Adaptation and Contingency in Advertising

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Posted on Dec 07, 2013

Proponents of adaptation school of thought argue that the markets are not homogeneous, infect every market has different characteristics and one cannot totally ignore the need to adapt to them. Therefore, in order to reach the target market effectively and efficiently, the companies should cater to them individually by employing localized advertising strategies. Tailoring advertising messages to the traditions and cultural values of each market, maximizes the chance of the companies to establish a better connection with the international customers.

Several scholars also argue that companies should follow a localized advertising strategy in order to gain competitive advantage and thus aim at improving overall communication effectiveness.  Further, it is observed that advertising amongst all other elements of marketing needs is more prone to adaptation as it is highly influenced by the local culture prevailing in the market.  This all the way makes it obvious for the companies to localize the advertising practices in an international context.  Further, it has also been observed that cultural insensitivity has caused most of the advertising blunders, thus causing a negative effect on the company’s brand image. Furthermore proponents of adaptation strongly oppose the view of standardization school of thought as they believe that the assumption of ‘existence of homogenized world markets’ is a hypothetical situation which is not yet arrived at.  They argue that various factors apart from culture, traditions, customs, life style and preference, economic situation, legal and political system, customer attitude and perceptions of advertising and media availability and reach act as barriers to the standardization approach and defer considerably in various countries.

Adaptation of advertising practices usually benefits from the decentralized advertising function because it allows the companies to response to the prevailing cultural and domestic variables in an international environment.  Moreover, other barriers include consumer’s dissatisfaction and animosities against MNC’s attempting to self impose their own culture over the pre-existing local tastes and cultural values and growing inadequate entrustment towards advertising.  Therefore, to overcome these barriers and to create a significant level of impact on the market, the MNC’s should customize their advertising practices accordingly.  In addition the objective of advertising strategy is not to incur cost reductions via standardization, instead it is to focus on attaining long-term profitability which can be effectively gained by tailoring the advertising to satisfy the local markets needs and understanding.  The above aspects highlights the positive effects of implementing adaptation approach towards advertising but it is also true that this approach fails to achieve cost reduction and formulation of  unified brand image worldwide.

The contingency school of thought also known as compromise approach is a middle ground that emphasizes on following partial standardization and partial adaptation approach based on the existing market conditions. The decision of advertising standardization or adaptation depends on the situation of the market and should take into account the in-depth analysis of  other relevant  variables present in the market at that particular point of time. Thus the decision of complete standardization or adaptation of advertising practices is more like a theoretical perspective rather than a practical one.  According to this school of thought, there are factors within and outside the company beyond its control that influences the approach towards advertising practices.

Both the academics and the practitioners propose a variety of factors determining the level or extent of standardization or adaptation of advertising practices in detail. Research in 1960’s suggest that variables like market characteristics, industry trends, type of media, government and legal regulations, prevailing consumer homogeneity or heterogeneity and consumer receptivity affect the degree of advertising standardization.  In addition the studies conducted in 1970’s recognized the need to focus more on the consumer and culture related aspects and their impact on the level of advertising standardization decision.  Various frame works were proposed which emphasized the need to examine certain factors like consumption pattern, socio-economic and demographic characters, consumer attitudes or perceptions towards the products and its attributes and most importantly investigating the cultural factors existing in the target global  customer  segment.  Furthermore, the need to assessed three aspects of the target market which according to him influence the degree of advertising standardization-

  1. Consumers expectation and perceptions of the product in the host country.
  2. The process of decoding and encoding communication by the consumers.
  3. The hidden or underlying cultural interpretations of target markets.

Subsequently, the studies in late 1980’s and early 1990’s echoed the above arguments.  In addition, the type of product was found to be another important variable in determining the degree of advertising standardization.  For example the advertising of food products is different in different countries as food is a product which is culturally driven and requires a different approach (of advertising) to reach the culturally divergent target segments. On the contrary, the advertising of beauty related products which are comparatively considered as culture-free can be easily standardized across international markets.

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