The Impact of Cultural Symbols on Advertising Effectiveness: a Theory of Intercultural Accommodation

Jonna L. Holland, University of Nebraska-Omaha
James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
ABSTRACT - In a country experiencing increasing cultural diversity, the use of target marketing toward ethnic groups can generate strong emotions and controversy on occasion. We introduce a Theory of Intercultural Accommodation to explain differential reactions within an ethnic group to the use of cultural symbols in advertisements. We report the results of an exploratory study which provides partial support for key aspects of the theory.
[ to cite ]:
Jonna L. Holland and James W. Gentry (1997) ,"The Impact of Cultural Symbols on Advertising Effectiveness: a Theory of Intercultural Accommodation", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 483-489.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 483-489

THE IMPACT OF CULTURAL SYMBOLS ON ADVERTISING EFFECTIVENESS: A THEORY OF INTERCULTURAL ACCOMMODATION

Jonna L. Holland, University of Nebraska-Omaha

James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

ABSTRACT -

In a country experiencing increasing cultural diversity, the use of target marketing toward ethnic groups can generate strong emotions and controversy on occasion. We introduce a Theory of Intercultural Accommodation to explain differential reactions within an ethnic group to the use of cultural symbols in advertisements. We report the results of an exploratory study which provides partial support for key aspects of the theory.

As the world becomes more diverse and intercultural interactions expand, marketers are increasingly aware of the need to improve communication with groups from varying cultural backgrounds. How can marketers enhance communication by using the target group’s language, symbols, and cultural markers as a common backdrop without being patronizing or manipulative? This paper begins the process of providing empirical support for a framework which addresses this issue, the Theory of Intercultural Accommodation. It is based on Socio-linguistic Accommodation Theory, but is broader in scope. Similarity-Attractiveness research serves as a common underpinning to both. The purpose of the current work is to (1) outline briefly the key components of thetheory, and (2) provide empirical support for a critical portion of the overall model.

First, what is meant by "Intercultural Accommodation"? In this research, the term is used to indicate those efforts on the part of communicators to make themselves more similar to members of another cultural group in order to improve communication. In marketing, Intercultural Accommodation could be manifested at various strategic levels. For example, in marketing communications, the domain of accommodation behaviors would include such things as using spokespersons of similar ethnic background in advertisements, hiring ethnic salespeople, or using language, music, art, national flags or other cultural symbols as part of the brand or promotion. From a distribution perspective, accommodation behaviors might entail locating a retail outlet in the ethnic community, or franchising to ethnic proprietors. Intercultural Accommodation could also take place at the organizational level in areas such as minority hiring practices, or support of ethnic community causes or scholarships.

The term Intercultural is used to convey the idea that this communication is occurring across at least two cultures. In the United States, typically the organizational communication is originating in the dominant Anglo culture, and is targeted at one or more ethnic cultures, African-American, Hispanic-American, Korean-American, etc. Intercultural Accommodation involves communicators of one group borrowing cultural symbols from another group in order to appear more similar, enhance communication, and gain approval.

How does the presence of cultural symbols in an ad impact its effectiveness? What happens when customers react negatively to accommodation attempts, and what happens when they react favorably? The goal of this paper is to answer these questions and increase our understanding of Intercultural Accommodation. A critical portion of the model will be tested in the context of print advertising targeted to African Americans. First, a brief review of the existing literature on marketing to ethnic groups will demonstrate that these questions have not been addressed in research to date. Next, the Intercultural Accommodation model will be presented as a potential framework for filling these gaps. The hypotheses for one portion of the model will be developed and tested, followed by a discussion of the results of the experiment. And finally, the conclusion will provide directions for future research on this phenomenon.

