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MIRROR, MIRROR: SOME POSTMODERN REFLECTIONS ON GLOBAL ADVERTISING
Prompted largely by Levitt's (1983) provocative paper, the past ten years have been witness to a lively debate--in both academic and corporate circles--concerning global advertising. The emergence of global conglomerates, media, and advertising agencies, the rise of Pacific-Rim nations as world-class competitors, the opening of the Iron Curtain, and the Europe-1992 crescendo have made it imprudent, if not impossible, to ignore the question of globalization. This is a complex issue, to say the least; numerous conceptual and operational problems are embedded in the notion of global markets and parties to its discussion have advanced strong (sometimes impassioned) arguments both for and against it. At the risk of oversimplification, however, we would suggest that there is a modicum of agreement among the parties to the dispute, to the effect that global segments exist for certain categories of products (Hassan and Katsanis 1991); hence, global advertising is appropriate for some products, under certain conditions.
This paper focuses on two product categories--fashion and food--because we believe they qualify as products for which global advertising is appropriate. (A complex argument, stated below, supports this belief.) At the outset, however, we should like to define some terms, so the thrust of the paper is clear. First, by "global" advertising, we refer merely to international ads, which are addressed to multicultural audiences -- for example, ads directed simultaneously to audiences in France, England, and Germany. Because many (indeed, most) products are not even marketed around the world, we see no reason to impose a "worldwide" criterion on advertising before it qualifies as global. Second, we construe global advertising to imply a uniformity, but not necessarily an exact replication, across markets. Thus, global ads are not absolutely standardized ones; in virtually all cases, for example, local languages must be adopted. What makes a campaign global is the same thing that makes a market global--the culturally-transcendent meanings of the advertised product or service. These meanings might be regarded as a necessary condition for global advertising and that is one of the principal ideas we develop in this paper. The sufficient condition for global campaigns is represented by execution--how the meanings in ads are conveyed and whether there is a uniform (something approaching a standardized) way of doing this across cultural markets. This question of execution is the other principal concern of our paper and we address it empirically, using both content analysis and semiotic interpretation. In sum, we try to demonstrate two fundamental ideas here: (1) why it is feasible to advertise fashion and food products "globally"; and (2) that there are preferable executional styles to use, if global campaigns are to be undertaken. This exercise does not purport to be psychometrically definitive and the paper does not "prove" anything. Moreover, it is not intended as an argument for or against global advertising. Our purpose is to provoke readers' thinking about global advertising, by conceptualizing the problem in a nontraditional way and by offering some empirical support for this conceptualization.
The paper is organized as follows. We begin by locating our perspective on advertising within the extant panorama of approaches to the topic. Following Leis, Kline and Jhally (1990) and McCracken (1987), we differentiate two dominant paradigms--one based on information processing, the other on meaning--and discuss the research procedures commonly associated with each paradigm (content analysis and interpretation, respectively). Mick's (1988, 1992) schema-semiotics approach is proffered as a rapprochement to these competing paradigms and, for that reason, it is used as the driving force behind the ideas expressed in this paper. This section seeks to accomplish what Zinkhan (1992) has advocated, namely, that advertising researchers should explicate the "model of human nature" to which they subscribe and which therefore undergirds their investigations.
The paper then turns to a complex argument (developed over three sections) which demonstrates that fashion and food products have culturally-transcendent meanings. That argument goes something like this: Physical appearance is important to people wherever they live because a good deal of one's sense of self is reflected in one's appearance; and since what we put on our bodies (fashion) and in them (food) affects our appearance, these products appeal to a universal need for self-expression. Yet some people care more than others about. appearance, so the discussion considers which people these might be. Two multicultural segments are identified--a traditional one, consisting of the world's economically-privileged people (those who want, and can afford, to indulge themselves), and a second one, which is just beginning to be recognized, the "postmodern" consumer segment. We focus on this latter segment, explaining (a) why younger people (those born since World War II) most characterize it; (b) the origins of its prevailing ethos (what postmodernism is and how it affects consumer behavior); and (c) why this ethos is spread across Western societies and others that would emulate them. All told, these three sections of the paper seek to establish that fashion and food products have culturally-transcendent meanings (at least for the segments identified) and that they therefore qualify for global advertising consideration.
How these products are advertised is the subject of the paper's next section, where we introduce a data base of 924 international print ads (528 for fashion, 396 for food) produced between 1984 and 1991 by 163 different agencies in 23 countries. The empirical analysis consists of two parts. In one of them, content-analytic procedures were used by five trained judges, who evaluated each ad according to its presentation format (nine categories), its communication style (four scales), and its aesthetic texture (six scales). Each of these measures reflects the ads' execution, but they are not the customary assessments of color, size of illustration, or other physical features. Instead, the measures were selected (based on the work of Dyer 1982; Leymore 1975; and Williamson 1978) to portray how the ads convey meaning simultaneously to audiences representing more than one culture. The judges also made assessments of whether each ad can be understood cross-culturally or if its comprehension depends on some localized argot (making it a culture-bound ad). The results of this analysis suggest a pattern for standardizing global advertising, in the form of strong hints about what execution styles travel well and which ones do not. The second part of the empirical analysis consists of semiotic readings of two ads (one for fashion, one for food), which serve to illustrate many of the executional properties identified in the content analyses. In addition, these readings exemplify postmodern advertising. In its totality, this empirical section attempts to demonstrate two points: (1) how fashion's and food's culturally-transcendent, self-expressive meanings enable the advertising of these products in multicultural markets; and (2) how the ethos of postmodernism acts as an abetting ambience for this global phenomenon, making it possible to convey these products' meanings in ads by the use of comparatively standardized execution styles. If our empirical illustration sufficiently highlights the potent influence postmodernism can exert on advertising communication, perhaps those who contemplate global campaigns will reflect on this nascent cultural condition as a routine step in strategy development.
There are many ways to consider advertising, but it has come to be regarded as an information-transfer mechanism. Proponents of one paradigm or another therefore focus on what information is transferred, including how and with what effect. Cognitive psychologists, for example Markus (1977), emphasize an information-processing paradigm which accepts advertiser-encoded information largely as a given and focuses on consumers' mental activities as they decode it. In counterpoint, semiologists (e.g., Sebeok 1991) opt for a hermeneutic paradigm which recognizes consumers' interpretive mien just as much as the encoded symbols as determinants of what an advertisement means. This latter approach reflects what McCracken (1987) has called a meaning-based model of advertising and its qualitative bent can be seen at play on a variety of fronts (cf. Domzal and Kernan 1992; Domzal and Unger 1987; Friedmann and Zimmer 1988; Sherry 1987; Wernick 1991).
Whether advertising is construed as an information-based or a meaning-based phenomenon has profound implications for its measurement. If one follows the information-based model, for example, the content of ads is taken as prespecifiable; assessments of its recognition or recall are used as indicants of the extent to which the audience "gets" the message. That message is specified by means of content-analytic procedures, which record such elements as the ads' use of spokespersons, their format, appeal, and size or length, and so on--all the manifest properties of communications. If a meaning-based model is followed, however, the focus shifts from the message as an objective "given" to the ads' contents as signs to be interpreted. In this construal, there is no "correct" message which the audience gets to some degree; there is only potential meaning in the ads, which the audience "negotiates." Each person creates a message or meaning, based on how s/he interprets the signs present in ads; one person's meaning is as valid as another's. Semiotics is the meaning-based model's procedure for measuring an audience's interpretation of ads. A semiotic "reading" acts as an interpretive exemplar of what the typical member of the target audience is likely to derive from an ad, given its signs and her or his sociocultural background.
