AN INVESTIGATION OF THREE CULTURAL VALUES IN
AMERICAN ADVERTISING: THE ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL,
THE DEPICTION OF TIME, AND THE CONFIGURATION OF SPACE
Joyce M. Wolburg
Ronald E. Taylor
University of Tennessee
Submitted to the Advertising Division
Research Session, AEJMC
Please address correspondence to:
Dr. Joyce Wolburg
Johnston Hall 310
P.O. Box 1881
AN INVESTIGATION OF THREE CULTURAL VALUES IN
AMERICAN ADVERTISING: THE ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL,
THE DEPICTION OF TIME, AND THE CONFIGURATION OF SPACE
Interest in the study of cultural values in advertising has continued to
increase in the last two decades; however, previous studies have not fully
explored the complexity of these values.
Using a document analysis approach, this study explicates the ways in which
three core values in American culture appear in network primetime television
advertising. A number of main message strategies and contextual categories are
described, which provide a better understanding for use in international
advertising and offer insight into creative strategy for domestic advertising.
The advertising literature of the 1980s shows an interest in one of the
"unintended consequences" of advertising -- the transmission of cultural values.
Much of this research has concerned two issues -- (1) advertising's role in
either constructing new values or reflecting existing values within a culture
and (2) the need for a better understanding of cultural values so that creative
strategy can accurately depict a given culture, whether it is one's own culture
or a target culture for international advertising. Pollay (1986; 1987) and
Holbrook (1987) have addressed the first issue in a philosophical debate
concerning the role of advertising in society. Two well articulated but
conflicting views emerged, but the issue goes unresolved.
Many researchers (including Pollay) have addressed the second issue by
attempting to identify the cultural values in advertising messages. Significant
strides have been made; however, by the mid 1990s the research in this area has
not advanced beyond a rudimentary phase, perhaps due to disagreement over which
values are worthy of investigation, vastly different approaches to the study of
values, an underestimation of the complexity of cultural values, and the use of
different theoretical frameworks. Some researchers have examined one broad value
(Gross and Sheth 1989; Wolburg and Taylor 1994) while another has examined 42
narrow values (Pollay 1983). Most cultural values are given at face value with
little discussion regarding their complexity, and theoretical frameworks have
drawn from such varied sources as Hall (1966, 1959), Hofstede (1991, 1980),
Reisman (1950), and Rokeach (1973).
From 1980 through 1996 the major advertising and marketing journals addressed a
number of issues related to cultural values, and 20 content analyses of cultural
values in ads were published. Ten studies examined values within a single
country -- one in Poland (Sayre 1994); one in the People's Republic of China
(Cheng 1994) and eight within the U.S. (Belk and Pollay 1985a; Belk and Pollay
1985b; Gross and Sheth 1989; Pollay 1983; Pollay 1984; Pollay and Gallaher 1990;
Zinkhan, Hong, and Lawson 1990; Zinkhan and Shermohamad 1986). The other ten
studies examined values cross-culturally. U.S. advertising was compared to that
of Brazil (Tansey, Hyman, and Zinkhan 1990), China (Cheng and Schweitzer 1996),
Great Britain (Frith and Wesson 1991), Japan (Mueller 1987; Belk and Bryce 1986;
Belk and Pollay 1985c), Mexico (McCarty and Hattwick 1992), and Sweden (Wiles,
Wiles and Tjernlund 1996). One study compared the advertising of the PRC, Hong
Kong, and Taiwan (Tse, Belk, and Zhou 1989), and another compared values across
11 countries (Albers-Miller and Gelb 1996).
While no standard list of values is agreed upon by advertising researchers,
certain values have been extensively described by anthropologists and other
social scientists. Of all cultural values, the role of the individual
(individualism versus collectivism) is generally agreed upon as the most
important dimension of cultural differences (Hofstede 1991; Lodge 1975; Triandis
1989), although it has been a focus of only six of the advertising studies
(Mueller 1987; Frith and Wesson 1991; McCarty and Hattwick 1992; Cheng 1994,
1996; and Albers-Miller and Gelb 1996). Hofstede ranks the U.S. as the most
individualistic country in the world (1980).
A second value that plays a highly significant role within a culture is the
depiction of time. According to the anthropologist Edward Hall (1983), nothing
occurs outside a time frame although each culture has its own unique pattern. To
function in a culture, it is as necessary for individuals to learn the language
of time as it is to learn the spoken language. Despite the importance of time as
a cultural value, it has been the focus of only two advertising studies (Gross
and Sheth 1989; McCarty and Hattwick 1992).
One of the ways that the time system is maintained is through the configuration
of space. Cultures that emphasize the need to do one thing at a time require
privacy from interruptions, which is often achieved by giving people space to
work alone -- either through private offices or use of partitions within a room.
Cultures that prefer the handling of many tasks simultaneously configure space
in a way that enhances interaction in favor of privacy by giving people easy
access to one another (Hall 1983). None of the advertising studies addressed the
configuration of space.
The following study attempts to explicate the ways in which messages of
individualism, time, and space appear in American network primetime television
advertising. It begins with an historical overview of the three values and
proceeds to an interpretive analysis of advertising content. The study is not
intended to be a census of all the ways in which advertisers make use of the
values nor to provide an exact count of their instances. Rather it is intended
to explore, first of all, the depth and the variation of the portrayal of these
ingrained values, to bring their use to a conscious level and to make available
for discussion their taken-for-granted nature that is interwoven with
Individualism is a political idea that has developed after the 15th century.