PREVIOUS RESEARCH ON MARKETING TO ETHNIC GROUPS

A brief overview of previous research in North America on marketing to ethnic groups will serve as a frame for the current study. In general, work in this area can be divided into three eras. First, prior to the 1960s, ethnic groups were largely ignored. Ethnic groups were not considered to be viable market segments and there was no effort to target them or conduct research in this area (Kassarjian 1969). The second era began roughly in the mid-1960s and continued until about 1980. During this period, societal changes caused a reevaluation of the role of previously ignored consumer groups. As far as ethnic groups were concerned, marketers and researchers focused almost exclusively on African-Americans. Blacks began to appear more frequently and in higher status positions in advertisements (Kassarjian 1969). Research during this period was characterized by descriptive analyses of the differences between Black and White consumers in their consumption patterns, media habits, and reactions to advertising (Sturdivant 1973). Little attention was paid to other ethnic groups or to more fundamental questions such as why differences in consumption may exist, or what values may influence ethnic consumer’s reaction to marketing stimuli (Hirschman 1981a).

The third era of research on marketing to ethnic groups began in the 1980s and continues today. This stream of work hs been concerned more with a variety of ethnic groups and examines ethnicity from an emic, rather than etic, perspective. The more recent studies tend to examine the unique nature and situation of ethnic groups to form hypotheses a priori about why ethnicity may impact consumption behavior. These studies also focus on a wider variety of issues such as Acculturation (O’Guinn and Faber 1985; Penaloza 1994; Reilly and Wallendorf 1987), Situational Ethnicity (Stayman and Deshpande 1989), and the Strength of Ethnic Identification (Deshpande, et al. 1986; Hirschman 1981a; O’Guinn and Meyer 1983; Whittler, Calantone, and Young 1991).

These studies move beyond the descriptive and begin to reveal significant differences in consumption patterns and values between Anglo and ethnic consumers. For example, Stroman and Becker (1987) found differences in media usage between Black and White consumers, even after controlling for SES. Hirschman provided evidence for differences in hedonic consumption (1982), and novelty seeking, information transfer, and divergent processing ability (1981b) among a variety of ethnic groups. Webster (1992) demonstrated differences between high and low Hispanic identifiers in the relative influence of various advertising vehicles, word-of-mouth, and point of purchase displays. While most of these studies found differences between Anglos and the particular ethnic group of interest, many also found differences within the ethnic group, between strong and weak identifiers.

If there are differences in consumption patterns, response to promotional efforts, media habits, and even consumption values between Anglo and ethnic consumers, then a customized marketing mix appears justified. As mentioned earlier, ethnic target marketing is increasing, spurred by the growth in minority media and minority advertising agencies (Campanelli 1991; Delener and Neelankavil 1990), as well as by the realization that these consumption differences exist.

However, the primary gap in our understanding is the consumer’s response to targeting attempts. How does the consumer feel about marketers accommodating their culture? Ethnic target marketing has not been examined from the consumer’s point of view. We have no theory, models, or evidence to explain or predict how the consumer may respond to a targeted effort. It is generally assumed that the ethnic consumer will react favorably to a message targeted to his/her specific cultural group. Do we have evidence to support this assumption? This research seeks to address these issues, and contribute to our understanding of ethnic target marketing.

At this point in the analysis, what is needed is a theoretical foundation that will help us understand how the consumer may receive and react to targeted messages. We looked to socio-linguistics for research on communication between two cultures. The following section will review relevant literature to provide a theoretical foundation for the proposed model and hypotheses.

SPEECH ACCOMMODATION THEORY

Speech Accommodation Theory (SAT) emerged in the early seventies (Giles, Coupland, and Coupland 1991), and was grounded primarily in Similarity-Attractiveness research (Byrne 1961; Simons, Berkowitz, and Moyer 1970). Studies showed that as A becomes more similar to B, the likelihood is increased that B will favorably evaluate A. Developers of SAT focused on behaviors limited to the socio-linguistic domain (verbal and non-verbal behaviors) such as speech rate (Webb 1970), accent (Giles 1973), and length of utterance (Matarazzo, et al. 1968). When people were motivated to seek approval or improve communication, their speech patterns would converge, or become more similar to the other party’s. When a communicator wished to distance him/herself from the other, a pattern of divergence would emerge. This pattern of convergence and divergence is the basis of SAT.