Both the information-based and meaning-based models of advertising contribute to our understanding of the phenomenon, and it is counterproductive when they are regarded as competing construals. Fortunately, Mick (1988, 1992) has proposed an intriguing amalgamation of the two paradigms, which promises to enrich them both and to attenuate their epistemological differences. Homing in on one of cognitive psychology's contemporary hallmarks--schema theory--he suggests a confluence (schema-semiotics), which would assess an advertisement not only for how accurately consumers comprehend its objectively-contained or implied information but also according to the subjective interpretations consumers attach to it by reason of their idiosyncratic and sociocultural backgrounds. In effect, Mick is suggesting a paradigmatic rapprochement, based on the sober supposition that the meaning of an ad is neither a prespecifiable entity (which consumers understand or not) nor an anarchic choice (subject to consumers' whims). This approach strikes us as an eminently reasonable way to regard advertising so it has inspired the empirical analysis contained in this paper. We believe that consumers' knowledge structures (schemata) are central to their interpretations of advertisements; but we also recognize the importance of advertisers' intentions. Mick (1988) reminds us that advertisers have schemata too. Accordingly, our content-analytic characterizations of the sample ads represent what advertisers have encoded in them, while our semiotic readings illustrate how target consumers might interpret them. Thus, ours is a "stimulus-side" analysis of advertising (see Stern 1992), but it incorporates both the manifestly-encoded content of ads (from the information-based paradigm) and their latently-negotiated interpretations (from the meaning-based model). Beginning with the following section, we relate all this to response-side analysis, through the mechanism of the audience's self-concept.
That there is a plethora of mirrors in most any populated part of the world testifies to a universal human concern over appearance. Some people have only a casual concern while others seem downright vain, but everyone cares about their appearance. Appearance matters because our bodies are the most palpable expression of ourselves--of who and what we are, to both ourselves and to other people. Corporal presentation is the principal indicant of a person's character, as witnessed by the body's use historically in stereotyping schemes such as beautyism, phrenology, and somatyping. To the extent that we care what people (including ourselves) think of us, we must care about our bodily appearance. Fashion and food are singularly important to this appearance because they constitute what we put on and in our bodies. In this sense, they are self-relevant products. So all these notions--the self, the body, and the consumer products with which they are sustained--are inextricably intertwined and we shall comment further on each of them.
Me, Myself, and I: The Nature and Importance of Self
The central role of the self in the perception of advertising is well-established (e.g., Markus 1977; Debevec, Spotts and Kernan 1987). From information-processing research we know that the self represents each person's most elaborate schema and that it preempts other cognitive/affective structures whenever incoming information (as from advertising) can be associated with its contents. Self-relevant information thus "copied" on to self-schemata is known to be more meaningful and memorable to people. So when advertising seems to be addressed to "us," we are more likely to attend, perceive, and process it deeply. None of this is novel thinking; the idea that our behavior is driven by and drives our sense of self is as old as the formal study of psychology. James (1890), for example, observed that each of us has an "I" (a knower) and a "Me" (a known). Self-reflection amounts to the I knowing the Me. One way we do such reflecting is through what Cooley (1902) called the "looking-glass self"--imagining how other people regard us. Another is introspection ("What do I think of myself?."). Self-assessment is both an inter- and intrapersonal phenomenon, and a significant facet of the Me which is assessed by ourselves and other people is the "material self," our physical being and our possessions.
The relationship between materiality and sense of self finds its ontological basis in the philosophy of Sartre (1943), who observed that there are three ways in which a person's existence can be reckoned--according to "being," "doing," or "having." Being is the apotheosized state, but it rarely is achieved except by doing (e.g., the Puritan work ethic). Furthermore, doing requires having (a worker must have tools; we all must have our bodies). Thus, there is an inexorable connection between material possessions and our sense of self or identity. Inasmuch as such possessions encompass everything to which we can lay a proprietary claim (Belk 1988) and they permeate our routines (Kleine, Schultz-Kleine and Kernan 1992), their prominent role in self-definition has evoked the alarm of critics (e.g., Ewen 1988; Gergen 1991). For good or bad, however, people and their possessions are inextricably intertwined (Kernan and Sommers 1967; Solomon 1983); "we are what we have." This materiality can be seen most readily in body cathexis (Belk 1988), where people pursue behaviors designed to maintain their bodies (dieting, exercise), to enhance them (wearing only the most flattering apparel), and to perfect them (grooming, using cosmetics), in each case because the material Me is regarded as the most palpable sense of the self.
All this occurs because the principal "thing" each of us possesses is our body--what has been called our "ultimate artifact" (Polhemus 1988). In spite of this obvious reality, however, neither psychological nor sociological research has focused on our corporality (Frank 1991), perhaps on the premise that it is our mind that sets us above other species. It has been anthropology that has produced some of the most interesting observations (Turner 1991), for example that the body respresents a surface on which we display the markings of our social classification (the religious habit, the punk hairstyle, the Rolex wristwatch). The thrust of this point is clear; while it is essential that we sustain our bodies physiologically, it is equally obvious that we use them for a variety of social-psychological purposes.
Sustaining our bodies serves two functions: (1) it combats deterioration and decay, thwarting the natural aging process; and (2) it enhances the body as a vessel of pleasure and self-expression (Featherstone 1991). This mind/boody relationship is epitomized in the physical-fitness fetish, wherein health and happiness are presented as inseparable (Glassner 1990). The mass media convey unmistakable images of the "body beautiful," coupled with thinly-veiled admonitions to conform to this ideal if we hope to achieve happiness. The ideal is an arbitrary product of culture (it is instructive to peruse historical standards of beauty), yet we strive to attain it with diet, exercise, makeup, hairstyling, clothing, even cosmetic surgery, because to ignore consensual standards of physical attractiveness is to disengage from society, to pretend that social criteria do not exist or that we are oblivious to them. Culture, not nature, dictates what is "attractive," and in this sense our bodies and how we adorn them take on a semiotic reality, rather than a biological one. (An attractive body is one which we interpret that way, rather than one in whose presence we experience an involuntary, reflexive reaction.) Accordingly, what we do to and with our body is central to our existence; our sense of self is not just in our body, it is of our body.
The Look: See What I Mean?
The way people dress and otherwise adorn their bodies identifies them. It tells observers who people are (a young person, an executive, a gang member, a preppy) and what they are (adventuresome, sophisticated, anarchic). Each of us is costumed to convey a "look"--a persona--replete with meaning for anyone who understands the lexical code of appearance. Perhaps the most important decoder of these meanings is ourself, as reflected in people's sense of modesty, in the practice of "dressing up" to feel better (or down, to relax), or in one's general aversion to feeling "like a slob." To put it another way, the mirror can be our most severe critic.
