A Comparative Content Analysis of Cambodian and Thai Print Advertisements

Sela Sar, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Kenneth O. Doyle, University of Minnestota-Twin Cities
ABSTRACT - Cambodian and Thai print advertisements were content analyzed to examine how content and advertising expression differed in the two countries and at two different time periods, 1995 and 2000. Analysis focused on traditional Western and emotional appeals and traditional Eastern and informational appeals. As hypothesized, Cambodian ads contained fewer emotional and Western appeals than Thai ads, while Thai ads were found to contain fewer informational cues and traditional Eastern appeals than Cambodian ads. Furthermore, the study found that in both 1995 and 2000 Cambodian ads were less influenced by Western appeals than Thai ads.
[ to cite ]:
Sela Sar and Kenneth O. Doyle (2003) ,"A Comparative Content Analysis of Cambodian and Thai Print Advertisements", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 223-229.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 223-229

A COMPARATIVE CONTENT ANALYSIS OF CAMBODIAN AND THAI PRINT ADVERTISEMENTS

Sela Sar, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Kenneth O. Doyle, University of Minnestota-Twin Cities

ABSTRACT -

Cambodian and Thai print advertisements were content analyzed to examine how content and advertising expression differed in the two countries and at two different time periods, 1995 and 2000. Analysis focused on traditional Western and emotional appeals and traditional Eastern and informational appeals. As hypothesized, Cambodian ads contained fewer emotional and Western appeals than Thai ads, while Thai ads were found to contain fewer informational cues and traditional Eastern appeals than Cambodian ads. Furthermore, the study found that in both 1995 and 2000 Cambodian ads were less influenced by Western appeals than Thai ads.

LITERATURE BACKGROUND

As the world shrinks, interest in empirical comparative communication analysis grows. Doyle (2001) presents a dozen studies of the meaning of money within and across prominent European and Asian cultures. The theme of this collection is that many of the people of the world differ in their financial values, attitudes, and behaviors, and in ways predicted by his (1999) model. The thrust of this literature is that there are important differences that influence how people in different cultures experience the material world and communicate those experiences to others.

In advertising, Hofstede (1980) studied work related values of men and women comprising the majority of the middle classes across different cultures in various developed and developing countries. The purpose of Hofstede’s study was to measure how advertising appeals differ between countries to reflect the various dimensions of cultural values in those countries. He found that advertising appeals strongly reflected the cultural values of the selected countries. For example, Hofstede found that countries that value collectivism (such as Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and India) employed more collectivism, masculinity, and power distance values in advertising appeals. While countries such as the United States, Finland, and France that value individualism employed more individual determinism in advertising appeals.

Belk and his associates (1985) studied cultural values in Japan and America. They found that even though evidence suggests the need for increasing Americanization in Japanese ads their studies revealed that deep-seated Japanese cultural values remain strong. For example, Belk and Brace found that Japanese ads stress status symbols, while American ads put more emphasis on individual determinism.

Biswas, Olsen, and Carlet (1992) found that French advertisements employed more emotional appeals, humor, and sex, while American advertisements used more informational cues. Graham, Kamins, and Oetomo (1993) found that German advertisers did relatively little to tailor their ads to foreign markets, whereas Japanese advertisers did relatively a lot. Thus, it would appear that different cultures communicate their advertising messages differently both in their home markets and in foreign markets.

In our particular area of geographical interest, Southeast Asia, Shultz and Tith (1997) researched consumer behavior and economic development in Cambodia, while Wongthada and Leelakalthanit (1997) researched consumer behavior and economic development in Thailand. The interpretation in Shultz et al. and Wongthada emphasized the probable effects of socio-political transition on advertising in Cambodia and Thailand.

The present study is a comparative content analysis of advertising expression in Cambodia and Thailand in the years 1995 and 2000. These two Southeast Asian countries are geographically adjacent and culturally similar, but at very different stages of economic development. For example, the literacy rate in Cambodia is about 56%, in Thailand, about 87% (Backhaus et al. 1994). The predominant languagesBKhmer in Cambodia, Thai in ThailandBare quite similar. Neither language uses either articles or subject/verb agreements, nouns and pronouns do not clearly distinguish either number or gender, and verbs do not distinguish either numbers or persons. But, like some American Indian languages (Doyle, 2000), both are highly contextual, and considerably more emotive and expressive than Western languages. Accordingly, both Cambodian and Thai people tend to be more subtle than Westerners, and rely on non-verbal and contextual cues when communicating (Keo and Chu, 1999). In terms of religion, Cambodia and Thailand are almost identical, they both practice Hanyana Buddhism. The political systems are also similar in both countries. They are both constitutional monarchies with the king serving as Head of the State. The king’s sovereignty in both countries is expected from the people and his constitutional power is exercised through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) and the Courts.