During the earlier, medieval times each person was equated with his or her place
in the social hierarchy. Any separation from the social roles assigned by God,
society, and family was unthinkable (Baumeister 1987). The 16th century marked
increased social mobility and the cessation of the fixed social hierarchy which
shifted the basic unit in society from the community to the individual, forming
a foundation for individualism. The blacksmith's son, for example, was no longer
tied to the moral duty to become a blacksmith himself (MacIntyre 1981).
The word "individualism" was coined in 1830 by the French philosopher, Alexis
de Tocqueville who stated that
Individualism is a calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen
to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the
family and friends; with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly
leaves the greater society to look after itself.
Hofstede (1980) has identifies key characteristics of countries that rank high
and low for individualism. They are provided in Table 1.
Hall (1959; 1966; 1983; 1987) refers to two kinds of time systems that
predominate throughout the world. Monochronic time refers to doing one thing at
a time, and such cultures are inhabited by "low involvement" people who
compartmentalize time and use schedules to determine how time is organized.
Polychronic time refers to doing many things at the same time, and these
cultures are inhabited by "high involvement" people who allow relationships to
determine how time is organized. Polychronic people perform many tasks
simultaneously, are not disturbed or irritated by interruptions, generally
resist being held to deadlines, and are not strictly bound to schedules.
THE INDIVIDUALISM SOCIETAL NORM
Low Individualism (Collectivism)
People are born into extended families or clans which protect them in exchange
Everyone is supposed to take care of him or herself and his or her immediate
Identity is based in the social system.
Identity is based in the individual.
Emotional dependence of individual on organizations and institutions.
Emotional independence of individual from organizations or institutions.
Emphasis on belonging to organization; membership ideal.
Emphasis on individual initiative and achievement; leadership ideal.
Private life is invaded by organizations and clans to which one belongs;
opinions are predetermined.
Everyone has a right to a private life and opinion.
Expertise, order, duty, security privided by organization or clan.
Autonomy, variety, pleasure, individual financial security.
Friendships predetermined by stable social relationships.
Need for specific friendships.
Belief in group decisions.
Belief in individual decisions.
Value standards differ for ingroups and outgroups; particularism.
Value standards should apply to all; universalism.
Hofstede 1980, p. 171.
Appointments mean very little and may be shifted around even at the last minute
someone more important in an individual's hierarch of family, friends, or
people think of time as a finite commodity that can be saved, spent or lost;
they generally perform one task at a time in a linear fashion, are clearly
disturbed by interruptions, honor deadlines, and think of schedules as sacred
and unalterable. Hall notes that the U.S., Germany, England, and the
Scandinavian countries are monochronic while Japan, India, France, Spain, Latin
America, South America, and the Arab countries are polychronic.
Historically the concept of monochronic time gained momentum during the
Progressive Era in the U.S. The best-known advocate of time-saving and
efficiency was Frederick Winslow Taylor, the founder of scientific management.
Taylor first applied his principles to the operations at the Bethlehem Steel
Company between 1900 and 1910. By analyzing ways that workers could operate at
maximum efficiency, he was able to increase the average workload nearly 400%
(Taylor 1911). His concepts of scientific management have continued to affect
other areas of life beyond the applications at the turn of the century.
Hall notes an important relationship between time and space. Monochronic
cultures reduce the polychronic effect by reducing involvement, which means
separating activities with as much screening as possible (1966, p. 173). This is
often accomplished by use of space, e.g., placing workers with higher
responsibility in private offices separated from distractions and other people.
In polychronic Japan, for example, private space is to be avoided at all costs
because it disrupts the flow of information and shuts people off from one
In monochronic cultures the desire for privacy is carried out in personal life
in addition to the business world. The home offers owners a greater opportunity
for privacy than public spaces, and social gatherings in the U.S. often take
place within the home or other private space. In polychronic cultures many of
these social occasions take place in public places.
Space is also characterized by the relationship between humans and nature,
which is manifested by one of three stances -- the inclination to master nature,
the desire to maintain harmony with nature, or the belief in subjugation to
nature (Kluckhohn and Strodbeck 1961). Arensberg and Niehoff contend that
Americans look upon nature as something to "overcome, to improve, to tear down
and rebuild in a better way" (1975, p. 373). Other cultures, particularly
Eastern ones, look upon nature as something one should respect and obey.
Like all values, the role of the individual and the use of time and space are
thought to be pervasive and reflected in society's institutions as well as in
its cultural products such as novels, films, television programs, popular music,
and advertising; yet, the pervasive, taken-for-granted nature of values can make
them nearly invisible to the members of a given culture. The following study
examines the way television primetime advertising depicts the three values.
Obtaining the sample
A sample of commercials from 14 hours of primetime network television
programming (8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. ET) was obtained by taping all programming
on ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX on a single night with additional hours on subsequent
nights. Network programming was preferred to cable to access a broader, mass
audience, and primetime was chosen because it is the daypart that attracts the
The sample was created in order to obtain an adequate number of unduplicated
national ads from a representative mix of situation comedies (sitcoms), 2-hour
movies, 1-hour dramas, 1-hour news programs, 1-hour reality programs, and 2-hour
sports programs. A total of 272 ads were taped, which resulted in 198 national
ads after eliminating local advertising and repetitions. Local ads were
eliminated since no control over content differences was possible across
As a further check against a possible bias for a disproportionate number of ads
within product categories, a comparison of the percentage of ads by product
category from the sample was made against the yearly summary percentages of ads
by product category from the Television Bureau of Advertising (percentages were
converted from dollars). The similarity in figures suggests that the number of
ads within each product category in the sample are typical for their respective
The Interpretive Approach
This study deviates from the traditional content analysis by utilizing a
qualitative approach through document analysis -- a method underutilized by
advertisers -- in hopes of gaining a different level of insight given the
complexity of the values.