Appearance signaling often is ambiguous, even contradictory. For example, fashion has a language (Barthes 1983), but it can be expressed in subtle ways, even confusing ones. At least a couple of reasons account for such connotative complexity. First, clothing and bodily adornment serve a variety of social-psychological expressions--self-identity and enhancement, social affiliation and differentiation, sexual attraction and interpersonal power, etc. (Solomon 1985)--and this variety militates against a single, consistent "look." Second, our body is the raw material we convert to appearance by adding clothing, accessories, cosmetics, etc. and no two people transform themselves with the same set of add-ohs (Kaiser, Nagasawa and Hutton 1991). Coupled with the fact that mere pleasure sometimes drives our choices, these reasons make the language of appearance difficult to read; as a result, we often draw conclusions about people based largely on quick impressions of their salient features. So our appearance may or may not convey the meanings we intend, but this does not discourage us from trying to convey an impression. Teenagers may care desperately about their appearance but everyone insists that s/he be taken seriously. To a large degree, then, clothes do make the wo/man. Advertisers realize this and they frequently appeal to consumer's self-schemata, linking particular "looks" and desirable identities or lifestyles, as our empirical analysis will demonstrate.
Consuming Passions: You Are What You Eat
A similar self/body relationship exists for food products because these are our source of nutrition, of bodily sustenance. To other than the world's starving populations, however, the interesting facet of food is its cultural dimension for, as Farb and Armelagos (1980) have observed, all species feed, but only humans eat. The distinction is a profound one, which has evolved over many centuries of civilization (see Mennell 1991 for a review). It is essential, for both medical and body-image reasons, that we consume healthful diets--"we are what we eat"--but the phenomenon of eating, of dining, is replete with cultural meaning. That we put food in our body is important, but how we do this is the principal source of semiotic significance.
Even in simplistic, stereotypical ways, food is linked with behavior. For example, the subtlety of French thought and manners is said to be related to their sophisticated cuisine. Eating is inseparable from behavior and the adaptations humans have made to the conditions of their existence on the planet (Farb and Armelagos 1980). Throughout history, eating has been the primary way of initiating and maintaining social relationships. We celebrate emotionally-significant occasions with food and drink. Table manners are taught to children, drinks are consumed during courtship rituals, state dinners recognize sovereign nations, and the business lunch has a developed protocol. We acknowledge other people's importance by serving them special meals or by asking them to join us for a drink, and we demonstrate our social cultivation by behaving correctly in restaurants.
Food also is metaphor: it is a companion (popcorn with movies), a rejuvenator (Gatorade), and a source of fun (M & Ms). It is safety (our favorite ice cream flavor), love (a romantic dinner; the "aphrodesiac" potency of chutney, goose brains, oysters), or adventure (some exotic ethnic specialty). It is formal (meals) or informal (snacks). And it is vocabulary--a casual conversation is "chewing the fat"; a complaint is "a beef"; an argument is a "rhubarb"; a devious person knows how to "butter us up"; a defective car is a "lemon"; and we might inquire of a trying person, "what's eating you?" Levi-Strauss' The Raw and the Cooked (1969) represents the most ambitious rendition of food-as-metaphor; it argues that food preparation is a language, based on mythical beliefs, which communicates the structure of society. In an application of that paradigm, Levy (1981) illustrates the age, gender, and social-class dimensions of various foods and their preparation.
Eating sustains us bodily and provides a stage on which we enact our relationships with other people. Food is invested with a good deal of symbolism, such that eating enhances our self-image and signals appropriate meanings to those whom we wish to impress. To know what, where, when, how, and with whom people eat is to know their culture, for eating expresses things which are difficult to articulate with ordinary language. Advertising capitalizes on food's centrality to people's sense of personal and social identity; eating is almost always featured with symbolic overtones.
We have argued that those products we put on or in our bodies are interrelated and important to us; interrelated because each of them affects our appearance, and important because appearance is the most palpable expression of our self. Fashion and food products are self-relevant, and that characteristic makes them special to us. Yet some people are more sensitive than others about their self; they might be self-conscious about the body they inhabit, anxious about the appearance they convey to other people, or simply vain enough to enjoy bodily enhancement. Thus, the consumption of fashion and food products is especially appealing to certain groups or segments of people, which we describe in this section.
Sybaritism for Sale
The first (and obvious) segment for self-related products consists of the world's elite consumers those people who, by reason of their economically-privileged position, pursue a lifestyle that features corporal pampering, almost hedonism. This group has long been recognized, most recently by Hassan and Katsanis (1991) and Walle (1991). It represents those people who prefer (and can pay for) the prestige trappings of life--e.g., Bally leathergoods, Cartier jewelry, Charnet shirts, Hayward suits, Hermes accessories, Perigord truffles, Sulka ties, Vuitton luggage. These consumers, whose apotheosis is encapsulated by Mayle's (1992) Acquired Tastes, seek the world's "best" in fashion and food and they have the financial means to indulge their quest. This class segment is small, however, compared to the mass segment for self-relevant products.
The Rest of Us: A Product of Our Times
Unlike the class segment (for whom wealth is the shared characteristic), the second group of consumers who regard fashion and food products with special importance is defined by age. That "people are a product of their tiptoes" reflects the idea that one age group thinks differently from another. The reason for the difference is a process called "imprinting"--certain events making a deep and lasting impression us during our formative years of intellectual development (Schuman and Scott 1989). Parents and their children rarely share movie or musical tastes, for example, because vastly different genres were popular when they grew up and their generational imprints therefore are quite dissimilar (Holbrook 1992). We all are prone to nostalgia (Davis 1979; Stern 1992), but we yearn for different pasts, depending on when we were born. (Someone reared during the 1930s simply does not comprehend why men today would wear an earring.) The extant social environment when we come of age makes a life-long imprint on us; it affects the way we think and what we like, much as a switch affects the flow of electric current.
Gollub (1991) has developed an elaborate scheme of analysis geared to the decade in which people were born which shows that a quantum difference in values exists between people born before and since 1950. (A similar scheme is developed in Strauss and Howe 1991). The latter group--beginning with what is commonly called the "baby boomers"--was not alive during World War II and never experienced the fragmented, isolationist world that preceded it. Instead, these people have known a world of expanding production and consumption, inflation, and interdependent economies. Their globe has been telescoped by television and homogenized by popular entertainment; political struggles or box-office hits anywhere are struggles or hits everywhere. Foreign travel--once the exclusive domain of the wealthy--is so common it does not warrant notice. Former nation-states behave largely as participants in economic coalitions; what once were cited as cultural differences now are glimpsed as quaint curiosities. English is the world's lingua franca. These post-WWII generations have been imprinted with the Cold War, rock music and synthetic instruments, pop psychology, the sexual revolution, minority and women's rights, the fitness craze, the ecology movement, supermarkets, shopping malls, drive-in restaurants and fast foods, a fetish for education gout an aversion to reading), a skepticism for bureaucracy and public institutions, and a morality that "it's OK if it feels right." As a consequence of these influences, and the pervasive presence of the computer and TV screen in their lives, these people are marked by an overriding sense of narcissism. Self-expression--whether of the spirit (with which they "get in touch"), the mind (which they develop through self-help schemes), or the body (always "in shape," always presentable) is paramount to their existence. "Lifestyle," a conglomerate designation they invented, is approached with a manic intensity; they work hard and play hard (as if to prove Calvin correct, that prosperity indeed is the birthright of conscientious people). Through all of this they retain a healthy degree of skepticism, however; they don't trust celebrities or public institutions and they revel in satirical humor that belittles them. They are also cynical enough to laugh at themselves (the I furtively enjoying parodies of the Me) and their penchant for intense living: Finally, these people feel a certain amount of alienation--particularly toward older generations, whom they blame for the world's environmental, political, and social problems. In this we-vs.they mentality, older people are perceived as obstinate in the face of ecological reality, anachronistic in their sexual mores, and consumed by a white-male hegemony.