SAT has been applied to settings as varied as health care, cout rooms, and bi-lingual education (Giles, Coupland, and Coupland 1991). Bell (1991) applied these concepts to the mass media and found that, although separated by place and often by time, communicators and audience members nonetheless participate in accommodation. Mass communicators obviously have the twin motives of winning the approval of their audience, and of communication effectiveness to justify their use of media. They accommodate their audience by using communication patterns that match those of the intended receiver.

SAT has frequently been used to understand communication patterns across cultures (Bourhis and Giles 1977; Giles, Taylor, and Bourhis 1973). This stream of research found support for the basic tenants of Speech Accommodation Theory; that is, when people want to enhance communication, they make an effort to adopt the language or speech patterns of the other party. When people want to discontinue communication, a pattern of divergence develops.

Extension of SAT to Promotion

In the context of intercultural communication, companies attempt to accommodate their targeted audience by adapting their messages to the receivers’ culture. They often go beyond merely matching their target’s speech or language styles, however, and use many aspects of cultural symbols to become more similar to and gain the approval of their audience. Despite the apparent applicability to target marketing, the only study in the marketing literature to draw on SAT research is Koslow, Shamdasani, and Touchstone (1994). The authors examined Hispanic consumers’ reactions to the use of Spanish in advertisements. They hypothesized that "for accommodation to occur, Hispanics must perceive the choice and use of Spanish in the advertisement as an indicator of the advertiser’s respect for the Hispanic Culture and desire to break down cultural barriers through reduction of linguistic dissimilarities" (Koslow, et al. 1994, p. 576). They measured ethnic identification, attitude toward Spanish, attitude toward English, perception of the advertiser’s awareness of Hispanic needs and respect for Hispanic consumers, and affective response to the ad. Their findings supported the usefulness of both SAT and Attribution Theories in understanding consumer response to advertising targeted to Hispanics. The use of Spanish language in advertising increased perceptions of the advertiser’s sensitivity to Hispanic culture, and this perception was positively associated with affect toward the advertisements.

Although the Koslow, et al. (1994) study makes a valuable contribution to the marketing literature by introducing Sociolinguistic Accommodation Theory to research on advertising effects, there are several areas unaddressed. The Koslow, et al. study examines the response of Hispanic consumers, and may not be generalizable to other ethnic groups. The aspect of accommodation under investigation is language use (English only, Spanish only, or a combination of English and Spanish); therefore, this study remains within the traditional linguistic domain of SAT. It does not examine other aspects of accommodation available in an advertisement, such as using cultural symbols or ethnic spokespersons. Koslow, et al. (1994) investigate both the affective consequences of the accommodation attempt, and the receiver’s attributions about the accommodation attempt. Although previous SAT research also found enhanced communication effectiveness and reciprocal behavioral responses as consequences of accommodation, Koslow, et al. (1994) do not measure these.

THE INTERCULTURAL ACCOMMODATION MODEL

The previous work in SAT and the work of Koslow, et al. (1994) provide support for the usefulness of Socio-linguistic Accommodation Theory in aiding our understanding of consumer response to targeted advertising; however, there remain several gas to be addressed. What is needed is an expanded theory that not only addresses the consumer’s affective and cognitive responses to accommodation, but also provides insight to the factors that influence the strength and type of reaction, as well as the consequences of that reaction. The following sections will provide the theoretical background for this expanded theory.

Accommodation Response

The central issue in this model is the consumer’s Response to an Intercultural Accommodation attempt. As indicated by the work of Holland and Ball (1995) and Koslow, et al. (1994), it is likely that consumers make attributions about the communicators’ motives for using cultural symbols in advertising. Recipients of such accommodation attempts may think that the use of ethnic actors or music in marketing communication is either a sign of respect, or an attempt to manipulate. However, it is also likely that the consumer’s attributions may lead to an affective response as well (Koslow, et al. 1994; Simard, et al. 1976; Weiner 1985). Therefore, the central concept in the model, the Consumer’s Response, is represented by two constructs; the cognitive component, Attributions, and the affective component, Affect.