One of the limitations of past research is the lack of explanation given for
identifying complex values. Individualism and other values are usually defined
at high levels of abstraction; yet, an examination of ads for incidence of
cultural values requires a knowledge of a given value at the concrete level.
Document analysis was chosen as the best method for identifying the more
concrete elements that are associated with the value at the abstract level.
The appropriateness of ads as qualitative data was discussed by Denzin (1978)
who identified mass-media products, including advertisements, as one of several
public records available for document analysis. Like other forms of qualitative
research, document analysis utilizes the inductive approach, which allows the
theory or pattern to emerge from the data.
Using transcripts of the ads in the sample, the two authors applied analytic
induction and comparative analysis to identify common patterns or categories
that were neither too inclusive nor too restrictive (Glaser and Strauss 1967;
Strauss and Corbin 1994). This process required a continuous interplay between
data and analysis in which the tentative categories were tested and refined. The
categories were considered adequate when they could account for all data, a step
that is otherwise known as the point of redundancy (Taylor 1994).
The study developed through a series of stages beginning with the posing of
research questions, identification of categories, and the counting and
description of elements within categories.
The Research Process
The study asked four research questions concerning how individualism, time, and
space are depicted in advertising. Through an initial screening of the ads, the
researchers noted that individualism could be expressed two ways -- through main
message strategy and through context. This finding generated two research
questions regarding individualism, each of which directed a stage of the
research process that resulted in the identification of elements. These elements
were later included in a coding sheet that enabled the researchers to gain a
numerical count of elements. The same process was applied to the other two
The study asked:
RQ1 When it appeals to individualism, how does advertising depict individualism
in the main message strategy?
Stage 1. Based on Hofstede's characteristics of individualist and collectivist
cultures, each commercial was examined for the presence or absence of a main
message element incorporating individualism. The main message element was
defined as the intended overall impression to be gained from viewing the
commercial, and most often it could be deduced by asking after viewing the
commercial, "What will happen if I buy and use the advertised product?" Possible
answers to the "What will happen" question related to individualism included,
among many others:
1. I can develop my personality; become more "me."
2. I can gain self-respect; elevate my status to others/elevate a family
member's status (make my child feel special).
3. I can be more efficient at accomplishing tasks including work and
4. I can win a promotion, increase skill level, learn to learn.
5. I can make better use of time including staying well to continue working.
6. I can make better use of money including caring for family finances.
7. I can be more attractive.
8. I can be healthier.
9. I can use products to identify my personality to others.
10. I can demand products to suit me.
By regrouping related elements, the authors collapsed the ten original elements
into four broader main message strategies -- "The Esteemed Individual," "The
Efficient Individual," The Physically Attractive Individual," and the "I Am Me
Three of the strategies require little explanation. The "Esteemed Individual"
is made up of all esteem related message elements including developing
personality, becoming more "me," gaining self-respect, and elevating my own (my
nuclear family's) status. The "Efficient Individual" is made up of all message
elements including being more efficient, winning a promotion, increasing skill
level, learning to learn, and making better use of time and money. The
"Physically Attractive Individual" captures all message elements related to
being more attractive and being more healthy.
The "I Am Me Individual" is an extension of the "becoming more me" element of
the "Esteemed Individual." The need for separate categories occurred because
some products promise to help the consumer reach a state of "me-ness" previously
not attained while others do not. Esteemed Individual messages imply that
without the product, the individual has not yet succeeded in attaining the
quality and, perhaps, never will. The "I Am Me" appeal is used when the state of
"me-ness" is already assumed. The product or service becomes a way of
symbolically representing rather than achieving this state. Some ads that use
this message strategy claim that the product can identify the user's personality
to others, while others claim that the user can demand products to suit his or
Main message elements that focused only on product performance, demonstration,
uses, and applications without a promise to enhance the individual were not
regarded as messages of individualism because the emphasis is on the product --
not the user.
Additionally, the study asked:
RQ2 How does advertising depict context to convey information regarding
Stage 2. Contextual elements were defined as "secondary characteristics of the
commercial that reflect an individualistic society but are not part of the main
message strategy." The contextual elements identified for analysis were: gender,
race, ethnic group, age, occupation, recognition ceremonies, presence of nuclear
family, and camera techniques that support individualism. The eight categories
were not chosen to provide an exhaustive list of information about the cast
members, but instead to provide the most easily observable yet significant
contextual information. Presence of gender, occupation, and nuclear family are
fairly straightforward coding elements, but the other categories require some
Race. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the racial categories for
statistical reporting are: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific
Islander, black, and white. Within the sample of ads, no American Indians,
Alaska Natives, or Pacific Islanders appeared, leaving Asians as the only race
present other than black and white.