The post-WWII generations now constitute a majority of the world's population and they view life differently from older people. For advertising, this requires appeals which are consistent with the ethos younger people share. The traditional, Victorian-inspired dogma "will not wash" with them; it would seem alien. These generations are highly self-centered, but not egotistical or misanthropic. Instead, "selfish" younger people regard their bodies innocently, without shame or pejorative overtones of morality, as natural expressions of themselves to be perfected, finely-tuned, and presented with pride. Advertisers who resist this ethos are likely to have their efforts ignored or ridiculed by consumers of the post-WWII generations.
The younger-generations segment for fashion and food products has been a multicultural one for only a short time because, unlike the elite segment (which is sustained largely by extraordinary economic privilege), it is driven by a cultural phenomenon of comparatively recent vintage--something that has come to be called postmodernism. This force, which is still in an incipient stage, is transforming a once-diverse world into sets of homogeneous consumers, segments of people who regard certain products (including fashion and food) similarly, almost apart from where people reside. To put it somewhat simplistically, postmodernism is producing global cultures for some product categories, and these are replacing the diverse ones historically indigenous to various Western-society countries.
All Eyes on the Consumer
The very name, postmodernism, is a slippery one, for which no simple meaning exists. (A reactionary person might designate it as a catch-all term for everything wrong with today's world.) Generally, however, it refers to a post-WWII movement regarding how the arts, humanities, and social sciences are practiced (Firat 1991, 1992; Hassan 1987; Jameson 1988; Ogilvy 1990; Venkatesh 1992). Its wide-reaching effects include the physical (as in postmodern architecture), political (as in organizational hegemony), and social (as in gender and class relationships), to cite just a few (Crook, Pakulski and Waters 1992). Briefly, its background goes something like this. "Modernism," whose intellectual roots can be traced to the 18th century, rests on a foundation of rational thought--people behave for reasons; form follows function (in architecture, design, and organizations); human progress is inevitable, given sufficient scientific research and civil order; etc. Beginning in the late 20th century, however, these assumptions came to be challenged--first by intellectuals, but gradually by ordinary people. (Civilization had "progressed," but to what end, to whose benefit, and at what cost? "Thinking" people had made quite a mess of the environment, gender and race relations, and world peace. Science and technology had made life more convenient, but the world's population was not happier. A lot of "logical" things had been done by, but largely to the benefit of, a politically-privileged few, with little regard for their effects on the masses.) The reaction (the "post" in postmodernism) was to question the inevitability of human progress, the plausibility of science, and the hegemony of bureaucratic control. For example, postmodernists accept the fact that technology produces change, but whether this represents progress or just difference is another question. Similarly, science is recognized for its detachment and objectivity, so long as it also is recognized that the only reality is a contextualized one, how people actually experience a phenomenon. (Thus, there is not a single, ultimate truth, but multiple realities.) Finally, postmodernism recognizes the superiority of the global marketplace over government planning in allocating the benefits of technology. This latter assumption, because of which the postmodern world is sometimes called a 'culture of consumption' (Featherstone 1992), accords the consumer a prominent place in how the relationship between economy and society is conceptualized.
This prominence gives rise to a conceptual amalgam, the "postmodern consumer." Such a person does not exist, except as a synthesis of characteristics which both defines consumers who exemplify this ethos and differentiates them from exemplars of previous eras. It is nevertheless useful to sketch this postmodern consumer because such a portrait reveals both the lifestyles and mentality of those to whom many products (fashion and food included) are targeted. Here are some highlights: demographically, the postmodern consumer is comparatively young (born since WWII), and likely works in one of the information industries. Reasonably well-schooled, s/he is not poor and has a cosmopolitan outlook on life. Psychologically, s/he has a strong sense of self and a near-fierce concern for bodily appearance. Aesthetic pleasures and exciting bodily experiences are important. S/he rejects traditional bundlings of products in favor of eclectic (mix and match) assortments which permit the creation of packaged styles to project individualism. Ideologically, s/he does not believe in the inevitability of history ("history is going nowhere") or of chosen peoples and s/he is not political in the traditional sense but respects social movements which emphasize nonmaterial values (e.g., ecology). S/he holds little brief for the distinctions between mind and body, male and female, sacred and profane, high and low culture, public and private, urban and rural, or national and international. S/he has a strong sense of irony and playfulness, disdains logical explanations, and appreciates fantasy, especially if it is visual (s/he hates to read). This sketch reflects a research definition of the postmodern consumer; it is unlikely that s/ he would volunteer these traits in response to a self-evaluation inquiry. Just like older consumers, younger ones regard themselves quite within the bounds of normalcy; they would not consider any of the foregoing characteristics to be extraordinary or unusual.
New Cultures for Old
The consumer's pivotal position in the postmodern socioeconomic world is made possible by a phenomenon pejoratively called "cultural imperialism" (Tomlinson 1991). This refers to the displacement of traditional products, with their localized cultural meanings, by universal products, which have global meanings. (Instead of fifty different snack products from as many countries, for instance, we now have Pizza Hut restaurants around the world and consumers everywhere are coming to have equivalent understandings of the chain's products.) Obviously, this sort of displacement does not exist for all products or for all consumers. However, in such categories as fashion and food, a global "beachhead" clearly has been established and the trend is inevitably in that direction. Accordingly, we can expect an increasing incidence of global markets driving the economies and cultures of individual countries, particularly Western ones. Globalization will not likely drive most product categories (and it surely will never drive all categories), yet the trend toward global cultures for some products already is upon us.
Advertising: Windows on the World
Postmodernism's global cultures present advertising with a clear opportunity. The emergence of what amounts to a world capitalism, coupled with a concomitant rise in "media imperialism" (Schiller 1989)-films, magazines, popular music, and radio and TV programs are essentially equivalent around the world--give advertisers access to both the products these segments want and the communications technology necessary to reach them. To capitalize on the opportunity, however, advertisers must craft their messages in ways that are consistent with these postmodern consumers' ethos, with creative executions that recognize who they are, what they believe, and how they regard themselves and the world. To disregard such marketing intelligence e.g., by using verbal rather than visual executions, logical rather than emotional appeals, or just being too serious--is to risk being ignored or ridiculed by the postmodern consumer. To craft ads appropriately is to seize an opportunity to teach multicultural consumers about the meanings of products, to make advertisements windows on a global culture of fashion and food consumption. As Scott (1992) has put it, we need to think of postmodern ads as ways to move "toward a culture in which pictures demonstrate, exhort, explain, allude and, above all, play."
To illustrate that it is useful to think about global advertising as an exercise in the semiotics of consumers' self-schemata, this section presents an empirical analysis of some international print ads. We emphasize that our purpose is merely to illustrate; the analysis that follows does not prove anything about whether brands ought to be advertised on a global scale or the size of the global segments for fashion and food products. We hope to show instead that if fashion and food products are advertised muiticuiturally (given the apparent global segments that exist for each of them), there are qualitatively preferable ways of doing so. The supporting rationale is straightforward: if people can not understand an advertisement multiculturally, not much is accomplished by it. So we focus on the execution styles of the sample ads to see what makes them multiculturally understandable or not. Our semiotic interpretations then suggest some reasons for the ads being perceived as they are.