On the other hand, the two countries differ quite dramatically in economy and recent socio-political history. The Gross National Product (GNP) in Cambodia was $1,200 in 1995 and $1,666 in 2000; in Thailand the GNP was $5,500 in 1995 and $5,665 in 2000 (Global EDGE, 2000). Cambodia is just beginning to engage in international trade, and only recently has modern consumerism begun to emerge, then only in the major cities. Thailand, on the other hand, has been a partner in international trade since the 1970s, and has been supporting a vital consumer economy built on gold, gemstones, and other natural resources. Perhaps most important of all, Thailand has managed to sidestep the catastrophic political turmoilBexemplified in the atrocities of the "killing fields"Bthat decimated Cambodian society during the last decades of the twentieth century. Even after the end of the Pol Pot regime in 1979, the new Cambodian government was still not allowed to engage in free-market economic activities. In 1979, the new government instead adopted socialistic, centrally controlled ways of market management. The government did not interact with industrialized, democratic countries (western countries) for economic development purposes.

Between 1995 and 2000 the Cambodian government finally created free-market policies and started to expand its economic involvement with western companies. The new free market between the Cambodian government and western companies grew rapidly during this period. This period of time is perhaps the most dramatic in modern Cambodian history in terms growth and development.

The present study concentrates on traditional Eastern and traditional Western appeals and emotional and informational content. Traditional Eastern appeals in advertising reflect the extent to which advertising content relates to cultural values of either Cambodia or Thailand. Traditional Western appeals in advertising reflect the extent to which advertising content relates to Western cultural values. Emotionality in advertising reflects the extent to which ads rely on creating or building affect, or the "subjective impressions of intangible aspects of a product" (Holbrook, Morris, & O’Shaughnessy, 1984), as contrasted to informational appeals, which build on the logical and objective description of a product. Informational appeals in ads reflect the extent to which information is provided to allow the consumer to make intelligent choices among alternatives (Stern, Krugman, & Resnik, 1981).

TABLE 1

OPERATIONALIZATION DEFINITIONS OF TRADITIONAL , WESTERN, EMOTIONAL, AND INFORMATIONAL APPEALS

The value of a study of traditional Eastern and traditional Western appeals and emotional and informational expression in Cambodian versus Thai magazine ads is both practical and theoretical. Practically, it may generate insights that can help advertising professionals develop ads that are increasingly suitable to the target populations in these and similar non-western nations. Theoretically, it explores the influence of dramatic socio-environmental events and external pressures on the evolution of cultures, and the receptiveness of culture to such influences.

METHOD

Design. This is a traditional content-analysis study in a 2x2 factorial design. The four factors are traditional Eastern versus traditional Western and emotional appeals versus informational appeals. To operationalize traditional versus western appeals, 20 Thai and Cambodian students studying at a Midwestern university in the United States participated in a focus group in which they were asked to define the differences between traditional and western appeals. Subjective analysis of the discussion produced four principal attributes of Traditional appealsBArespectful," "patriotic," "moral," and "modest" (Table 1)Band four principal attributes of Western appealsBAsexy," "funny," "comfortable," and emphasizing "product/service convenience" (Table 1b). We created a five-point modified semantic differential scale for each of these attributes.

Instrumentation. To operationalize emotional versus informative, we used Plutchik’s abbreviated Mood Rating Scale (Stutts, 1982). This scale uses four adjectives selected from Plutchik’s longer checklist: "happy," "pleasant," "interested," and "surprised." We set these in five-point scales similar to the preceding. In addition, we selected four elements from Stern and Resnik’s "informativeness" classification (1978) and set these, too, in a semantic differential format: "Price/Value," "Quality," "Guarantees and Warranties," and "New Ideas." Table 1 includes descriptions of each of the 16 attributes that comprise our measures.

Stimulus Materials. We chose the three highest-circulation general and women’s magazines from each country, on the assumption that most consumer purchases were made by the kinds of people who read these magazines. Table 3 identifies and describes the six magazines. Twelve issues were selected for both periods 1995 and 2000 between May and June from each country’s magazines, resulting in a total of 24 issues examined.

We collected the ads for every personal and non-personal product that appeared in these issues. Personal products included shampoo, soap, body lotion, sanitary pads, and toothpaste; non-personal products included detergent, fabric rinse, and dishwashing liquid. This resulted in 15 ads from Cambodian magazines, and 20 from Thai.

