment; this confrontation has led to a rational and
abstract mode of thinking. On the other hand, in Eastern countries the
mode of living is characterized by adaptation to external environments,
which leads to relatively less emphasis on rationalistic systems of
The practice of the rational mode of thinking in advertising is expressed
as "rational appeal," which logically presents product-related
According to Muller (1991), an advertisement's informativeness is a
reflection of the extent to which advertisements focus on consumers'
practical, functional or utilitarian need for the product. For this
informativeness of advertising represents the extent to which such
product-related cues are provided to allow consumers to make intelligent
choices among alternatives (Hong, Muderrisoglu & Zinkhan 1987).
Kaynak, and Sparkman (1987) claimed that the study of informational
content of advertisement has become an issue of considerable concern
throughout the world because of the increase in international trade and
promotion across diverse cultures.
To the extent that clear differences exist between American and Chinese
(Hong Kong) cultural patterns, advertising, which is a conspicuous
indicator of cultural values (Hong, Muderrisoglu & Zinkhan 1987), should
manifest these differences. One distinction that can be made between
American and Hong Kong ads is that American ads try to persuade consumers
by directly presenting information, facts and evidence related to
merits and purchase reasons (Lannon, 1986). To Hong Kong people,
this direct sales pitch is considered argumentative and annoying,
implicit nature of traditional Chinese culture. Hong Kong ads appeal
resort to image building, emotional elicitation, and status symbols.
Therefore, American ads seem likely to use rational appeal more
than Hong Kong ads and tend to be more informative.
Two other commonly used elements in advertising are sex appeal and the use
of humor. For this study, use of sex appeal was defined as the extent
which the advertisement used nudity, scantily-dressed models of either
gender, or any form of sexual suggestiveness, including the implicit or
explicit benefit of gaining attractiveness in sexual or sensual ways
through the use of the item advertised (Biswas, Olsen & Carlet 1992).
is a general perception that Western societies are more sexually liberated
than Eastern societies. Consequently, the United States is more tolerant
and receptive to sexual appeals and nudity in advertising (Bello,
Etzel 1983), whereas in the Hong Kong society, which is more
this form of advertising is considered risque. American ads are thus
likely to use sexual appeals more often than Hong Kong ads.
The culture of a country may affect the use of humor in advertising. Humor
is primarily a social phenomenon, providing commentary on the details of
life (Morreall 1983). As such, humor derives meaning from the
the nature of humor preferred is a function of culture (Speck 1990). In
this study, the use of humor was defined as the extent to which an
advertisement used expression devices such as pun, understatement, joke,
ludicrousness, satire, and irony (Kelly & Solomon 1975). Just as with
ual appeals, humor may be used to a different extent in the
of a more liberal culture and a more conservative culture. Humorous
expression is thus likely to be used more frequently in American ads than
in Hong Kong ads.
Another dimension that distinguishes Western from Eastern culture is
individualism versus collectivism (Hong, Muderrisoglu & Zinkhan 1987).
Americans tend to believe that the individual has control of, and is
responsible for, his or her own life. This cultural pattern encourages
competition, and frontal attack is considered as a matter of course
(Stewart 1972). Comparative advertising is thus produced to demonstrate
how a sponsor's product differs from competitors'. In Hong Kong,
cooperation is a traditional virtue, and face-to-face competition is
common. In this study, comparative advertising is defined as a
communication style in which two or more products are contrasted or
compared in terms of product characteristics or particular market
standings. These comparisons can be explicit, in which competitors' brands
are specifically mentioned, or implicit in which competitors may only be
identified as "brand X" or "leading brand" (Harmon, Razzouk & Stern
The above discussion leads to the following hypothesis:
H1: American ads contain more information cues than Hong Kong ads.
H2: Sexual appeals are more frequently used in American ads than in Hong
H3: American ads use more humor expression than Hong Kong ads.
H4: Comparative ads are less utilized in Hong Kong than in the
This study compared American and Hong Kong magazine advertising by using
content analysis (Kassarjian 1977). All four categories of study -
of informativeness, sexual appeal, use of humor, and comparativeness -
utilize established definitions and procedures.
The information classification system established by Resnik and Stern
(1977), which is frequently used as an advertising informativeness
was employed to evaluate the level of informativeness of the
advertisements. All fourteen informational categories or cues that
considered informative, and that allow consumers to make intelligent
choices among alternatives after reading the advertisement, were included.
As in previous studies, an advertisement was required to contain only one
of the fourteen information cues to be considered informative.
The rating categories used by Biswas, Olsen, and Carlet (1992) were
employed to evaluate the use of sex appeal in the advertisements. This
included the identification of the existence of sex appeal, the
presentation format, and the setting. Judges identified whether the sex
appeal was presented pictorially or verbally, whether there was nudity
the advertisement and whether the setting was romantic or
The rating categories of the use of humor were also based on the study by
Biswas, Olsen, and Carlet (1992). Judges identified whether an
advertisement used humorous expression and, if so, whether the humor was
expressed by words only, by picture only, or by a combination of words
pictures. The humorous device used was also identified.