The Data Set
We analyzed a total of 924 international print ads, produced between 1984 and 1991 by 163 different agencies in 23 countries. The target audience of the ads varies, depending on their sponsors' strategic objectives. The fashion category, which represents 57% of the total sample, consists of 528 ads (produced by 97 agencies), 501 of which come from 19 different countries. (The remaining 27 ads--5% of them--could not be classified because their agency of record was not available.) The food category, 43% of the total sample, contains 396 ads (the work of 66 agencies), 395 of which represent 20 different countries (one ad could not be classified). As shown in Table 1, the distribution of these ads, although extensive, is skewed toward Western countries; overall, some 69% of them come from (in descending order) the United Kingdom, France, the USA, Italy, and Germany. The distributions of the two categories differ somewhat; France has the greatest representation of fashion ads, the UK the largest number of food ads, but there is a "Western bias" to each of them. Accordingly, we refrain from any product-by-country analyses, leaving it to the reader to assess the generality of our findings. We submit, however, that this Western bias is not altogether a weakness of our sample, inasmuch as postmodernism is widely regarded as a condition affecting Western societies. Moreover, the skew of the ads' distribution reflects the great prevalence of advertising in these advanced capitalist nations.
The sample ads were drawn (categories in toro) from a data base of 2,630 international print ads, produced by 346 agencies in 26 countries, representing 25 product categories. They were obtained from Lurzer's International Archive, a service headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany, which has been a repository for international advertising since 1984. Agencies submit ads for compilation in this archive, which is published bimonthly around the world. Because the Lurzer collection reflects this self-selection bias, we cannot claim that our data base constitutes a representative sample of effective fashion and food advertisements. (Conversely, we have no reason to suppose that it does not.) However, these ads do represent the best collection that is widely available to interested researchers; at a minimum, therefore, they are a source of replicable analysis.
Scales and Interpretation
Each of the 924 ads was interpreted by five trained judges, working independently. Three of the judges are female; two are male. Their ages range from 26 to 42 years. All of them are familiar with the work of Dyer (1982), Leymore (1975) and Williamson (1978), but they were not privy to the purpose of this study, which was embedded in a larger project. After a warmup session, the judges interpreted the 924 ads in three broad ways (see Table 2)--according to their presentation format, their communication style, and their aesthetic texture. For format, judges characterized the ads according to one of nine categories, taken from Dyer (1982). Among the fashion ads, judges' initial agreement ranged from 63% (for the art, culture, history format) to 100% (for comedy, humor), for an overall agreement of 81%. Among the food ads, initial agreement ranged from 59% (for self-importance, pride) to 90% (for nostalgia), for an overall agreement of 74%. Disagreements among the judges were resolved by the authors. For style, judges rated the ads on four 4-point scales, taken from Leymore (1975) and Williamson (1978): whether the appeal was to thinking (4) or feeling (1); whether its execution was essentially verbal (4) or visual (1); whether representations in the ad were more abstract (4) or concrete (1); and whether its allusory content was more metaphoric (4) or integrative (1): The last scale measures how "self-contained" an ad is; an integrative ad includes all its allusory content ("Brand X is as smooth as silk"), whereas a metaphoric one requires its audience to supply some elements--such as knowing why it is foolish to carry coals to Newcastle. (The data in Table 2 represent means of the judges' ratings.) Finally, for texture, the judges assessed six aesthetic characteristics of the ads (taken from Williamson 1978), again on 4-point scales: how polished (very=4; not-at-all=l), pleasant, artistic, energetic, original, and reflective they thought them to be. (Means of the judges' assessments are used for analysis.)
As Table 2 shows, six of the nine formats are well represented; only important people/experts/celebrities, glamorous places, and nostalgia are not. These "ways of staging" ads are consistent with the characteristics of the postmodern consumer, who is little impressed with either celebrities or glamorous places; to paraphrase the late Andy Warhol, everyone (and every place) is famous for 15 minutes. Nostalgia would seem to be more relevant to other product categories, although Hirsch (1992) reports its evocation through the scent of certain foods. The emphasis on lifestyle (particularly for fashion), fantasy, art, self-importance (more for fashion), nature (particularly for food), and humor (again, for food) suggests that advertisers of these products have a clear sense of their target consumers.
The communication style of the ads also represents no surprise. Food ads are more cognitive than those for fashion and both of them are more visual than verbal. The ads use both abstract and concrete representations and they lean toward the metaphoric pole of allusion (they require the consumer already to know some of the information necessary to make sense of an allusion). Similarly, the judges found the ads to be reasonably high in aesthetic value, with the plausible exception of "energetic."
Overall, the sample appears to represent a robust set of efforts in behalf of these self-relevant products. Indeed, the judges assessed the ads to be reasonably "global." (In addition to the aforementioned interpretations, the judges rated each ad according to whether it was completely "universal"--understandable by consumers regardless of their country of residence--or totally "culture-bound"--comprehensible only to people in the ad's country-of-origin. Using a 4-point scale, where 4 represents universally-understood and I represents culture-bound, the mean for the ads overall is 2.9; 645 of the 924 ads--70% of them--were rated either 3 or 4, while only 279 of them--30%-were rated 1 or 2. In the fashion category, the mean is 3.1; 400 of the 528 ads--76%--were rated 3 or 4, and 128 of them--24% --were rated 1 or 2. The food category has a slightly lower mean of 2.7; 62% of these 396 ads were rated 3 or 4, while 38% of them were rated at I or 2.) We take this as evidence that indeed it is feasible to advertise these product categories across cultures; "universal" segments do appear to exist for fashion and food. Simultaneously, however, these data imply that there are qualitatively preferable ways of approaching multicultural markets, that the way in which advertising is executed can affect how universally it is understood, hence how appealing it might be to the self-schemata of global consumers. We turn now to that issue.
Universally-Understood vs. Culture-Bound Execution Styles
In order to explore the question of what makes ads more or less understandable across national or cultural boundaries, we split our sample of ads into "universally-understood" ones (ads with mean ratings of 3 or 4 on the cultural/universal scale) and "culture-bound" ones (ads with means of 1 or 2 on that scale) and compared the resulting subsamples in each category (fashion appears in Table 3, food in Table 4) according to their execution styles--i.e., presentation format, communication style, and aesthetic texture. For format, we simply calculated and compared the percentage distributions (across the nine available categories) of the "universal" subsamples and the "cultural" ones. For style (four measures) and texture (six measures)--which used scaled variables--we compared the universal subsamples with the cultural ones using a 10-mean MANOVA (to control for the Type I error rate of .001 and to accommodate any correlations among the ten scaled variables). The test statistic reported in Tables 3 and 4 (Hotelling's T[sup 2]) therefore refers to the significance of the subsamples' differences as sets (between the vectors of their mean scores). In the case of both fashion (Table 3) and food (Table 4), the universally-understood ads have execution styles substantially different from those of the culture-bound ads, whether one considers format distributions or the scaled variables. If global understanding is what advertisers seek, there are creative executions which are more likely to find that objective.
Fashion. The 400 fashion. ads rated universally-understood differ in a variety of ways from the 128 rated culture-bound (Table 3). Universal ads use more lifestyle formats, more fantasy, and they appeal more frequently to consumers' sense of self. They use considerably less culture, art, and history in their executions, reminding us that postmodern consumers live "only in the present." Universal fashion ads are more feeling in tone and they rely on visual communication. They are less abstract and metaphoric than their culture-bound counterparts, likely because concrete representations and integrative allusions are less risky; the interpretive repertoire of postmodern consumers may be sophisticated, but it is not boundless. Finally, universally-understood fashion ads prompt more enthusiastic aesthetic responses ("originality" excepted), intimating that their contents are likely to register more deeply in their targets' self-schemata.