Coding. Two Cambodian (one male and one female) and two Thai (one male and one female) coders completed our four rating instruments for each of the ads from their own country. The average rater-reliability coefficient for each instrument among Cambodian raters for Cambodian ads in 1995 were .84 for the traditional appeals, .85 for western appeals, .76 for emotional appeals, .78 for informativeness (see table 4 for the rest of the averages of the rater-reliability coefficients). The two coders from Cambodia were a 28 year old male graduate student, and a 30 year old female full-time employee in a large corporation. They are both fluent in English and Khmer. The two Thai coders were both undergraduate students, one male age 23 and one female age 24. They are both fluent in English and Thai.

TABLE 2

SCALING OR EVALUATION FOR CODERS

ANALYSIS AND RESULTS

Table 5 shows that the mean rating on Western Influence for Year 2000 ads was always higher than the mean rating for Year 1995 ads, and that the mean rating for Thai ads was always greater than the corresponding rating for Cambodian ads, p-values ranging from .05 to .001. From this we conclude that the coders saw the Thai ads as always more Western-influenced, more so in 2000 than in 1995. The strongest differences occur on "funny" and "convenience."

Table 6 shows that the mean rating on Traditional influence is, with one exception, always higher for the Cambodian ads, and always higher for Year 1995 than Year 2000, p-values ranging from .05 to .001. These results confirm the Table 6 results, and indicate that the Cambodian ads, especially the Year 1995 ones, are more traditional. The strongest differences are on "modesty" (1995) and "respect for the elderly" (2000). The one exception is the negligible difference on "modesty" (2000). From this we conclude that advertising appeals based on traditional values are generally decreasing.

Tables 7 and 8 show fewer clear patterns. Table 7 shows that Thai ads generally used more emotionality than Cambodian ads, and that both Cambodian and Thai ads generally used more emotionality in 2000 than in 1995. "Happy" decreased in both countries from 1995-2000. Roughly confirming this pattern, table 8 shows that Cambodian ads generally used more informative appeals than Thai ads in 1995 and perhaps in 2000, although the size of the differences is shrinking. Table 8 shows that "Price/value" decreased in Cambodia but increased in Thailand from 1995-2000.

DISCUSSION

This comparative content analysis of advertisement in popular Cambodian and Thai magazines shows clearly that Cambodian ads employed more appeals to Eastern traditional values and informational cues than Thai advertisements, particularly in 1995, and, conversely, that Thai ads employed more appeals to Western values and emotionality, particularly in 2000. The differences between cultures and time periods centered in sexuality and modesty, and to a lesser extent, humor (funny).

TABLE 3

MAGAZINES= TYPE AND ITS NAME

TABLE 4

INTER-CODER RELIABILITY

The findings suggest that there are not only general cultural factors and consumption patterns, and psychological characteristics that influence the process of print advertising in Cambodia and Thailand, but also other socioeconomic factors such as the political system, the level of economic development, and literacy rates influence the practices of advertising professionals and the preferences of consumers in these two adjacent and similar countries.

Although the findings were satisfactory with regard to the hypotheses, there were some limitations to this study. First, the sample of ads coded was relatively small. Second, the content analysis was conducted only with two coders for each country’ s ads, thus leading to a problematic interpretation of the data.

In the practical world of advertising, these findings may help advertising professionals gain some insight into the differences between the perceptions of Cambodia and Thailand’s consumers, and give insight as to the best approach in those seemingly similar but distinguishable advertising markets.

From a theoretical standpoint, these findings are consistent with Gramsci’s (1992) notion of hegemony, the intrusion of Western values and practices into developing nations. From this vantage, whether the intrusion is welcome or unwelcome, greater power exerts influence and control over the weaker power. When the intrusion is unwelcome, it is called "cultural imperialism" or "hegemony." When welcome, it is called "spontaneous consent" (Gramsci, 1992). But the findings are no less consistent with the more benign interpretation that, absent totalitarian and terroristic governmental oppression, increases in international communication leads developing nations to admire and choose to adopt Western values and practices, just like Western nations adopt values and practices from developing nations. Politics, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

TABLE 5

MEAN SCORES FOR WESTERN APPEALS OF CAMBODIAN AND THAI ADS FOR BOTH PERIODS (T-VALUE AND F-VALUE)

TABLE 6

MEAN SCORES FOR EASTERN TRADITIONAL APPEALS OF CAMBODIAN AND THAI ADS FOR BOTH PERIODS (T-VALUE AND F-VALUE)

TABLE 7

MEAN SCORES OF EMOTIONAL APPEALS FOR CAMBODIAN AND THAILAND ADS FOR BOTH PERIODS (T-VALUE AND F-VALUE)

TABLE 8

MEAN SCORES OF INFORMATIONAL CUES FOR CAMBODIAN AND THAILAND ADS IN BOTH PERIODS (T-VALUE AND F-VALUE)

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