Strength of Ethnic Identification as an Antecedent

A variety of antecedents may affect the intensity and the direction of the consumer’s reaction to the accommodation effort; however, the consumer’s strength of identification with his/her ethnic background is one of the most important. Many studies have documented variation in strength of ethnic identification among ethnic group members (Deshpande, Hoyer, and Donthu 1986; O’Guinn and Meyer 1983; Whittler, Calantone, and Young 1991). If people do not identify strongly with their ethnic group, it is unlikely that ethnic group membership will be a predictor of their behavior or response to an advertisement.

Ethnic group members who identify strongly with their heritage are likely to have a stronger emotional response to the use of their cultural symbols in marketing communications than those who identify less with their heritage. However, this response may be either positive or negative. Previous research has provided evidence that consumers do notice and respond to the use of ethnic cultural symbols in advertisements (Holland and Ball 1995; Koslow, et al. 1994). The following hypothesis seeks to test the link between the strength of ethnic identification and the affective response to such use of cultural symbols.

H1: People who identify strongly with their ethnic group will have stronger affective responses to the use of cultural symbols in advertisements.

Consequences

The proposed consequences of the consumer’s response to Intercultural Accommodation attempts are similar to those found in studies of Socio-linguistic Accommodation. Successful accommodation should result in more favorable evaluations of the communicator (Byrne 1969; Koslow, et al. 1994; Simons, Berkowitz, and Moyer 1970), improved communication (Matarazzo et al. 1968), and reciprocal accommodative behaviors (Simard, et al. 1976). Positive evaluative response from the consumer can be operationally defined as attitude toward the Ad and Attitude toward the Brand. Improved communication can be operationally defined as enhanced Message Recall.

Affect and Attitude toward the Ad. From the early 1970s, researchers have emphasized the importance of the consumer’s global evaluation of the advertisement as an indication of its effectiveness (Holbrook 1978 Mitchell and Olson 1981; Shimp 1981). The consumer’s feelings about the ad are often the primary determination of their attitude toward the advertisement. Brown and Stayman (1992) conducted a meta-analysis of 47 independent samples involving the Attitude toward the Ad construct published from 1981 to 1991. In the 17 studies (representing 1,882 observations) that focused on these two constructs, the corrected mean correlation between feelings and ad attitude was .54. Thus, under a variety of conditions and study types, the relationship between affective response and Attitude toward the Ad proved to be quite robust.

H2: Ad evaluations will be significantly correlated with affect.

Affect and Attitude toward the Brand. Brown and Stayman’s (1992) meta-analysis provided support for a strong direct, as well as an indirect, influence of Ad Attitude on Brand Attitude. Given the strong correlation between affect and Attitude toward the Ad, it is fairly safe to predict a relationship between affective response to an ad and Attitude toward the Brand.

In the context of ethnically targeted advertising, in fact, this correlation was found. Pitts et al. (1989) studied the relationship between actor’s race and viewer’s responses to an advertisement in the context of positive portrayals. The authors reported a positive correspondence between brand evaluations and affect when the actor was of the same race as the viewer. For positive affect resulting from the use of cultural symbols in the ad, similar results are expected in this study.

H3: When consumers experience a positive affective response to the use of cultural symbols in an advertisement, the direct correlation between Affect and Attitude toward the Brand will be stronger than for those who have a negative affective response or those who see advertisements with no cultural symbols.