To reify these executional properties, we offer a semiotic reading of a universally-understood fashion ad. Figure 1 displays a 1986 Swedish ad (which appeared in full color) for the shoe brand, SWEET 16. Its categorical format is one of fantasy, but it communicates to its young-adult audience in a variety of self-related ways. The signs used in this ad are likely to evoke predictable meanings (its semantic content); their careful arrangement (the ad's syntactic properties) serves to resonate these meanings; and the effect of all this on young women (the ad's pragmatic property) is unmistakable.
To older, coldly-logical, or perhaps third-world consumers, this ad might seem nonsensical. It portrays a young woman eating some miniature shoes as they tumble from a package labeled with the SWEET 16 logo. The only copy is the headline (in Swedish), which translates to: "SWEET 16. Tasty shoes for tasty girls." Neither shoes nor girls are "tasty," we might demur. Yet postmodern consumers perceive this ad with the benefit of highly-developed schemata; to them, it makes a great deal of sense. To begin, the brand name is highly congruent with the product's target market; "sweet 16" is associated with the innocence and pristine beauty that many young women idealize, if only wistfully. And the model in the ad perpetuates this allusion; she is quite pretty--very good bones, skin, and hair, makeup just heavy enough to certify her youth. The "tasty" in the headline is simply an allusion to the metaphor that these shoes are "good enough to eat," a comprehension one can draw visually; the copy only reinforces this idea. (Universally-understood ads can be in "foreign" languages; the determining criterion is how their meaning is conveyed.) This act of "consumption" is punctuated by the model's expression, which appears almost concupiscent--her eyes are closed, her head is cocked, and her mouth is open, all visible in stark profile so as not to be missed. She could be poised for a passionate kiss. But no, her arm (fashionably adorned with a cluster of bracelets) directs the viewer's attention to a package, which is carefully cradled in her small hand. Her perfectly manicured thumb points to the package's logo (in English), and out of that package comes tumbling a cache of bite-size SWEET 16 shoes--the real-object of her lust. She appears to be gorging herself, as though she can't ingest the cache quickly enough; her haste allows some of the shoes to fall by the wayside. But no matter, this is primal feeding; a powerful appetite must be satiated. She seems utterly transfixed by the experience. Note also that the contents she is consuming comprise a variety--SWEET 16 has shoes for all occasions; the only thing they have in common is their fashion correctness.
This ad speaks to its postmodern audience's concern for appearance. It is clearly a feeling ad, whose meaning is conveyed almost completely with visuals. Its representations are concrete and its use of metaphor is fairly primitive. The idea is simple: these are brightly-colored shoes--like candy, gum drops, or jelly beans--which is why they are portrayed as small and in a bag. Indeed, the shoes shown in this ad are very similar to ones known in America as "Candies." Like most ads in the postmodern genre, this one is something its audience experiences more than analyzes. It is not to be taken literally and postmodern consumers realize that. To these people, the ad represents an innocent, yet globally-palpable exercise in fantasy, something totally in keeping with their playful ethos.
Food. Similar to the case for the fashion category, the 245 food ads that were rated as universally-understandable differ in a variety of ways from the 151 that were rated culture-bound (Table 4). Universal ads are more characterized by fantasy, self, and humor formats than culture-bound ads and less by culture, art, and history. They are more feeling, more visual, more concrete, and slightly more integrative in communication style. They produce consistently more favorable aesthetic responses than their culture-bound counterparts. Compared with their universal fashion counterparts, globally-understood food ads emphasize lifestyle less, and serf-importance and humor more--all differences which are wholly consistent with these products.
We illustrate the universality of food advertising with a 1985 ad, which appeared in full, highly-vivid color, for McDonalds in French-speaking Canada. Nominally, the ad in Figure 2 represents a testimonial by a celebrity. At a latent level, however, much more than an implied endorsement of Big Macs by Harrison Ford is read into this ad by postmodern consumers. in some ways, the ad represents a semiotic tour de force.
To interpret this ad, we must begin by distinguishing between what it says and does not say. It is not a testimonial by Harrison Ford. He appears only in the stylized personage of Indiana Jones, the character he portrayed in the 1981 film, "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Jones, not Ford, is the endorser of big Macs, and that connection, literally speaking, is preposterous in two ways. First, Jones would have been in his eighties at the time of this ad and hardly in a position to be touting a fast-food item. Second, he is a fictional character--a 20th-century avatar of the epic hero--depicted here in a 1936 South American jungle scene, before Big Macs existed. No matter; the connection is clear for postmodern consumers, who are accustomed to suspending such minor realities. Indeed, the ad reflects what Baudrillard (see Poster 1988) calls "hyperreality"--a world of self-referential signs. The key to understanding this is something called bricolage---the expropriation of existing symbols, which originated in one pop-culture medium, for use or recombination in another popular medium (Baldick 1990). In this case, the film-created Indiana Jones is an applique for a mass-appeal magazine ad, much as John Houseman (aka Professor Kings field of "The Paper Chase") was for a time the pedantic spokesperson for the Smith, Barney investment firm's TV commercials. To interpret this ad it is necessary therefore to understand the symbolism surrounding Jones--in other words, to understand the cultural significance of "Raiders." (McDonalds also used film stars from other eras--Marilyn Monroe and Rudolph Valentino--in the series from which this ad was drawn.)
A 1981 theatrical release of Paramount Pictures, this George Lucas film (directed by Steven Spielberg) has been one of the world's all-time box-office hits and it continues to be shown on television and seen via videocassette rentals and purchases. (In 1991, the McDonalds chain capitalized on this popularity with a highly-successful purchase tie-in, featuring "Raiders" tapes at a deeply-discounted price.) "Raiders" has come to be known for its gripping special effects and supremely apposite musical score by John Williams (everyone recognizes its theme music). The film's nominal story is of a globetrotting archeology professor (Jones, portrayed by Ford), who is enlisted covertly by the United States government just prior to the outbreak of World War II to recover the long-lost Ark of the Covenant (the golden casket used by the ancient Hebrews to hold the Ten Commandments), before the relic is unearthed by Hitler's Nazis, who would desecrate it for venal purposes. "Indy" (symbolically, the forces of good) must contend with all manner of natural and supernatural obstacles (God's scheme to thwart profane foragers), plus a litany of traps, ambushes, doublecrosses and unmitigated violence perpetrated by the Nazis (the forces of evil), before he triumphs in his mission. Through it all, he retains his droll style and sense of humor. This is our modern-day hero--taciturn, understated, stubborn; having survived a catalogue of life-threatening adventures, the most he will allow is: "I hate snakes." The film's technological brilliance showcases his demeanor at every turn; here is this ordinary person, doing extraordinary things, always with apparently-effortless aplomb. Our assessment is inevitable: What a guy!
