2. The standardization versus adaptation debate in advertising
3. Standardization versus adaptation - the contingency approach
3.1 Familiarity with the brand
3.2 Type of product
3.3 Advertising form
4. Case examples
4.1 Standardized approach: Dr. Oetker frozen pizza
4.2 Adapted approach: Jägermeister
4.3 Mixed strategy: Audi & Mercedes
The debate around standardization versus adaptation in international marketing consists since nearly half a decade now. Usunier and Lee (2009) believe that international marketing cannot be global and refer to it as intercultural marketing. De Mooij (2010:3) states that people think and act based on their inherent framework, given them by their culture and national belonging. Even if they try to think different, they will still see it out of their own cultural perspective. In de Mooij’s opinion this leads to the paradox that people are not able to think global, but furthermore see and judge their world always according to their own framework, even if they might believe they think global. In the marketing context this would mean that international marketing cannot be global. Marketers will always use their own cultural system to create advertising for other cultures, which apparently cannot be successful there. Nevertheless the debate is still in the centre of attention in international marketing. Neither academicians nor practitioners were able to give a coherent answer to the question, if global advertising can be successful or if advertising has to be adapted to local circumstances. Agrawal (1995) points out the waves of changes between adaptation and standardization advertising strategies used by practitioners between the 1950’s and the 1980’s. Simultaneously, “academicians in contrast have generally been consistent in advocating the adaptation approach and/or the contingency approach” (Agrawal, 1995:44). These results indicate that the global advertising cannot easily be doomed as an unsuccessful strategy.
This essay provides a critical review over the debate standardization versus adaptation in international marketing. Additionally case examples from German companies will be introduced to support the argumentation.
2. The standardization versus adaptation debate in advertising
In general, “international advertising standardization refers to using a common approach (i.e. common advertising messages) to promote the same product across national boundaries” (Papavassilio & Stathakopoulos, 1997).
The idea of standardizing advertising can be traced back to 1923, when the manager for advertising of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, David L. Brown, stated that due to the same common human needs worldwide it is not only possible to use standardized advertising globally but also reasonable to do so. A fundamental theme with a universal appeal and just minor superficial changes could be successful worldwide (Brown, 1923). Elinder (1961) followed this thought. He argued that decreasing similarities among consumers in Europe make standardized advertising both desirable and feasible. The same idea can be found in Fatt’s (1967) argumentation. In his opinion global advertising in a heterogeneous world market should be possible, if it is possible to use one advertisement for the heterogeneous US market. He reasons that country-markets themselves are not homogenous, but composed of diverse marketing segments. Nevertheless they are marketed with one advertising strategy. The probably most provoking article was written by Theodore Levitt in 1983. He supports the complete standardization approach and suggests that “companies must learn to operate as if the world were one large market – ignoring superficial regional and national differences ” (Levitt, 1983:92). This concept of a global consumer with homogenous preferences, needs and wants throughout the world has provoked much critique. The main questioned argument is the existence of a global consumer. The following statement sums up the voices against standardization. “Globalization has not produced globally uniform consumers. Although there is a worldwide convergence of technology, media, and financial systems, desires and behaviours of consumers are not converging.” (de Mooij, 2010:2).
Despite these criticisms, the advantages of global standardized advertising are tempting for companies. A single message with only minor modifications or even advertisements with only an accurate translation, which can be used in different countries, would lead to immense costs savings. Standardization can lead to enormous increasing savings in media costs, advertising production costs, and advertising illustrative material. Paying several agencies to create local campaigns in every country market involves a huge amount of money compared to the cost of just translation and voice-over-modifications. An example for that is International Playtex Inc., which ran a standardized campaign for its new bra. Previously it used 43 version of their advertisement worldwide. This standardized campaign was modified where needed, but the costs were comparably low. The campaign for 12 countries only costs $250.000, whereas the normal budget just for producing one advertisement for the US market is about $100.000 (Agrawal, 1995:40). Additionally, standardized marketing helps to build and maintain a consistent international brand & company image and identity worldwide and minimizes confusion among travellers. Furthermore it supports planning and control compared to different campaigns and working with difference agencies throughout the world.
In contrast, advocates of the adaption approach argue that there is no such thing as a global consumer. Advertisement should be adapted to local markets and consumer preferences in order to reach buyers in different markets. This is based on the idea that there always will be differences between countries and therefore barriers which hinder an effective use of just one global advertising campaign (e.g. de Mooij, 2010; Thrassou & Vrontis, 2006). Barriers include e.g. language, education, stage of economic and industrial development, cultural context, media availability and legal restrictions (Agrawal, 1995). Different country structures regarding these barriers make it in view of the proponents of adaption impossible to run global advertising campaigns.
After the illustration of the theoretical arguments it is worth to have a closer look to the actual reality and praxis? Total adaption may seem to be the desirable choice, but it might not be realizable for most of the companies due to enormous costs. Even if they would want to adapt their advertising for every country, they are might not able to afford it. Hence, they have to find a solution in between standardization and adaptation. But standardization itself is still not forgotten under practitioners. “Moreover, the fact that major multinational companies like Hewlett Packard, Heineken and Bacardi are currently seeking to achieve global standardization of advertising shows that this topic is also highly relevant for practitioners” (Fastoso & Whitelock, 2007:592). This leads to solution, that neither total standardization nor total adaptation can be recommended in general.
Referring to Agrawal (1995), three main schools of thought regarding international advertising exist: standardization, adaptation and contingency perspective. While the former two have been discussed above, the latter is the most popular approach nowadays. The decision is not between the total standardization and adaptation, but lies moreover on a “continuum with the polar ends of the continuum being standardization of creative advertising strategy and tactics, and adaptation of creative advertising strategy and tactics, respectively” (Papavasiliou & Stathakopoulos, 1997). Proponents of the standardization approach already pointed in this direction while defining standardization. “Total standardization is unthinkable” (Jain, 1989) and even Fatt, who supports standardization, mentions that changes have to be done (e.g. regarding the language) in order to use advertisement internationally (Fatt, 1967). Out of this perspective, effective advertising strategies vary depending on the specific internal and external situation a company is in.