Affect and Message Recall. The consumer’s affective responses to advertisements are likely to impact the cognitive processing of the ad’s message. Sujan, Bettman, and Baumgartner (1993) provided evidence that affective responses can interfere with cognitive processing of feature information. In their study, positive affect associated with autobiographical memories inhibited recall of product features presented in the message. The authors attribute this to the richness of autobiographical memories which act as a distracter to processing feature information. In the case of negative affect evoked by the use of cultural symbols in an ad, this is likely to hold as well. Negative affect, either due to negative attributions about the advertiser’s motives or as a direct reaction to the cultural imagery in the ad, will most likely generate strong emotions and inhibit cognitive processing of ad content.

H4: Negative affect resulting from the use of cultural symbols in advertisements will impede the effectiveness of advertisements as measured by feature recall.

However, in this context, based on Accommodation Theory, positive affect in response to the advertiser’s use of cultural symbols should enhance communication effectiveness and lead the viewer to reciprocal accommodative behaviors, such as paying more attention to the ad information. Therefore positive affect in response to the use of cultural symbols should improve cognitive processing of feature information in an ad. Some studies have found that positive affect may enhance recall. Contrary to the rationale provided by Sujan et al. (1993) discussed above, Whittler (1989) proposed that high identification Blacks would pay more attention to the Black spokesperson than to the product information presented in the ad copy. However, his study failed to support this hypothesis. Further, Schlinger and lummer (1972), and Szybillo and Jacoby (1974) found that positive affect enhanced recall. In these studies, Blacks showed better recall of ad content and had more positive affect toward the ad when Black actors were included in advertisements. We expect similar results to hold.

H5: Positive affect resulting from the use of cultural symbols in advertisements will enhance the effectiveness of ads as measured by feature recall.

In summary, Intercultural Accommodation, in the context of target marketing, is likely to evoke both affective and cognitive responses from the consumer. The intensity and direction of those responses are likely to be influenced by the consumer’s Strength of Ethnic Identification. The outcomes of the consumer’s response are likely to be affective, cognitive, and behavioral. The nature and intensity of the consumer’s response to the accommodation effort will affect his/her Evaluation of the company and its products, the effectiveness of the communication, and the consumer’s reciprocal accommodative behaviors. The preliminary model is depicted in Figure 1 below.

FIGURE 1

A PARTIAL MODEL OF INTERCULTURAL ACCOMMODATION

METHODOLOGY

An exploratory study was undertaken to test the validity of key aspects of the model. If the relationships among the constructs appear to hold in the limited domain, then further study can be justified. In the context of this study, Intercultural Accommodation was operationalized as print advertisements depicting symbols of African-American culture.

A between-subject, one-factor experimental design was used to test the hypotheses. Positive, negative, and control versions of an ad were developed to manipulate the affective responses to cultural symbols used in print ads. The dependent measure was the number of product features accurately listed in a free recall exercise.

Pretests

Three sets of ads were created, each with a positive, negative, and control version of themes developed to introduce a fictitious brand of portable CD player. The portable stereo was chosen as the advertised product based on the following research goals:

(1) The product category must be somewhat involving to increase the interest in the ad and copy.

(2) The product category must have numerous tangible features to prevent "guessing" on the feature recall measure.

(3) The product category must be applicable and affordable to all socio-economic groups.

Pretests were conducted with 26 African-American subjects from businesses and community groups similar to those used for the main data collection. Subjects were randomly assigned to only one ad from the pretest pool of six cultural symbol ads. All ads containd the same product shot and feature information. The ad theme with the highest separation of positive and negative affective responses was used. The chosen theme used two African-American male models depicted as jazz musicians in two types of clothing. The positive version was in typical "night-club" attire with a coat and tie, the negative version was in traditional tribal attire, no shirt, kente cloth, and headband.

Subjects and Procedure

One hundred-one African American subjects were recruited from community and business organizations. Two subjects, one in the control group, and one in the negative condition refused to complete the survey instrument. For the effective sample of 99, the average age was 36, ranging from 17 to 71. A wide range of socio-economic backgrounds was also represented with a mean income in the range of $15-20,000. Only 24% of the sample were students, and of the total, 49% were male, 51% female. Subjects were randomly assigned to each of three cells: cultural symbols positive (n=38), cultural symbols negative (n=32) and a control group with no cultural symbols (n=29).