Ethnic Group. According to Census data, ethnic origin refers to country of
origin, regardless of race. For example, those of Spanish/Hispanic origin are
Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Other Spanish/Hispanic origin regardless of
Age. An estimate of the age of each individual was made according to the
following four age categories: (1) Child and Teens (infancy to 19 years), (2)
Young Adult (20 to 39 years old), (3) Middle Adult (40 to 59), and (4) Older
Adult (60 and over). Age designations were approximations since determining the
age of a cast member with certainty was impossible; e.g., the difference between
age 39 and 40 is not readily apparent.
Recognition Ceremonies. Within an individualistic society, people strive to be
recognized for their own merits. In order to grant them the recognition they
deserve for their accomplishments, certain opportunities for recognition must
exist within the culture. Both formal award ceremonies, such as college
graduations, and informal celebrations, such as eating a special meal with the
family, were noted.
Camera Techniques. American advertising texts typically instruct copywriters to
use first person point-of-view in writing the ads.
When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing each of
them a letter on behalf of your client. One human being to another; second
person singular (Ogilvy 1985, p. 80).
The manner in which commercials are filmed can also support individualism by
presenting information in a first person point-of-view. The "subjective camera"
in film terminology facilitates identification and is a technique that has been
used in film since the 1920s (Cook 1985).
For any given commercial, the possible codings were (1) does/does not have a
main message of individualism, (2) does/does not contain one or more contextual
cues related to individualism. For ads expressing individualism, the single best
main message category was chosen per ad, but all contextual cues that applied
were noted. Thus many ads contained information on not one but several
While most commercials with main messages of individualism presented the
message within a context that further supported individualism, some did not.
Others used contextual support of individualism without a main message. The
separate occurrence of main message and context required independent coding
decisions for the two. For example, a financial planning ad used a main message
claim that the company can help parents provide better, i.e. more efficiently,
for their child's future education and a contextual element of nuclear family
with a mother and daughter together at home. Other ads, including one for a
breakfast cereal, lacked main messages of individualism by speaking only of the
taste of the product but produced a contextual cue of nuclear family by showing
a mother and daughter eating breakfast together at home.
The four main message strategies and the eight contextual elements formed the
coding categories for individualism (see the Appendix for the coding sheet).
The study further asked:
RQ3 How is time depicted in advertising?
Stage 3. Since anthropologists describe U.S. culture as monochronic, its
expression was far more expected than polychronic; however, a preliminary
viewing of the ads found no evidence of polychronicity, though they included
ample evidence of monochronicity. A monochronic time category and four time
categories that could occur within either time system emerged from the data.
While the information regarding time was often quite important to the ad, it was
considered a frame in which other messages existed. All time (and space)
elements were treated as contextual elements. Two time concepts noted in the
literature were not developed into categories due to difficulties in
interpretation. They were the perception of the passage of time by the actors in
their roles, and the synchronization of time to the season. The psychological
literature (Pollio, Henley, and Thompson 1997) includes evidence that age,
mental state, and control of one's destiny can influence the perception that
time passes quickly or slowly; however, this element could not be interpreted
without access to the thoughts of the characters in the ads. Synchronization of
the season depicted in the ads to the current season was also difficult to
determine due to the variation in temperature across the U.S.
Five time elements were noted and described below: Limited Time, Marking Time,
More Time, Oriented Time, and Sequenced Time. They are included in the coding
sheet (refer to the Appendix).
Limited Time. This category reflects the monochronic concept of a finite or
limited commodity -- something that can be quantified, measured, saved, lost,
spent, scheduled, and accounted for. The presence of Limited Time was noted for
ads that made any of the following claims:
1. The product is fast-acting.
2. The product is long lasting.
3. The product is sold for a limited time only.
4. The product allows users to avoid spending time unproductively (e.g., being
5. Consumers are urged to not miss out.
While these concepts are different, they are all tied to the monochronic belief
that time is a finite commodity. Because time is finite, it can be managed best
by doing one thing at a time in a linear, task-oriented manner.
Marking Time. Marking time encompasses the process of commemorating events and
counting the passage of time. Examples include products that claim to make an
ordinary day special and depictions of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, award
ceremonies, or other significant rites of passage (Wolburg and Stankey 1994).
Because the culture marks birthdays as a passage of time, products related to
the aging process or claiming to give a youthful appearance are included in this
More Time. The more time that goes by from an arbitrary starting point, the
greater the knowledge of technology and the better the product is. Those that
are new and improved are introduced with certain fanfare, and they are allowed
to claim explicit or implicit superiority. Products that have endured in the
marketplace for long periods of time also claim superiority due to longevity.
Ads claiming the product is new and improved, or superior due to longevity are
coded in this category.
Oriented Time. Orientation reflects the concept that ads are directed toward
the past, present, or future. All ads show products that are currently available
with calls to action "now;" however, some products are used in the present time
for reasons set in the past or future. Ads oriented in the past may show people
using a product because it carries on a tradition that they want to continue or
because it is associated with nostalgia.
Products oriented in the future have benefits that will be gained at a later
time such as going to school to learn a skill, or joining the military to earn
money toward college. While those products are used in the present, the
motivation is for future rewards, unlike ads oriented in the present that only
claim immediate benefits.
Sequenced Time. The sequence of time in ads contains three possible choices
including real time, compressed time, and non-linear time. Ads in real time are
those in which the action appears to take place chronologically from start to
finish within the 30 seconds of the ad. Ads in compressed time are those in
which the action is speeded up in order to show the completed activity from
start to finish within the 30 seconds of the ad. If allowed to run in "real
time," the action takes much longer.