The McDonalds ad in Figure 2 depends on its audience's understanding of the Jones symbolism, as it purloins many of the props (semiotic signs) from "Raiders." Note that the ad is rendered in comic-book-like surrealism, inviting its audience to "play along." Indy is depicted in a jungle scene (the opening sequence in the film), rapelling down a rock cliff. As usual, his position is precarious. (Note the arrow, still lodged in his ever-present hat, doubtless a sign that the South American "savages" are in close pursuit. His trusty whip remains wrapped around his shoulder, however, poised for the next threatening challenge.) Yet he focuses neither back on his pursuers nor forward on his next step, but "into space"--a region conveniently commandeered by a Big Mac (which resides, appropriately enough, on a doric column). As if cued by the apparition, he recites: "J'M"--he loves McDonalds. (In French, "J'M" and "J' aime"--I love --are pronounced identically. What Indy loves--given the prominent Golden-Arches logo and stylized Big Mac--is reasonably obvious.) It is high camp, of course, that someone would pause in the midst of peril for such a pronouncement, but this is Indy--ever the cool customer. What is really telling here, however, is the clever reference to the film--he hates snakes, but he loves McDonalds. The postmodern audience does not miss that connection or the playful chant it prompts.
This ad expropriates a fictional hero and uses him to sanction one of popular culture's most recognizable fast-food artifacts. To the postmodern consumer (in whatever resident culture) Jones has tongue-in-cheek credibility; if this man's man, this woman's ideal of a man, likes McDonalds, it must be good food. Using suspended reality, a visual presentation (the headline is the only copy) and symbolic allusions widely understood by its target audience, the ad incorporates subtle elements of the natural world, of lifestyle, and of self-pride. It might strike the uninitiated as a cryptic collage but, to its postmodern audience, the ad conveys a clear and comforting message.
We attempted to illustrate two broad ideas in this empirical section. First, by analyzing samples of international fashion and food advertisements, we adduced evidence that these products do traffic in global arenas; their self-relevance to consumers is apparent without regard to where in the industrialized West people reside. Moreover, advertisers seem to understand this reality, as significant proportions of their appeals reflect the ways in which consumers express their sense of self. Second, we tried to show that many fashion and food advertisers are attuned to their target consumers' global ethos, as evidenced by how they address multicultural audiences. These advertisers incorporate the hyperbolic style of contemporary Western life into their efforts, and this serves them both in establishing a rapport with postmodern consumers and in facilitating their persuasion. Very little of this seems logical from the distance of tradition; when confronted with their stylized ads, postmodern consumers just "get it."
We do not intend this section to suggest that postmodern ads cannot be understood (or liked) by older, tradition-minded consumers--even by residents of third-world countries. Our analysis implies only that such people are likely to have difficulty because they don't share the world view on which such ads are based. Moreover, it is possible that the postmodern "style" of imagistic advertising (i.e., visual, emotional not too serious) is not unique to the postmodern era, considering that international ads traditionally have been kept "simple" to overcome language barriers. Since our sample is restricted to the 1984-1991 cross-section we cannot test this issue, but it seems reasonable to speculate that, as postmodern style capitalizes on the postmodern ethos, it becomes more effective, hence more predominant, in the advertising of multicultural products. That our sample contains a sizeable proportion of postmodern ads therefore implies either that they were targeted to younger people or that (regardless of target audience) their sponsors were convinced of the postmodern style's efficacy.
There are many ways of regarding the global advertising question and, ultimately, each brand presents a unique challenge. Not everyone wants to compete in a global arena and, among those who do, many have neither the financial resources nor a sufficiently resilient product. For those few who do, "going global" requires a long-term commitment, patience, and skill. It demands the latest in technology and the ability to respond swiftly to an ever-changing world. But it also requires sound, elementary thinking about what global markets are.
We have argued that, at their most basic level, global markets constitute segments of people who regard a product category in essentially the same way, regardless of their country of residence. Because of such perceptions, global brands can be promoted cross-culturally and derive benefits from the attendant economies of scale. We have suggested that, as general product categories, fashion and food brands have the potential to be advertised globally because they are intimately associated with the human body which, in turn, is universally recognized as the most natural means for expressing self-identity and self-enhancement.
None of thisis to argue that all fashion and food brands can be, should be, or are advertised globally; any number of factors determine such matters. It is merely to explain why these product categories have universal appeal. That universality seems to be recognized by many advertisers, as indicated by our empirical analyses. Those who seem mostly keenly cognizant, however, evince yet another kind of "elementary" thinking about advertising: knowing one's consumers and how best to communicate with them. The globally-effective advertisers in today's fashion and food arena realize that their mass segments consist increasingly of postmodern consumers--comparatively young people, who live by a post-WWII ethos that is vastly different from that which governs older generations. These younger consumers, who reside throughout the industrialized Western world, have values and a style of living that seems bizarre to older, tradition-minded people. Yet knowledge of the postmodern culture, including its style of communicating, is precisely the differential advantage these adaptive global advertisers hold over their competitors. We tried to convey a sense of the commerce which results from this culture by reading some illustrative postmodern ads semiotically.
These semiotic interpretations might seem far-fetched, even outrageous. Yet it should be recalled that most of us have been conditioned by Cartesian principles; we expect advertisements to read much as rhetorical arguments unfold. To postmodern consumers, however, syllogism, transitivity and, most of all, preaching, are anathema; these logics move them about as efficaciously as Barry Manilow can rap. It is certain that not every young person has been co-opted by postmodernism. But it is the prevailing ethos of the Western world's popular culture. Advertising is an integral part of that culture, so it can adapt--straddling the traditional world and today's hyperbolic one--or watch recalcitrantly as these markets sweep by. It is something worth pondering.
On a final note, we hope this demonstration exercise encourages the research community toward a more molar construal of the advertising communications process and therefore how it might be investigated. We noted that this paper was inspired by Mick's (1988, 1992) proposed schema-semiotics paradigm--an integrative framework that promises to enhance our understanding of the structure, meaning, and uses of commercial information by amalgamating the information-based and meaning-based models of advertising. As we described the postmodern ethos, we referred implicitly to what Mick (1988) calls "consumers' knowledge-systems schemata" (the understandings they bring to the communications encounter) and their "goal-systems schemata" (what they hope to get out of the encounter). Although our allusions seem to make sense, our stimulus-side analysis did not measure such self-schemata formally. (For an initial attempt at such response-side analysis, see Mick 1992.) Similarly, our semiotic readings of ads afforded a possible rendition of what Mick (1988) calls "consumers' message-systems schemata," but once again these self-schemata were not actually measured. Moreover, advertisers likewise have knowledge-, goal, and message-system schemata (what they know, what they are trying to accomplish, and how, respectively), and we only hinted at these. As regards the semiotic triad (sign/object/interpretant), we considered the signs (icons, indexes, and symbols) within ads and their associated objects (largely, branded products), but we did little beyond speculating about interpretants (the cognitive, affective and conative reactions to the object, modified by the signs). Finally, among the standard semiotic perspectives, we dealt with syntactics (in our analysis of the ads' elements) and with semantics (in our discussion of how these elements appear to relate to the advertised objects), but not really with pragmatics (at best, we speculated about the relationship between the ads' signs and the associated interpretants). Thus, we focused on the structure and meaning of the ads, but did little by way of their 'uses to consumers or to advertisers. All these limitations notwithstanding, however, our investigation appears to have produced at least face validity and that result encourages us that Mick's construal of the advertising communications process is a sound one. That we did not operationalize Mick's model fully (i.e., to include response-side analysis explicitly) suggests only that our results suffered correspondingly; a more comprehensive operationalization doubtless would enhance the reliability/trustworthiness of such investigations.