Measures

Subjects first were asked to respond to four seven-point semantic differential scales to measure Attitude toward the Brand (low quality, high quality; not useful, useful; etc.) and a two-item scale to measure product category familiarity. These were followed by five semantic differential scales measuring Attitude toward the Ad (uninteresting, interesting; annoying, pleasant; etc.) and five measuring Affective response to the Ad (cold, warm; angry, contented; etc.).

At this point, subjects were asked to return the ad to the researcher so that it could not be referred to for the remaining measures. A four-item, seven-point Likert scale designed to measure attitude toward advertising in general (based on Boush, Friestad, and Rose 1994) was completed next. This was followed by an open-ended ethnic identification item, and five Likert scale items to measure strength of Ethnic Identification (Holland and Ball 1995). After providing demographic information, the respondents were presented with a surprise unaided feature recall listing exercise. The number of features of the stereo system correctly recalled served as the operationalization of ad effectiveness. Subjects were then debriefed and thanked for their participation.

TABLE 1

CRONBACH'S ALPHA

ANALYSIS AND RESULTS

The first step of the analysis was to calculate Cronbach’s alpha for the Likert scales to assess the quality of the measures. Table 1 presents the alpha coefficients for each scale. Two scales had low alphas: Strength of Ethnic Identification and Attitude toward Advertising. By deleting two items in the Ethnic Identification scale, alpha was improved from .65 to .81. The lowest alpha was for the Attitude toward Advertising scale, and could not be improved significantly through item purification. These internal reliability results are similar to those reported by Boush, Friestad, and Rose (1994), which indicate that the measure still contains an unacceptable level of error. In all other cases, the scales were fairly sound in their internal consistency reliability, therefore the next step was to test the manipulation of affect and the hypotheses.

Manipulation Check

A one-way ANOVA was conducted to test the effects of the use of cultural symbols on brand evaluations, evaluations of the advertisement, and feature recall. The affect measure was used as a manipulation check to verify that the two versions of use of cultural symbols did, in fact, differ in the type of affect evoked, as intended. The results of the manipulation check are provided in Table 2. As can be seen, the manipulation of Affect was successful. The significant omnibus F value was investigated by inspecting the results of the planned comparisons. These revealed that the mean affective response for the positive condition was significantly higher than the negative condition, but neither differed significantly from the control ad.

Hypotheses Tests

H1 states that respondents with stronger ethnic identification will have stronger affective responses tothe use of cultural symbols in ads as compared to weaker ethnic identifiers. The measure of the intensity of Affect was represented by how far the Affect ratings differed from neutral (a rating of four). This intensity measure was obtained by summing the responses to the five Affect items and subtracting the sum of all neutral responses (20). The absolute value of the summed Affect measure was expected to be correlated with Strength of Ethnic Identification, indicating that stronger ethnic identifiers also had stronger reactions to the ads. Affect and Strength of Ethnic Identification were significantly correlated at .17, providing support for H1.

H2 states that Attitude toward the Ad will be significantly correlated with affective response across all treatment conditions. For the control group, the correlation was .68. For the positive affect condition, the correlation was .83. And for the negative affect condition, the correlation was .78. These results provide strong support for H2.

H3 predicts that Affect and Attitude toward the Brand will be more highly correlated in the positive affect condition than in the control or negative affect condition. The correlations are .57 (positive), .55 (control), and .45 (negative). The correlations are not significantly different (p.>.05), but the direction is as expected, lending partial support for H3, with affect and brand evaluation being highly correlated in all conditions, and both positive and control conditions having higher correlations than the negative affect advertisement.

Hypotheses 4 and 5 predict differential impacts of Affect on ad effectiveness as measured by feature recall. Results of the one-factor ANOVA (Table 2) demonstrate that these hypotheses were not supported. This can most likely be explained by the low number of features recalled in any condition. Forty-three percent of the sample could not remember a single feature from the ad. This will be explored further in the discussion section.