Non-linear time refers to a number of ads that use one of a variety of editing
styles that show a montage of images that are not chronological. Many of these
ads are edited to look like music videos with a series of shots that create an
image for the product.
The study next asked:
RQ4 How is space configured in advertising?
Stage 4. In the real world, space can be measured and examined in a number of
ways; however, the use of space in ads is somewhat limited by the camera's
presentation. Furthermore, configuration of space is perhaps the most
taken-for-granted and most difficult to interpret. From the initial viewing of
ads for spacial elements, the following three contextual elements emerged: the
ownership of space, the location of relationships, and the mastery of space. The
three categories were also included in the coding sheet.
Ownership of Space. Upon noting the setting of the ad, it was apparent that
five possible locations based on ownership were possible: Private Space,
Semi-Private Space, Accessible Public Space, Restricted Public Space, and
Private space allows access only to the owner, including homes of individual
families. These are usually locked, and non-family members can enter only by
invitation. Semi-private space (restaurants, hotels, theaters, shopping malls,
stores, etc.) is privately owned but open and unlocked to the public under
certain conditions. When "closed," these spaces are locked and inaccessible to
Accessible public space such as open highways, national parks, bodies of water,
government buildings, and public transportation are accessible to the public but
not available for private ownership. In contrast, restricted public space such
as military installations and government buildings are secured places,
inaccessible to the public except under special supervision such as tours.
Neutral space is a category used when visuals are so limited that no location
can be identified, or when a studio background makes it so neutral that the
location can be virtually anywhere.
Location of Relationships. The setting in which relationships occurred was also
noted using the same five choices. Only ads that depict people in a relationship
were coded in this category.
Mastery of Space. To address the control or mastery of nature, settings for ads
in the sample were coded as either natural, altered, or undetermined space. Ads
with natural settings include those with scenic expanses that are unchanged,
e.g., mountains, forests, and beaches. Ads with altered settings includes those
set inside buildings or placed outdoors on land that has been improved, e.g., a
softball field. Undetermined settings were those that provided too little
information to make a determination.
FINDINGS, EXAMPLES, AND FREQUENCIES
The four-stage process resulted in the identification of categories that
emerged from the data, which produced a coding sheet. A fifth and final stage
required the counting of frequencies within categories using the coding sheet.
The findings of the three values are given below with examples from each
Individualism -- Main Message Strategy
A total of 155 of 198 ads (78%) contained main messages of individualism, and
192 of 198 ads (97%) supported individualism through the context. The ads
specifically outlined four ways in which one can stand out and be recognized as
an individual within U.S. culture: The Esteemed Individual, The Efficient
Individual, The Attractive Individual, and The "I Am Me" Individual.
The Esteemed Individual. Ads in this group hold a promise to consumers that
their esteem will be enhanced by using the product, and 7% of the ads used this
strategy. For example, a McDonald's ad opened with a female African-American
teacher introducing the first place essay winner, Jerri Bell, an
African-American girl about 8 years old.
When I'm a parent I hope I won't have to be a single parent. You have to
work all day, spend time with your kids, and take them places like
for a Happy Meal so they feel special. When I have kids, I hope my husband
forever, but if I have to be a single parent, I want to be just like my
The ad tells parents that treating a child to a McDonald's Happy Meal will
raise self-esteem by making the child feel "special," which also enhances adults
by making them feel they are good parents.
The Efficient Individual. By far the largest category of main message strategy
is the Efficient Individual (55%). Ads using this approach claim to make the
individual more efficient at work, at home, in recreational activities, etc.
An ad for the Navy focuses on two young men, one white and one black, playing
basketball aboard ship as the officers look on. The ad plays off viewers'
expectations that the men are good players when, in fact, they are comically
inept. The ad tells how they can efficiently prepare for their future by earning
money for their college education while learning a skill in the Navy.
Wayne Winfield and Ron Williams were two of the most heavily recruited high
school kids in the country. Of course, it wasn't for their game. It was for
their minds. And thanks to the Navy College Fund and the Montgomery GI Bill
have a chance to really use them. Because they can earn up to $30,000 for
college. So even if the NBA isn't in their future (Ron says 'I guess that's
game'), a BA is. For more information call 1-800-USA-NAVY.
The Attractive Individual. Ads for the Attractive Individual claim that the
product will make consumers healthier or more attractive. Ads offering
attractiveness were more often directed toward women than men, but ads for
health targeted both. A total of 14% of the ads used an attractiveness/health
main message strategy.
An ad for Ponds Age Defying Lotion introduces a spokeswoman at the Pond's
Institute who promises the product will deliver younger looking skin -- the look
needed to be attractive.
Women ask me if there's really anything that can make them look younger. I
ask them "are you still just using a moisturizer?" I give them Pond's new
Defying Lotion. It contains alpha nutrium. No age defying ingredient has
found that can beat it. They start to see the proof in two weeks, the look
feel of younger skin. Try getting that from a moisturizer. Age Defying
New from the Pond's Institute.
The "I Am Me" Individual. The "I Am Me" Individual is the smallest (3%)
category of individualism message strategy. It flatters the individual much like
the esteem category but differs because the person has already achieved the
state of individualism. The following example is an ad in which the individual
is so sure of his identity that he can demand products. In a Burger King ad, an
African-American spokesman about 35 years old is savvy enough to know exactly
what he wants, and he is not enticed by mere claims of convenience and price.
