Special Session Summary Advertising Meanings and National Consumer Culturesbeuropean Perspectives

S°ren Askegaard, Odense University
[ to cite ]:
S°ren Askegaard (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Advertising Meanings and National Consumer Culturesbeuropean Perspectives", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 675-677.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 675-677



S°ren Askegaard, Odense University


In an increasingly international or sometimes even global market scene characterized by more and more transnational media, the proliferation of advertisements across national borders adds a new dimension to the universe of narratives and imagery of foreign places and persons we are exposed to. It has become increasingly clear, that not only products, but also advertising messages have a country-of-origin. However, the interplay between advertising imagery and national cultural imagery has not yet been the topic of profound interpretive investigations.

While there is a recent movement towards a more comprehensive understanding of advertising imagery and rhetoric (e.g., McQuarrie and Mick 1996; Scott 1994a), with two exceptions only few studies have been published featuring the imagery attached to the persons featured in advertisement. The two exceptions are research on celebrities and gender roles. Images of celebrity endorsers and gender images are among the more thoroughly researched areas ithin consumer and advertising research (e.g., McCracken 1989; Stern 1993). And, from an information processing perspective, the effects of source credibility on persuasion has been a predominant research topic (e.g. Sternthal, Dholakia and Leavitt 1978).

At an 1997 ACR special session on empirical studies of advertising stories, one of the questions raised was "who speaks advertising?" (Mulvey and Stern 1997) Who are the advertising personae and how do these personae and the advertising setting influence the meaning construction of the message recipient? This session takes up such questions but adds a cross cultural dimension of imagery of foreign countries and places as well as a specifically European feature. The negotiation of meaning of national-cultural stereotypes in advertisements is interpreted in three different variations: a national (Swedish) stereotype interpreted by both the holders of this stereotype (Danes) and the stereotyped group; national (Danish) stereotypes interpreted in comparison with international (French) stereotypes by the in-group; and national (Scottish), supra-national (English, British), and international (rest-of -world) stereotypes interpreted by the in-group. This session thus explores how advertising imagery contributes to identity formation in a globalizing world, through the feature of as well in- and out-groups as well as other cues of the country-of-origin of ads.

Taking the conference theme "dialogue, difference, and delight" very seriously, we have tried to incorporate those in the session format. The dialogue will be pursued through the abolition of a session synthesizer and the introduction of a dialogue between the author(s) and the audience about (some of) the advertisement(s) used in the research projects prior to the presentation of the paper. This way, a dialogue based on the audience’s initial reactions to the advertising narrative will precede the presentation of the empirical findings in each case. A plenary discussion will conclude the session. The differences should appear both in terms of a transatlantic confrontation of European advertising styles and the, supposedly predominantly American, audience, but also as part of the various cultural representations and confrontations inherent in the three papers Danes vs. Swedes, Danish (North European) vs. French (Latin European), and British vs. "Global" and Scottish vs. English. Finally, the delight should be provided both by the creativity of the advertisements used, the cultural pluralism, and the hopefully fruitful amalgam of similarities and differences in the reading and the evaluation of the advertisements.

The session includes three papers. The first paper by Gertsen and Werther discusses Danish and Swedish consumers’ readings of and reactions to humorous stereotypical portrayals of Swedes in Danish advertisements. The authors take an interesting approach based on a combination of literary discourse analysis and intercultural communication rarely, if ever, seen within consumer research. An especially intriguing aspect of their study is the confrontation of Swedes with their own stereotypical portraits in advertising campaigns that can be seen in Sweden and which promote brands also for sale in Sweden. The second paper takes a different perspective on the classical gender imagery in advertising and consumer research. +stergaard compares Danish females’ reactions to Danish and internationally standardized ads for female underwear. He concludes that the stereotypical meanings pertaining to the "refined" vs. the "natural" play a decisive role in Danish women’s readings of foreign vs. domestic ads and thus for their potential role as identity formation vehicles. In the final paper of the session, Stephanie O’Donohoe takes up a similar discussion of the role of foreign vs. domestic ads for identity formation. This time, however, at a different level. She discusses readings of advertisements and formation of national identity among Scottish youth. Through a double dichotomy, British vs. rest of the world and Scottish vs. English, she demonstrates how negotiations of advertisement meanings construct identitiesat various levels in a world characterized by "glocalization", the simultaneous process of globalizing and localizing tendencies (Robertson, 1995).


McCracken, Grant (1989) "Who Is the Celebrity Endorser? Cultural Foundations of the Endorsement Process", Journal of Consumer Research, 16, December, 310-321.

McQuarrie, Edward F. and David Glen Mick (1996) "Figures of Rhetoric in Advertising Language", Journal of Consumer Research, 22, March, 424-438.

Mulvey, Michael and Barbara Stern (1997) "The Invisible Persona: "Who Speaks Advertising?" Paper presented at the Association for Consumer Research 1997 Annual Conference, Denver, CO October 16-19.

Robertson, Roland (1995) "Glocalization: Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity", in M. Featherstone, S. Lash and R. Robertson, eds., Global Modernities, London: Sage, 25-44.