Finally, comparativeness of the advertising was measured by two criteria:
explicit and implicit comparison, based on the evaluation categories
by Hong, Muderrisoglu, and Zinkhan (1987).
A title from each of five magazine categories was selected from the United
States and from Hong Kong. The American magazines were: Time (news),
Sports Illustrated (sports), People (entertainment), McCalls (women's),
Business Week (business). The Hong Kong magazines were Next Magazine
(news), Champion Sports (sports), City Entertainment (entertainment),
Elegance (women's), and Capital (business). All of the magazines have
large circulations and national audiences. They were chosen to match as
closely as possible their equivalent from the other country, and to
represent as broad an audience as possible.
Three issues were selected from each magazine for 1993, resulting in a
total of 30 issues. The first issue of each magazine published in
June, and December was selected. Because of their dominant use in
magazines, and to control for size, all full-page or larger, color or
black-and-white product advertisements were analyzed (Harmon, Razzouk and
Stern 1983). In cases in which more than one advertisement was found
the same brand in a single magazine, one was randomly chosen to reduce
effect of brand-specific advertising expression (Hong, Muderrisoglu,
Zinkhan 1987). The final sample consisted of 420 American, and 355
Three judges analyzed the advertisements. A Hong Kong judge coded the Hong
Kong advertisements, and an American judge coded the American
advertisements. A third judge, fluent in both English and Chinese,
having resided in both countries, evaluated the advertisements of both
countries. According to Biswas, Olsen, and Carlet (1992), using native
judges ensures that cultural differences in the expression of
are properly captured during the evaluation process. The third judge's
evaluations were used to assess coder reliability.
The data were first analyzed to measure inter-coder reliability. As
indicated in Table 1, the mean reliability score for the informativeness
scales was .94. Inter-coder agreement for the use of sex appeal,
and comparativeness was assessed by calculating Scott's . As shown
Table 1, the mean values for Scott's for the use of sex appeal and
were both 1.0. All reliability values are within acceptance levels
established by Kassarjian (1977) and Nunnally (1978).
The first hypothesis was tested using analysis of variance (ANOVA).
Hypothesis two, three and four dealt with categorical measures, so
chi-square analyses were used.
According to the first hypothesis, American advertisements were expected to
contain more information cues than Hong Kong advertisements. As shown in
Table 2, 349 out of 355 (98.32 percent) Hong Kong ads contained at
one information cue; 393 out of 420 (93.57 percent) American ads were
as informative by the same criteria. Also, 47 (17.47 percent) Hong Kong
ads have more than five information cues compared to only 16 (5.71
for American ads. A clear picture of the number of information cues from
the two countries is shown in Figure 1. The difference in the number
information cues between American and Hong Kong ads was significant
(p<.01). The unexpected result that Hong Kong ads are more informative
than American ads was also confirmed by the mean scores of both
As indicated by Table 3, Hong Kong ads (mean score = 3.01) contained more
information cues than American ads (mean score = 2.46). Two-way ANOVA
verified that this difference is significant (p<.01). In both American
Hong Kong ads, availability and packaging information were the two most
common information cues, followed by the quality cues (See Table 4).
Hypothesis two proposed that American advertisements use sex appeals more
than Hong Kong advertisements. As the results in Table 5 show, 39 out
420 (9.29 percent) American ads in the sample used sexual appeal,
to 27 out of 355 (7.61 percent) Hong Kong ads. The difference in
content between the American and Hong Kong ads was not significant
Therefore, hypothesis two was rejected.
Sex appeal was mainly depicted pictorially in advertisements for both
countries. With regard to the type of models used, 31 (79.49 percent)
American ads using sex appeal contained only females, 2 (5.13 percent)
males, and 6 (15.38 percent) both male and female models; 22 (81.48
percent) Hong Kong ads using sex appeal had only female models, 3 (11.11
percent) had only males, and 2 (7.41 percent) used both male and
models. Only 6 (15.38 percent) American ads with sexual appeal used
nudity, and 15 (38.46 percent) used romantic settings to depict the sexual
appeal, compared to 4 (14.81 percent) Hong Kong ads that used nudity,
12 (44.44 percent) that used romantic settings to depict the sexual
(See Table 6).
Hypothesis three proposed that American advertisements use more humor than
Hong Kong advertisements. As shown in Table 7, 44 out of 420 (10.48
percent) American ads used humor, compared to 16 out of 355 (4.51 percent)
Hong Kong ads. A chi-square analysis showed that the difference in
humor in American and Hong Kong ads was significant (p<.01),
The results in Table 8 show the types of humorous devices used in both
countries. Of the 44 American ads using humor, 23 (52.27 percent) of
used pun, followed by ludicrousness (20.45 percent), understatement
percent), joke (9.09 percent), irony (4.55 percent), and satire (2,27
percent). In the Hong Kong ads, pun was the predominant type of humorous
device, used in 9 of 16 (56.25 percent) humorous ads. Ludicrousness
percent) and understatement (18.75 percent) were also used. The use of
satire and irony as humorous devices were nonexistent in Hong Kong
Figure 2 compares the humorous devices between the two countries. For
countries, the most common expression of humor in advertisements was in a
combination of words and pictures (56.82 percent for American ads; 50
percent for Hong Kong ads), as shown in Table 9.