Look, I appreciate the fact that fast food is inexpensive (only 99 cents).
I know its convenient and all that, but if I'm going to give you 99 of my
you gotta give me more than just some burger. I mean is it a Whopper? Is it
flame broiled? Or is it fried? Can I get it how I want it or am I going to
scraping off gobs of secret sauce? I mean I can get a roll of duct tape for
cents. Doesn't mean I'm going to make it my lunch.
VO: The 99 cent Whopper, now at Burger King.
A total of 43 ads (22%) did not contain messages of individualism, but most
included information in the context that supports individualism. Table 2 shows
the frequency for each individualism category.
MAIN MESSAGE STRATEGIES FOR INDIVIDUALISM
The Esteemed Individual
The Efficient Individual
The Attractive Individual
The "I Am Me" Individual
No Main Message
Individualism -- Context
Information in the context that supports individualism was found in 192 ads
(97%). The message strategies show what paths can be taken to achieve
individualism, but the added information in the context defines how gender, age,
race, and ethnic group affect the pursuit of individualism. Additionally, the
ads show what types of occupations are most fitting, the occasions that are most
meaningful, and the definitions of family that are most accepted within the
individualistic culture, all within a first-person point of view.
Some ads did not contain a main message strategy but did include contextual
information. One example is an ad for the beef industry. The visuals show four
separate, slice-of-life scenarios of families and friends interacting, all of
which are rich in contextual information.
VO: When the Clay family dropped over unexpectedly, they had beef and pasta
primavera. For the first ever straight A report card, it was stir-fried
fajitas. And for the upset victory on the bowling league tourney it was
steak sauce. Of course, it's not that you need a special occasion to
dinners like these. All you really need is half an hour, and your average
Wednesday will do just fine. Beef. It's what's for dinner.
By noting the activities of the cast members in this particular ad, the ad
conveys that the way for men to express individualism within U.S. culture is by
having a wife who takes care of the home and family, having friends, achieving
scholastically, and winning at sports. Women excel by caring for the home,
husband, and children, having friends, and, to a lesser extent than men, winning
at sports. Whites appear to be more successful at attaining these things than
blacks or people of ethnic background, and older people are largely absent from
occasions with young people. Winning at sports and earning high grades in school
are accomplishments worthy of a reward.
A count of the 703 people cast in the 198 ads provided detailed contextual
information about gender, age, occupation, race, ethnic group, family
constellation, and recognition ceremonies. When the composition of contextual
elements was compared to that of the general population, the representations in
the ads consistently provided a disproportionate view of reality. Generally, men
were overrepresented (men comprised 56% of those in the ads but represent 49% of
the population, while women comprised 44% of those in the ads but represent 51%
of the population); gender roles depicted very few women working in occupations
outside the home when in fact they represent 43% of the full-time work force;
people 20-39 years old were vastly overrepresented (66% in the ads but 32% of
the population); ethnic groups were underrepresented (only 3% of the people in
ads showed signs of ethnicity while 9.5% of the population is Hispanic, not to
mention other ethnic groups); and whites were slightly overrepresented (89% in
the ads and 85% of the population).
Twenty percent of the ads showed people receiving some form of praise or
recognition. The personal accomplishments recognized in the ads included
attaining physical attractiveness (losing weight, having beautiful skin, being
younger looking, and getting the closest shave), excelling in sports (making the
winning play in the basketball playoffs, winning at bowling), achieving
scholastically (winning an essay contest, earning straight As, and graduating
from college), and surpassing others on the job and in hobbies (owning a great
restaurant, winning a cooking contest, having the best recycling ideas, and
singing a solo in a chorus). The ads not only convey that being the best
deserves special recognition, but they define what is worthy of recognition.
In advertising, the camera technique that privileges the first-person point of
view is seen in a variety of ways, e.g., by showing products such as food in
close-ups from the viewpoint of one person eating it, or by presenting
spokespersons talking directly to each viewer. This reinforces the
individualistic tradition that allows people to make consumer decisions based on
what is good for "me" rather than what is good for the group.
Frequencies of the five contextual elements for time are given with an example
of each element.
Limited Time. A total of 99 ads (50%) incorporated the concept of Limited Time.
The two most distinct examples were for products that claimed to save time for
the user (a total of 69 ads -- 35%) and for products that were offered for a
limited time only (30 ads -- 15%). The following ad for Tide detergent and
Whirlpool washers shows how the product saves time for the consumer. The visuals
show a couple who run a bed and breakfast sitting on the porch with their young
Cheryl Hooley: This is our home, but it is also our business. (Cheryl and
Steve Hooley written on screen.)
VO: The Meadow Lane Bed and Breakfast.
Cheryl: Our guests check out at noon and new guests come in at 2:00. We
don't have time to do things twice. We do 8, maybe 10 loads of laundry a
That's a lotta laundry. I need all the help I can get.
VO: Whirlpool's super capacity washers and Tide's outstanding stain removal
mean that even the biggest loads get first time every time clean.
Cheryl: It takes a lot of work to make it seem like it runs itself. That's
the art of it.
VO: Tide and Whirlpool. First time every time.
Cheryl: Now if we could only find a place to go on vacation.
A "limited time only" ad for Sear's Home Appliances demonstrates the notion
that time expires. It uses a dialogue between an unseen male voiceover and an
attractive brunette in her twenties. Other visuals show a variety of people
using the different appliances.