Scott, Linda M. (1994) "Imagery in Advertising: The Need for a Theory of Visual Rhetoric", Journal of Consumer Research, 21, September, 252-273.

Stern, Barbara B. (1993) "Feminist Literary Criticism and the Deconstruction of Ads: A Postmodern View of Advertising and Consumer Responses", Journal of Consumer Research, 19, March, 556-566.

Sternthal, Brian, Ruby Roy Dholakia and Clark Leavitt (1978) "The Persuasive Effect of Source Credibility: Tests of Cognitive Responses", Journal of Consumer Research, 4, March, 252-260.



Martine Gertsen, Copenhagen Business School

Charlotte Werther, Copenhagen Business School

["And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Matthew 7:3.]

Our paper examines the representation of national culture in Danish TV and cinema advertising spots. Although some ads become more and more globally homogenous and standardized, there is at the same time an opposite tendency that an increasing number of ads hint at perceived national cultural differences in various ways, probably as a consequence of growing international exposure (e.g. Kelly-Holmes, 1996). Ads are a prominent type of text [We use this term in its broad sense as a linguistic form, temporarily and artificially separated from context for the purposes of analysis; cf. Cook, 1992.] in our contemporary culture and its discourse; they reflect and provide insight intoBamong other thingsBour sense of personal and group identity. Therefore, we find it interesting to to study how national cultural identity is constructed textually and contextually in ads explicitly addressing perceived national differences.

Most of the literature on intercultural communication focuses on relations between geographically distant cultures which are conspicuously different in terms of language, ethnicity, economic development, etc. It is often (sometimes implicitly) assumed that frequent interaction with and extensive knowledge of a given other culture will result in a more balanced, multi-facetted perception and consequently a tolerant, positive attitude (e.g. Landis and Bhagat, 1996). Still, negative stereotypes about our neighboring country Sweden and its inhabitants are regularly articulated in Danish media in different contexts, though contacts between Danes and Swedes are obviously frequent and though Sweden is very similar to Denmark in most political, demographic, ethnic, and societal respects. While the stereotypical ideas abot Swedes might thus appear somewhat surprising seen from a mainstream theoretical perspective on intercultural communication, their existence is well in accordance with part of the literature on identity which emphasizes the central role of close and well-known other groups in the construction of cultural identity (cf. Tajfel, 1978).

During the last couple of years a number of ads dealing with Swedes and "Swedishness" have been shown in Danish television and cinemas. They generally intend to be humorous by drawing on widespread Danish stereotypical notions of Sweden and its inhabitants. In our paper we will analyze the uses and functions of these notions in three selected spots advertising different products: a Danish national tabloid newspaper, a brand of crisp-bread produced in Sweden, and a brand of beer produced in Denmark.

Our method is comparative discourse analysis. This approach implies that we look at the ads not as isolated texts but as dynamic syntheses of texts and contexts. Language is important, but it does not create meaning alone. Since we are working with TV and cinema ads, we must necessarily take the medium into account by including moving pictures and sounds. And various contextual elements are crucial to the production of meaning. In the first part of our analysis, we identify, discuss and contextualize the specific stereotypical notions referred to in the ads and attempt to outline their societal and cultural backgrounds as well as their historical developments. We then look into a number of intertexts and other discourses that have a bearing on possible interpretations of the selected spots. We also aim at clarifying what the ads were (presumably) intended to do and relate it to their reception.

The empirical work is still ongoing. In order to find out how the ads are seen and interpreted by Danish viewers, we discuss them in a focus group and conduct semi-structured interviews about the respondents’ immediate reactions, associations, and evaluations. To put our reception analysis into an intercultural perspective, we carry out a similar interview with a Swedish focus group. This material forms the empirical basis of our discussion of the ads’ reception. Finally, we consider potential future developments regarding the use of perceived national differences as a theme in ads.


Kelly-Holmes, Helen (1996) "Cultural Convergence and National Stereotyping: The Future of Advertising in the United Europe", in A. Musolff et al. (eds.): Conceiving of Europe: Diversity in Unity, Aldershot: Darmouth, 97-108.

Landis, Dan and Bhagat, Rabi, S. (1996) "A Model of Intercultural Behavior and Training", in D. Landis and R.S. Bhagat, (eds.): Handbook of Intercultural Training, 2nd ed., Thousands Oaks: Sage, 1-16.

Tajfel, Henri (1978) Differentiation between Social Groups. Studies in the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. London: Academic Press.



Per +stergaard, Odense University

Traditionally lingerie advertisements have been made in such a way that a woman has been pictured wearing the product of the firm. Advertisements have only had very little textBoftn limited to a comment about the product’s name and product information. The woman has been pictured as a passive object which let herself be looked at. At the end of the 1980s, the lingerie brand Triumph changed its advertisements in Denmark. The slogan "Freedom to be the woman you are" was introduced and is still in use ten years later. The women in the advertisements were no longer merely passive objects but were about to pursue different activities in the home in which wearing only lingerie is more or less natural. In addition to the new picture composition, the advertisements were provided with a longer text reflecting upon the woman’s role in the post-feminist era. The theme evoked is the independent and strong woman who is also conscious about her feminine sides. It is pointed out that as a woman you can change roles and be both career-minded, sporty, and very feminine at different times.

