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Advertising messages: adapting to cultural values. The example of South Korea.

Messages publicitaires : s’adapter aux valeurs culturelles. L’exemple de la Corée du sud
Published on
15 March 2021

A joint study conducted in South Korea examined the effectiveness of advertisements broadcast in this rapidly-growing market, with Confucian cultural traditions, in comparison to globalized advertisements based on more individualistic values. In this Asian country, should we focus on communication campaigns based on personally-oriented or socially-oriented values?

Caroline Gauthier is a professor of strategy, and the head of the Management and Strategy Department, at Grenoble Ecole de Management. She is a co-author of the research article Social and personal values in advertising: evidence from food advertising in South Korea, with Marianela Fornerino and Carolina O. C. Werle, professors at GEM, Min Seong Lee, a student at GEM, Alain Jolibert, a professor at INSEEC, & Trina Sego, a professor at Boise State University.

Extant research has shown that advertising is more effective when the advertised message is congruent with the cultural values of the targeted population. However, this research has not explored which values are activated when consumers view the advertising and, in particular, if there is a match between the values conveyed by the advertising and the values activated in consumers when viewing these advertisements.

"The topic of our study was advertising and its impact in South Korea, a country with an unusual history. 30 years ago, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. Today, it is one of the fastest-growing countries, it is ultra-connected and ultra-consumerist, and is the home of emblematic brands such as Samsung and LG. The concepts of personal merit and social success are highly emphasized in Korean society. We would expect to see the values of Korean consumers begin to standardize and grow to resemble traditional Western values, which are more individualistic. We would therefore expect individualistic values to be featured in advertising campaigns run in the country, rather than socially-oriented values. But our findings were more nuanced," Caroline Gauthier observes.

Long-term quantitative and qualitative analyses

The research methodology used qualitative and quantitative analyses, as well as experimental phases carried out using a preexisting product - a bottle of iced green tea - whose label was changed, to analyze how consumers would perceive the same product after the change.

The study, carried out in three phases between 2005 and 2018, monitored a series of advertisements for local and foreign food products, and analyzed the values conveyed and how consumers perceived them. At first glance, the advertisements monitored as part of this study appeared to communicate individually-oriented values related to social success, merit, physical aesthetics... But in reality, we observed that consumers primarily perceived socially-oriented values that resembled those of Confucianism.

Blending individually-oriented and socially-oriented values

"Therefore, although we Westerners feel like Western values are gaining ground in South Korea, South Korean society continues to be solidly based on Confucianism, which is becoming blended with Western values. As such, a beautiful, elegant woman, in South Korea, displays these qualities less for herself than for her family, her children, her husband... Socially-oriented values have the upper hand over individualistic ones."

As a result, in order to communicate in South Korea, the best approach appears to be a blend of individualistic and collectivist values. The main takeaway is that we need to use a "glocalization" strategy, rather than a standardization approach.

The results of this study suggest that the often-singular values conveyed in food advertising in South Korea do not perfectly correspond to the multiplicity of values activated in South Korean consumers. In addition, South Korean consumers are more responsive to advertising that emphasizes social values rather than personal values. These findings provide theoretical and managerial insights on how to design effective global and local advertising.

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