This leads to the question of epistemology, or how researchers might most appropriately think about the advertiser/consumer interface. In this paper we tried to show how the largely exogenous forces of postmodernism come to bear on the phenomenon of global advertising, at least for self-related products. Our methodology was largely conventional (content analysis, rating scales, quantitative data analysis), although some of it was not (the ads' semiotic readings). There is no reason, of course, that additional or different investigations should not be done, using either these or other methodologies. For example, there is much about postmodernism that we did not consider here, and Sherry (1991) has summarized a veritable arsenal of research procedures which might be invoked to understand this complex phenomenon. Similarly, there are many additional ways to examine advertisements, other product categories, and media. At the risk of seeming self-serving, we would like to believe that our effort to combine positivistic and postmodern epistemologies demonstrates that such a rapprochement is not only possible but also desirable, since it yields deeper understanding. Accordingly, a pluralistic mentality would seem necessary, as would the recognition that advertising involves people attempting to influence other people, always in an exogenous context that cannot be ignored.
Preparation of this paper was facilitated by grants from George Mason University's Graduate School. The authors acknowledge the helpful comments of Maryellen Beck, Roberto Friedmann, David Glen Mick, and the three anonymous reviewers.
Fashion Food Total Country No. % No. % No. % Argentina 2 0.4 0 0.0 2 0.2 Australia 15 2.8 8 2.0 23 2.5 Austria 16 3.0 8 2.0 24 2.6 Belgium 5 0.9 6 1.5 11 1.2 Brazil 1 0.2 0 0.0 1 0.1 Canada 3 0.6 17 4.3 20 2.2 China 2 0.4 1 0.2 3 0.3 Denmark 0 0.0 6 1.5 6 0.7 Finland 4 0.8 0 0.0 4 0.4 France 107 20.3 57 14.4 164 17.7 Germany 47 8.9 27 6.8 74 8.0 Holland 5 0.9 34 8.6 39 4.2 Hong Kong 2 0.4 3 0.8 5 0.5 Italy 54 10.2 22 5.6 76 8.2 Japan 26 4.9 11 2.8 37 4.0 Norway 0 0.0 2 0.5 2 0.2 Scotland 0 0.0 5 1.3 5 0.5 Singapore 18 3.4 3 0.8 21 2.3 Spain 7 1.3 2 0.5 9 1.0 Sweden 11 2.1 14 3.5 25 2.8 Switzerland 0 0.0 18 4.5 18 2.0 United Kingdom 97 18.4 81 20.5 178 19.3 USA 79 15.0 70 17.7 149 16.1 Not Classified[a] 27 5.1 1 0.2 28 3.0 Total 528 100.0 396 100.0 924 100.0
a Advertising agency-of-record information not available.
Legend for Chart: A - Style Feature B - Fashion Ads (n=528) C - Food Ads (n=396) D - Total Sample (n=924) A B C D Presentation Format (% Distribution) Life Style 21.2% 11.4% 17.0% Fantasy, Surrealism 18.6 14.5 16.8 Important People, Experts, Celebrities 2.0 1.4 1.7 Glamorous Places 3.3 1.3 2.5 Art, Culture, History 18.0 22.7 20.0 Nature, the Natural World 9.0 15.9 12.0 Self-Importance, Pride 17.4 11.3 14.8 Comedy, Humor 8.6 19.6 13.3 Nostalgia 1.9 1.9 1.9 Communication Style (Means) Thinking (4)/Feeling (1) 1.8 2.4 2.1 Verbal (4)/Visual (1) 1.6 1.8 1.7 Abstract (4)/Concrete (1) 2.3 2.1 2.2 Metaphoric (4)/Integrative (1) 2.6 2.8 2.7 Aesthetic Texture (Means) Polished--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 2.6 2.5 2.5 Pleasant--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 2.5 2.5 2.5 Artistic--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 2.3 2.3 2.3 Energetic--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 1.9 1.7 1.8 Original--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 2.6 2.8 2.7 Reflective--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 2.2 1.9 2.0
Legend for Chart: A - Style Feature B - Culture-Bound Ads[a] C - Universally-Understood Ads[b] A B C Presentation Format (% Distribution) Life Style 17.2% 22.5% Fantasy, Surrealism 12.5 20.5 Important People, Experts, Celebrities 2.3 1.7 Glamorous Places 3.1 3.5 Art, Culture, History 31.3 13.8 Nature, the Natural World 9.4 9.0 Self-Importance, Pride 11.7 19.3 Comedy, Humor 9.4 8.2 Nostalgia 3.1 1.5 Communication Style (Means) Thinking (4)/Feeling (1) 2.2 1.7 Verbal (4)/Visual (1) 1.8 1.5 Abstract (4)/Concrete (1) 2.6 2.2 Metaphoric (4)/Integrative (1) 2.8 2.4 Aesthetic Texture (Means) Polished--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 2.0 2.8 Pleasant--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 1.9 2.6 Artistic--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 1.9 2.4 Energetic--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 1.5 2.0 Original--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 2.6 2.6 Reflective--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 1.9 2.3
c Difference between styles of universal and cultural ads (based on scaled variables) significant at p </= .001 (Hotelling's T[sup 2]).
a Based on 128 ads (24.2% of the fashion sample) rated at 1 or 2 on the cultural/universal scale.
b Based on 400 ads (75.8% of the fashion sample) rated at 3 or 4 on the cultural/universal scale.
Legend for Chart: A - Style Feature B - Culture-Bound Ads[a] C - Universally-Understood Ads[b] A B C Presentation Format (% Distribution) Life Style 11.3% 11.4% Fantasy, Surrealism 9.9 17.1 Important People, Experts, Celebrities 0.7 2.0 Glamorous Places 2.0 0.8 Art, Culture, History 41.1 11.4 Nature, the Natural World 17.2 15.1 Self-Importance, Pride 4.6 15.5 Comedy, Humor 13.2 23.8 Nostalgia 0.0 2.9 Communication Style (Means) Thinking (4)/Feeling (1) 2.7 2.1 Verbal (4)/Visual (1) 2.0 1.7 Abstract (4)/Concrete (1) 2.6 1.8 Metaphoric (4)/Integrative (1) 2.9 2.7 Aesthetic Texture (Means) Polished--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 1.8 2.9 Pleasant--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 1.9 2.8 Artistic--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 1.8 2.5 Energetic--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 1.4 1.8 Original--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 2.6 2.9 Reflective--Very (4)/Not at All (1) 1.7 2.0
c Difference between styles of universal and cultural ads (based on scaled variables) significant at p </= .001 (Hotelling's T[sup 2]).
a Based on 151 ads (38.1% of the food sample) rated at 1 or 2 on the cultural/universal scale.
b Based on 245 ads (61.9% of the food sample) rated at 3 or 4 on the cultural/universal scale.
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Figure 1 A Universally-Understood Fashion Ad --1986 (Agency: Collin Annonsbraya--Goteborg, Sweden) (C)Archive International. Used by permission.
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Figure 2 A Universally-Understood Food Ad-1985 (Agency: Cossett Communication--Quebec, Canada) (C)Archive International. Used by permission.
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By Teresa J. Domzal and Jerome B. Kernan
Teresa J. Domzal (Ph.D., University of Cincinnati) is Associate Professor, Department of Marketing, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Jerome B. Kernan (Ph.D., University of Illinois) is the GMU Foundation
Professor of Behavioral Analysis, Department of Marketing, George Mason
University, Fairfax, VA.