VO: The national home appliance sale is on at Sear's Brand Central.
Woman: I've been waiting for it.
VO. You can save 60 bucks in this washer-dryer pair.
Woman: I may even break down and do the laundry.
VO: It's Sear's lowest price ever.
Woman: Hm. You can't beat that.
VO: True. Save on great brands, too. G.E. Jennair, Sony, Apple and more.
Woman: No wonder they call it Brand Central.
VO: Right. You know the National Home Appliance Sale is one of the biggest
events of the year. So, you're not going to miss it are you?
Woman: Miss it? You gotta be kidding.
VO: At Sear's Brand Central. While supplies last.
Because time is limited, it must be spent wisely. Like money, one can justify
spending time only if it is put to good use, and people who waste time are
judged negatively. In the sample of ads, spending time at work or with nuclear
family members is a "good" use of time. Being sick or having to wait are
unproductive, "bad" uses of time.
Marking Time. Ads in this category claim the product enhances experience by
commemorating events and special occasions, and by keeping track of time through
birthdays, anniversaries, etc. A total of 51 ads (26%) incorporated markers.
An ad for General Foods International Coffee opened at home with a woman
serving coffee to a close friend.
Woman #1: I am never eating again. What's that?
Woman #2: Well, something a little special.
Woman #1: Oh, French Vanilla Cafe.
Woman #2: Remind you of something?
Woman #1: Reminds me of all those frosted gingerbread houses that I was
eating, room by room by room.
Woman #2: You're not having any? (coffee)
Woman #1: Better not.
Woman #2: Hello. Excuse me. It's 60 calories.
Woman #1: It's 60 calories? You know, I said no, but I didn't really mean
Woman #2: Yes, no, no, yes. It's all interchangeable.
VO sings: Celebrate the moments of your life.
In addition to the familiar "Celebrate the moments of your life," a Blockbuster
video ad claimed the product can make an occasion out an everyday experience by
making it "a Blockbuster night."
More Time. Ads in this category recognize that improvements come over time. A
total of 56 ads (28%) included these messages.
A voiceover for Resolve Carpet Granules says:
You used to have to drag a shampooer home to clean high traffic areas and
do the whole carpet with all the hassle, the wetness, the waiting. Today
Resolve High Traffic Carpet Cleaning Granules. Just shake on, brush in.
Sponge-like granules absorb the dirt. Later, vacuum clean. Resolve High
The visuals showed a woman struggling to get a rented shampooer out of the
trunk of the car, and the old, outdated method was contrasted with the newer,
superior method using Resolve.
Oriented Time. The next characteristic deals with time as orientation. While
ads could be oriented in either the past present, or future, the overwhelming
majority (193 ads or 97%) were oriented in the present. Four (2%) were oriented
in the future, and only one (1%) was oriented in the past.
A Merrill Lynch ad is an example of an ad oriented to the future because the
rewards of financial planning are in the future, not the present. A mother who
is a single parent says:
I never wanted to grow up. Much less get older. A daughter. Even the word
used to scare me. Now I have commitments -- that she would have an
that my parents will always be o.k. Love is expensive.
VO: Take control of your future. A plan from Merrill Lynch can show you
how. And a Merrill Lynch financial consultant has more ways to make the
work for you than anyone else. The difference is planning. The difference
The one ad in the sample with a past orientation cast an African-American woman
about 40 years old who tells viewers that she uses Dove Soap because her
grandmother used it.
Sequenced Time. Sequence was the final time characteristic coded, and each ad
used either real time, compressed time, or non-linear time. The vast majority of
ads (152 or 77%) used compressed time; 31 ads (15%) used real time; and 16 ads
(8%) used non-linear time.
Many compressed time ads were product demonstrations such as the following
Lysol Drain Opener ad.
Man (shaving): Uh, sink is backing up.
Woman (in shower): Get out the Lysol.
Man: Lysol doesn't unclog drains.
Woman: It does now.
VO: Introducing professional strength Lysol Drain Opener. It sends more
power through standing water than other liquids. It cleans even tough,
(Meanwhile, visuals show picture of U shaped clogged drain. We read "15
minutes later -- hair and grease are gone" and see the drain unclog.)
Man: It got out the clog.
Woman: You did well.
VO: Get out the Lysol that gets out the clogs. New Lysol Drain Opener.
Testimonials quite often used real time while products that relied heavily on
image appeal used non-linear editing style. Table 3 summarizes the frequency and
percent of all five elements.
The frequencies and descriptions of the three contextual space categories are
CONTEXTUAL ELEMENTS OF TIME
Ownership of Space. Action in ads predominately took place in private space.
The Private Space category was the largest single one, and use of the two
private space categories (Private and Semi-Private Space) was more than double
(57% cf 26%) the two public space categories (Accessible and Restricted Public
Space). See Table 4 for specifics.
Homes, which were furnished and accessorized in great detail, were the most
frequent setting for private space, and open roads with scenic backgrounds,
schools, and parks were the most common public space locations.
Location of Relationships. A total of 99 ads (50%) depicted relationships, and
most of these relationships were among family members or friends. Several were
between teachers and students, while others were work-related, either between
customers and workers, or among co-workers.