Although no specific hypotheses were made, Attitude toward the Ad and Attitude toward the Brand were significantly impacted by the treatment conditions. These could be taken as substitute measures of the advertisement’s effectiveness. From these results, it can be seen that the negative portrayal resulted in significantly lower brand and ad evaluations than the positive condition, indicating that negative affect resulting from the use of cultural symbols in an ad reduce the consumer’s rating of that ad and the brand.

DISCUSSION

In general this study provided mixed results. The central measure of advertising effectiveness, recall, was disappointingly weak. This could be for a variety of reasons. First, it may be that people did not read the advertising copy. Perhaps this is an indication of the ineffectiveness of print messages in communicating feature information. If this is true, it should not be expected that use of cultural symbols in advertisements should have any impact on feature recall.

On the other hand, the weak performance of the recall measure could have been a result of its placement in the questionnaire. The unexpected recall measure was the last question on a 33-question survey. It was placed at the end for the purpose of allowing some time and distance between examining the ad for the Affect, Ad and Brand evaluation measures, and the feature listing exercise. Measures of Attitude toward Advertising and Strength of Ethnic Identification, as well as demographic questions, intervened. However, respondent fatigue may have been accentuated by the difficulty of a recall exercise. This may have led many respondents to give up rather than devote the cognitive effort required for recall. Future research should look at placing this measure earlier in the questionnaire, or should consider the use of an aided recall measure.

The findings that evaluations of the advertisement and of the brand were significantly affectedby the use of cultural symbols in the advertisement are important. It is reasonable to propose that the differential impact of positive and negative uses of cultural symbols in an advertisement on ad and brand evaluations is an indication of the impact on ad effectiveness. Cultural images that evoke negative affect can result in lowered brand evaluations. Ads with cultural images that evoke positive affect can significantly improve brand evaluations. Although these results are intuitively obvious, they reinforce the importance of cultural symbols as a determinant of consumer response. Further research should follow these findings with measures of intentions to buy, or preferably, measures of actual purchase behavior.

TABLE 2

MEAN AFFECTIVE RESPONSE, RECALL, ATTITUDE TOWARD THE AD AND ATTITUDE TOWARD THE BRAND AND RESULTS OF PLANNED COMPARISONS

The correlations between Affect and Ad evaluations, and Affect and Brand evaluations found in this study add to the existing research in this area. Supporting hypotheses 2 and 3, these results extend our knowledge into the domain of affective response to cultural symbols, an area where the impact of affect on ad and brand evaluations had not been tested. The support for H1 is an indication of the importance of segmenting cultural groups by strength of ethnic identification. When attempting to accommodate another group’s culture, care must be taken to understand the variations in strength of ethnic identity and its impact on the receiver’s response. In this study, group members who identified strongly with their culture had more extreme affective responses (both positive and negative) than their counterparts who identified less with their culture. The practical implication is that marketers may need to segment within ethnic groups; a message designed to appeal to ethnic roots may only reach a portion of the total group.

CONCLUSION

This study has contributed to our understanding of how ethnic consumers respond to targeted marketing communications. The findings add to the growing body of research on ethnic cultures and consumption. But more importantly, these results provide preliminary support for the validity and usefulness of Intercultural Accommodation Theory. The framework presented provides insight into how ethnic consumers respond to target marketing and the potential consequences of this response. This study attempted to validate a small but critical part of the overall model. Other aspects of the overall framework should be developed and validated to test the usefulness and predictive validity of the theory. The current results are limited to the domain of print advertising targeted to African Americans. Future research should test these constructs with other aspects of accommodation behavior and other ethnic groups.

As the demographics of the North American market continue to change, and as international marketing becomes increasingly vital to every business, expertise in communicating with groups of various cultures is becoming an essential marketing skill. Intercultural Accommodation Theory may provide a framework for analyzing and understanding the processes underlying the consumer’s response to these communication efforts.

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