Culture is communicated to members of the society through a common language and through commonly shared symbols because the human mind has the ability to absorb and process symbolic communication. Marketers can therefore successfully promote both tangible and intangible products and product concepts to consumers through mass media.
Understanding how culture influences consumer behaviors is crucial to success in international marketing. Given the broad nature of culture, its study generally requires a detailed examination of the character of society, including such factors as language, knowledge, laws, religions, food customs, music, art, technology, work patterns, products, and other variables that give a society its distinctive personality. Culture is the sum total of learned beliefs, values, ideologies and customs that serve to direct the consumer behavior of members of a particular society. The sociological perspective indicates various value consensuses among individuals and groups within countries due to each experience of unique social conditions and interests (Hofstede, 1980) claims that culture is ‘the collective programming of the mind’, which has been disapproved by (Fischer and Schwartz, 2011). They discovered that social institutions and other macro-level variables also influence individuals’ values within society, and individuals internalize such values to different extents. These various values lead to formation of population segments that emphasize different values based on their various experiences and interests.
This paper identifies culture to be a multidimensional construct and acknowledges the influence of motivational factors on consumers’ exhibition of individualistic, collectivistic or overlapping cultural dispositions, in different situations. The adaptability of marketing communication to prevailing cultural variations determines the effectiveness of marketing communication (Solomon, 2013). Basically, the individualism and collectivism cultural dimensions and context-specific cultural frameworks are recognized as underlying models of cultural variations. More so, one of the prominent cross-cultural experts, Geert Hofstede, established the connectedness between context-specific cultures and the individualism-collectivism constructs (de Mooij, 2011).
While cross-cultural research is understudied in Africa, scholars such as Oyedele and Minor (2012) have identified a collectivistic nature amongst Africans, which is evidenced by the strong integration among community members in African societies. Although the media portray individualistic cues to a considerable extent (Van Eeden and Du Preez, 2005), African culture does trend toward collectivism. However, it is also fair to say that the influence of the global culture may have interfered with the collectivistic tendency of the African culture.
The underlying cultural nature of South Africans in general is centred on the beliefs of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is derived from the following phrase: “umuntu ngu muntu nga bantu” which means: “A person is a person through other people”. The values of Ubuntu are centred on striving toward living in harmony with community members. The South African people generally view themselves as belonging together and inseparable from the community. A person is perceived by community members as ideal, is if they possess Ubuntu values (Broodryk, 2006). The African culture in general is characterized by diverse qualities. These qualities are made up of ethnocentrism, traditionalism and communalism. Community members learn to be compliant with the modus operandi as adherence to communal laws attracts rewards (Mufane, 2003). Cultural cues such as collectivism, respect for elders, loyalty and obligation to families’ social and economic needs are to be found in Africa (Beugre and Offodile, 2001). However, modern values, which are characterized by the spirit of competition and individualism, sometimes make Ubuntu values ineffective (Oyedele and Minor, 2012).
While Africans are said to be collectivists by nature, their collectivistic tendencies does not influence their consumer behavior. However, the interview study revealed that one dominant collectivistic measure stood out, as more of the respondents showed preference for advertisements that portray ‘how family members can collectively benefit from advertised products’. Also, a little below half of the respondents, showed preference for advertisements that stress personal needs over family needs. Then more were persuaded by advertisements that show personal achievement, while others responded that their buying decisions are based on the style of advertisements rather than the opinions of their peers. The results further show that only a few concluded that ‘everyone in their family likes the same advertisements’. The collectivistic disposition of Africans toward marketing communication is evidenced by these views, although, individualistic rather than collectivistic tendencies are clearly displayed. While collectivistic cue among Africans is obligation to families’ social and economic needs, one has to consider the arguments of (Bakir, 2012), which maintained that cultural values are converging due to increasing global trends.
Cross-cultural research in advertising tries to connect observed differences with cultural dimensions, mostly based on frameworks such as the cultural dimensions of Hofstede (2001) or Hall (1976). A growing trend in advertising has been to combine a global advertising strategy with local adaptations referring to cultural differences of the target markets.
The dominance of globalization and exposure to Western values have made it important for marketing practitioners to integrate culturally sensitive variations in marketing communication strategies. The individualism-collectivism cultural dimension has proven exceptional in explaining underlying country and individual levels of culture (Oyserman, 2011). In the area of product design, mixing elements of different cultures is a frequently used strategy to create innovative products. However, when the consumers’ attention is drawn to the implications of a marketing practice for the purity and integrity of a sacred cultural tradition, consumers may react negatively to culture mixing. For example, one study (Peng, 2012) shows that although Chinese consumers react favorably to a book on how Western cuisines inspire improvements in Chinese cuisines, they respond negatively to one on how Western philosophies inspire revision of Confucianism. This is the case particularly among Chinese consumers who strongly support preservation of cultural traditions. These Chinese consumers react negatively to the mixing of Western philosophies with Confucianism because these consumers believe that Confucianism is an identity-defining philosophical tradition in Chinese culture and that its purity should be protected.
The Chinese cultural values are largely formed and created from interpersonal relationships and social orientations. The Confucius philosophy emphasizes the principles for self-guidance. The key to producing a harmonious life, he wrote, is in how we treat others-our ancestors, leaders, parents, spouses, neighbors, and friends. To Confucius, a person becomes noble not by birth but by developing the five virtues of humanity or benevolence (ren), righteousness (yi), proper conduct (li), wisdom (zhi), and trustworthiness (xin). The most important Confucian virtue is filial piety (xiao), the respect and obedience of children toward their parents - for when all relationships between family members are in order, then society will also be orderly (Wong, 1998). Confucianism focuses on family and this value is instilled in most Chinese and being educated in this way; they value family to a high standard. Therefore, most Chinese are inclined towards Collectivism, as the people prefer group needs over their own personal needs (Hofstede, 1980). However, due to rapid economic development, trends show that individualism now tends to dominate the Chinese consumer market, particularly in the younger generations.
In concluding this report, considering the influence of global product flows, researchers have observed that, in today’s world, cultural products and the way of life in the developed world are affecting developing and developed countries. This is due to the contact of people through traditional media (e.g., television and film), and new media (e.g., the Internet, electronic social networking, and blogs). Similarly, the rituals of one culture are being adopted by those of other cultures (travel and shared experiences). Major forces of globalization are changing consumer culture and heavily influencing consumer behaviors towards the individualism trend.