Private Space was the most frequent single location for relationships (48%)
with homes being the most frequent use of Private Space. The combined use of
Private and Semi-Private Space for relationships constituted 69% of all "located
relationships." Homes and to a lesser extent, stores, restaurants, and offices,
are privileged as the most frequent and, perhaps, the most natural location for
relationships to occur. Schools, beaches, and parks were the most common public
places for relationships.
Mastery of Space. Most ads (77%) occurred in Altered Space settings such as
homes, restaurants, stores, and schools. Other Altered Spaces included
"improved" public places including
OWNERSHIP OF SPACE
Ownership of Space
Accessible Public Space
Restricted Public Space
a park with a stone wall, a beach with a picket fence, and a military base.
Ads set in natural locations with no alterations or improvements included
beaches, mountains, and expanses of open land. Only 12 locations (6%) used this
type of space, and they were always public places. Thirty-four ads (17%) were
counted as Undetermined since their setting was either ambiguous or a studio
Summary of the Values
The sample shows that the three values have a strong presence in network
primetime television advertising. Individualism is expressed in several ways,
both through main message strategies and contextual cues. Efficiency is by far
the best way to achieve individualism perhaps the result of the monochronic time
system (Hall 1959). Attaining attractiveness is also a strong path, but the
contextual cues indicate that this is more important for women, is narrowly
defined, and dependent upon youth. Healthiness is important for both men and
Two types of esteem messages hold still other ways to succeed in attaining
individualism, while the context teaches viewers that people who do achieve
individualism are predominately white, non-ethnic, 20-39 year-olds who maintain
the most traditional gender roles.
Monochronic time is strongly reflected not only through the high frequency of
messages that remind consumers that time is a finite commodity, but through
other elements. The concept that things improve over time supports the belief
that accomplishments occur in a linear, monochronic fashion; the preference for
compressed time over real time emphasizes the end result of linear events rather
than the experience of time; and the reliance on present orientation reflects
the compartmentalization of the past as "over."
The ads showed a preponderance of private space settings when compared to
public settings -- an outcome that privileges the privacy and security attained
through the ownership of property, particularly the home of the individual.
Nature is also mastered to suit individual needs, allowing the configuration of
space to support the needs of the time system, which further enhances the
Applications for Domestic and International Advertising
Knowing how the ads in mainstream U.S. culture express individualism, time,
and space provides a starting point for other researchers who wish to
investigate these values and their expression in subcultures within the U.S. and
in cultures outside the U.S. Future research in other media may uncover other
main message strategies and different contextual elements that can be
incorporated into this framework.
Advertisers targeting another culture not only need to know whether a culture
values individualism or collectivism, but also how the values are achieved.
Although individualism in American primetime television was achieved through the
four distinct paths, other individualistic cultures may express it differently,
and those expressions may require examination on a case by case basis. For
example, the French are individualistic, but they are more likely to express it
through intellectual pursuits than through efficiency. Cultures that value
collectivism may also vary in the way the value is expressed. Individualistic
appeals are sometimes used in collectivistic countries, often with apparent
success (Mueller 1987), but no studies have recommended the use of
collectivistic appeals in individualistic cultures.
Advertisers should examine the role of context in the ads and determine how
such elements as gender, race, and age are best portrayed. Contextual
information in this sample included a number of under-representations and
over-representations, just as the contextual elements in other cultures may also
reflect certain inaccuracies and stereotypical portrayals that are used because
they are strategic in selling products.
Advertisers must also ask whether the culture is polychronic or monochronic. If
the culture is monochronic, Limited Time claims will resonate with the audience.
In contrast, polychronic cultures are unlikely to find these claims convincing
and are more likely to be persuaded through appeals to tradition. Such cultures
will also be less likely to respond to More Time claims that the product is new
and therefore better. For example, a recent Korean ad for a brand of washing
machine claimed that it could wash clothes as well as doing the wash by hand,
which was held as the superior method (Kim 1996).
Finally, advertisers must choose their settings carefully. Cultures that
privilege public space may utilize these settings far more frequently than the
private home, unlike American advertising. Also, cultures that show a reverence
for nature may resist persuasive messages that assume a mastery of nature
Contributions of the Study
Previous studies have noted the presence or absence of specific values, but
this study takes a further step by addressing the complexity of the values,
investigating how the values are expressed, and identifying how the values
interact with each other.
This study set out to explore the depth and the variation of the portrayal of
the three values in order to go beyond a superficial presentation. The
identification of elements brings the use of these three values to a more
conscious level and makes their presence in advertising less taken-for-granted.
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Coding Sheet for the Three Values
Main message: _____yes If yes, select one of four:
_____1. Esteemed Individual
_____2. Efficient Individual
_____3. Attractive Individual
_____4. "I Am Me" Individual
Context: _____yes Describe all that apply:
5. Ethnic Group
6. Appearance of Nuclear Family
7. Recognition Ceremonies
8. Camera Technique
Select one in each category:
1. Limited Time 2. Marking Time
_____a. yes _____a. yes
_____b. no _____b. no
3. More Time 4. Sequenced Time
_____a. yes _____a. compressed time
_____b. no _____b. real time
_____c. non-linear time
5. Oriented Time
Select the main setting: Select the main setting:
1. Ownership of Space 2. Location of Relationships
_____a. private space _____a. private space
_____b. semi-private space _____b. semi-private space
_____c. accessible public space _____c. accessible public space
_____d. restricted public space _____d. restricted public space
_____e. neutral space _____e. neutral space
3. Alteration of Space