Hypothesis four proposed that comparative advertising would be less
utilized in Hong Kong than in the United States. It was examined in two
categories - explicit and implicit. Table 10 shows that 33 of 420
percent) American ads were implicitly comparative and 3 (.71 percent)
explicitly comparative; 6 (1.69 percent) Hong Kong ads were implicitly
comparative and 1 (.28 percent) was explicitly comparative. The
in the use of comparativeness between the American and Hong Kong ads was
significant (p<.01). The results indicated that American ads are more
likely to use comparative techniques than their Hong Kong counterparts,
thus supporting hypothesis four.
The purpose of this study was to examine how advertising expression differs
in two dissimilar cultures: the United States and Hong Kong. The findings
reveal that there are interesting differences between American and Hong
Kong magazine advertising, but not all the hypotheses were supported.
As expected, American advertisements were found to use humorous expression
more frequently than Hong Kong advertisements. This finding is
with the perception that the use of humor in advertising is more
or more common in a more liberal culture such as in the United States,
rather than in Hong Kong, which is comparatively more conservative in
social norms. The results of the study showed, however, that the
expression of humor was similar between American and Hong Kong
advertisements. In both countries, puns were used as the predominant
of humorous device, and the combination of words and pictures was the
frequently used format.
Also as expected, Hong Kong magazines were found to contain fewer
comparative advertisements than American magazines. The obvious difference
was that the practice of comparative advertising in Hong Kong, although
not prohibited, seems to be self-restrained, as the social values of
avoiding frontal competition still have influential power to the culture.
However, the expectation that American advertisements use more sexual
appeals than Hong Kong advertisements was not confirmed. The findings
suggest that there was no significant difference in the use of sexual
appeals in magazine advertisements between these two countries. With
regard to the nature of expression, American and Hong Kong advertisements
also showed similarity in the types of models used and the use of
One possible explanation for this unexpected outcome may be the recent
de-regulation of the restriction on sex scenes in Hong Kong movies,
may have led to the use of sexual appeal or nudity in advertising
more socially acceptable in Hong Kong.
Contrary to expectations, Hong Kong advertisements were found to be more
informative than American advertisements. One explanation for this
unexpected outcome may be the relatively large amount of information
typically contained in magazine advertisements (Hong, Muderisoglu &
1987). This characteristic, in turn, may make it difficult to detect
differences in information content between the countries. Another
reason for this finding is that the Hong Kong ads examined here generally
contained longer copy than their American counterparts. This longer
resulted in more informational cues. Of course, it is a bit difficult
compare copy length quantitatively, due to differences between the two
languages. However, the results showed that although they differed in
number of information cues used, American and Hong Kong advertisements
tended to be similar in the information cues they emphasized. Packaging
and availability information were frequently used in advertisements of
countries, and taste and nutrition information were rarely used.
As with many of the studies that have investigated cross-cultural
advertising, the findings of this study suggest that the advertisements
produced in one country cannot simply be standardized or directly
translated for use in another. The results of this study provide insight
into the differences and similarities that may exist in the
expressions of the United States and Hong Kong, two countries
socioeconomically similar, but culturally different. Multinational
corporations attempting to advertise in Hong Kong should be aware of the
greater use of information cues, the increasingly common use of sex
appeals, and the less frequent use of humor and comparativeness.
Some limitations must be kept in mind when interpreting the results of this
study. First, the results reflect the subjective views of a few raters
who may not be representative of the United States and Hong Kong
population. Advertising expression or content is perceived differently
from person to person depending on viewer characteristics such as
education, social status, sex, age or occupation (Hong, Muderrisoglu &
Zinkhan 1987). Consumer responses to advertising may vary from the
findings derived in this study, and consumer-based measures in corporated
in future studies would complement the present research. Second, more
detailed studies should be carried out to compare advertising content by
specific product category. Differences in advertising expression may
due to different products being advertised (Johnstone, Kaynak &
There is certainly a need to widen the sample covered in this study. To
arrive at more conclusive findings, many more ads from various media
to be studied. In addition to the dimensions examined in this study,
are many others of potential interest, including: appeal methods, gender
roles, and the changing trends in advertising expression. Such
would be especially valuable in light of increased international trade and
the subsequent need to communicate effectively to people of various
It is evident that the cultural differences of the United States and Hong
Kong account for some of the variations in print advertisements
this study. Also to be considered, however, are factors other than
culture that may have an effect on the content of advertisements. Such
factors might include product type, the market structure, the preferred
medium of advertising in each country, and the target audience at which
advertisement is directed. These factors must be examined more thoroughly
to determine how much of the difference in advertisements is attributable
to the cultures of the two countries. The more we understand the
these differences, the better able we will be to design advertisements
that are effective on an international level.
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