This paper examines how Triumph’s advertisements are perceived in relation to traditional lingerie advertisements which in Denmark are original French versions used with no or very little adaptation. The data consist of essays from 30 women between 20 and 25 years old about 10 selected advertisements in which the Triumph advertisements make up half the sample. The length of the essays range from 3 to 9 pages. Based on a reading and interpretation of these essays, a number of categorizations have been created. The analysis indicates how Triumph’s advertisements are perceived as good because they give the reader the possibility of using lingerie as part of a definition of being a woman. The respondents feel that they often lack a place where they can be "real women". Triumph ads convey the construction of a female universe: a universe from which the masculine values, which they often have to take on in a career oriented workday, are excluded.

Furthermore, the lingerie in Triumph’s advertisements is perceived as natural. In a Danish context it is a positive label. Many of the (French) traditional advertisements with a passive woman are perceived as unnatural or artificial, meanings which in a Danish context are very negative. Unlike a Southern European context, the "cultural" and "refined" is not as readily appreciated in a Danish context. The lingerie from Triumph is perceived as erotic but not vulgar. The erotic aspect in Triumph is primarily directed at the woman herself, while it for other brands is perceived as something to be used to be sexual in relation to a man.

Through this investigation, we learn that a product like lingerie can have other meanings to the consumers than we traditionally expect. The respondents’ interpretations show that, e.g. lingerie today have several functions for the woman’s construction of her identity. These include functional aspects, but also a variety of sexual meanings, which are directed towards the woman as object for the man. Furthermore, there is a function in the lingerie not found in the existing literature; that it can help construct a feminine universe for the female consumer. This universe is an imaginary space in which feminine sides can be expressed beyond the masculine demands of the workday and the man’s sexual gaze. In the present context Triumph seems to represent an ideal stereotype of a "natural woman" in Denmark which in this cultural setting is the equivalent of being a "real woman".



Stephanie O’Donohoe, The University of Edinburgh

Accompanying the rise in global markets has been an expanding body of research examining country-of-origin effects on consumer perceptions of products and services (Zhang 1997). Within this literature, however, the images and connotations associated with products and their origins tend to be examined at a relatively superficial level (Askegaard and Ger 1998). This paper considers issues related to the country of origin of advertisements. Specifically, it explores the meanings of ads from different coutries for young Scottish consumers, and the ways in which those meanings were drawn upon in the development and maintenance of a sense of national identity. The paper draws on a qualitative study (involving small group discussions and individual interviews) of young adults’ everyday advertising experiences.

Two main themes emerged from the young adults’ discussions of ad origins. Firstly, the ease with which informants drew on a wide range of cues to identify their country of origin, and the critical way in which they evaluated those cues, lends support to the notion of consumers as advertising literate, as agile and active readers of advertising texts (Scott 1994). Literacy does not refer simply to a neutral set of skills, however, but to how, why, and in what context those skills are applied (Maybin 1993). Consumers are socially and culturally situated individuals seeking to make sense of their lives, identities and relationships, and ads provide symbolic resources to be used for those purposes (McCracken 1987; Mick and Buhl 1992). In this study, the young adults’ accounts indicate that advertising has a role to play in the development and maintenance of national identity. For example, when they compared "British" ads with those from other countries (most notably America), they often exuded an air of superiority, aligning themselves for example with British wit, subtlety and aversion to blatant commercialism. They were also very conscious of differences between "Scottish" and "English" ads, however, and their relationship with these categories was quite complex and ambivalent. Some "Scottish" ads certainly appeared to provide symbolic resources for affirming and celebrating their Scottishness, but they had little time for advertisers who tried pandering to such sensibilities by adding Scottish voice-overs to "English" ads broadcast in Scotland. Many "Scottish" adsBparticularly those with low budgetsBengendered embarrassment or a sense of national self-deprecation. However, informants also spoke of economic discrepancies between Scotland and England, and thus some criticisms of Scottish ads were mitigated by a desire to defend the underdog, and by implication, themselves. The paper concludes by considering the implications of the findings for advertising theory and for the planning of international advertising campaigns.


Askegaard, S°ren and Gnliz Ger (1998), "Product-Country Images: Towards a Contextualized Approach", in B. Englis & A. Olofsson (eds.) European Advances in Consumer Research, vol. 3, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, in press.

Maybin, Janet, ed., (1993) Language and Literacy in Social Practice, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

McCracken, Grant (1987) "Advertising: Meaning or Information?", in Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson (eds), Advances in Consumer Research, vol. 14, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research

Mick, David Glen, and Claus Buhl (1992) "A Meaning-based Model of Advertising Experiences", Journal of Consumer Research, 19, December, 317-338.

Scott, Linda M. (1994b) "The Bridge from Text to Mind: Adapting Reader-Response Theory to Consumer Research", Journal of Consumer Research, 21, December, 461-480.

Zhang, Yong (1997) "Country-of-Origin Effect: The Moderating Function of Individual Difference in Information Processing", International Marketing Review, 14:4, 266-287