Special Session Summary Marketing Communications and Ethnicity


Elaine Leong (1996) ,"Special Session Summary Marketing Communications and Ethnicity", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Russel Belk and Ronald Groves, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 105-106.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1996      Pages 105-106



Elaine Leong, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia


Marketers are continually communicating with consumers, either by means of planned, more controlled communication forms such as media advertising; or unintentionally by way of consumer perceptions of specific marketing actions, or even words used by the service personnel. The purpose of this special session is to present recent findings on both planned and unplanned marketing communications that affect the marketers’ relationship with the consumer. This session comprises of four papers, each aiming to further our knowledge on marketing communications.

Marketers are becoming increasingly aware of ethnic group differences and the implications that such differences have on marketing. While there has been, for a long time, an appreciation of cross-national differences, intra-national ethnic differences are also becoming a more prominent issue. Immigration has changed the socio-cultural makeup of many countries. The first paper, by Ellen Touchstone and Scott Koslow, examines the effects language usage (in a customer service context) has on minority ethnic consumers’ perceptions, comparing both the information and symbolic aspects of language usage. The second paper, by Douglas Holt and Elaine Leong, describes how a new interpretive techniqueBthe reading profileBis used to examine the interpretations of an advertisement by different ethnic groups.

The use of humour in advertising is very widespread. Yet, past and current research examining humour in advertising has not systematically examined stimulus characteristics and responses to the stimulus. The third paper, by Carolyn Costely, reports on meaningful existing measures on the effects of humour in advertising. The author also proposes some criteria to use in measuring the effects of humour in advertising.

In the final paper of the session, Marilyn Jones looks at an ignored area of marketing communications, and reports on what marketers’ actions are considered irritating by consumers, and how these irritating actions affect consumers’ thinking, feelings and behaviour.



Ellen Touchstone, California State University

Scott Koslow, University of Waikato

Interest and research into ethnic subcultures has been increasing in recent years, but in large part researchers have focused their attention on the effects of using specific subcultural symbols in promotional campaigns. Although we increasingly understand the symbolic role of some promotional executional factors (eg, ethnic languages or spokespersons), less emphasis has been on the informational role language usage plays in customer service encounters. For example, when minority ethnic consumers participate in complex customer service encounters they often lack the language skills necessary to obtain the services they need and it is not clear what kinds of inferences they draw from these situations. The present study examines the effects language usage has on minority ethnic consumers’ perceptions, by comparing both the information and symbolic aspects of language usage. For example, this study suggests that the confusion ethnic consumers sometimes feel may lead to inferences of perceived discrimination by retailers. Likewise, the positive effects felt at a symbolic level are consistent with the accommodation framework investigated in the authors’ previous work. The authors conclude that symbolic and informational language usage have unique effects that need to be considered separately.



Douglas Holt, Penn State University

Elaine Leong, Edith Cowan University

This presentation reports on a pilot study that uses recent theoretical advances in cultural advertising theory to describe ethnic group differences in the interpretation of an ad (what we term "ad reception" or "ad reading"). While cross-national cultural differences in ad reception is clearly an important issue, intra-national ethnic differences are also becoming increasingly important in advertising research as expanding immigrant flows and declining birth rates of those of European descent have lead to ethnically heterogeneous populations in many Western nations. Given that different ethnic groups often share the same media, it is critical to be able to analyse whether ads are read similarly by these culturally diverse audiences.

In consumer research, cultural differences in ads are typically described through comparative content analyses of samples of ads that have been produced for different cultural groups. The analyst(s) seeks to describe systematic differences in the ads’ contents, which are then attributed to cultural differences between the populations from which they’re drawn.

While this type of analysis has yielded many interesting findings, there is an inherent theoretical weakness to this approach that has recently been highlighted by the introduction of reader-response theory into consumer research (primarily by Linda Scott and David Mick). Contemporary literary theory demonstrates that ads structure a variety of meanings (ie they are polysemic) and so, specific meanings for an ad are produced by the audience as they read the ad’s signs and rhetorical figures using the specific cultural resources they bring to the interpretation. This is quite different from content analysis, which assumes that meaning is located "in" the ad and so, can be extracted by the analyst. These insights suggest that to satisfactorily describe cultural differences in ad meaning, it is necessary to describe the interpretations that culturally diverse audiences make. This study makes use of a new interpretive technique C the reading profileC that systematically describes patterns of meaning that an audience generates for a particular ad. The technique involves data elicitation through unstructured written essays about an ad, interpretive category development through grounded theory-style methods (guided by a framework developed from literary and cultural theory), and then a frmal content analysis of the data.

Nowhere is the issue of ethnic group differences in ad reception more central than in Australia, which has one of the largest immigrant population of any Western country. In this study, we use the reading profile to describe cultural differences in the interpretation of a McDonald’s ad (recently broadcasted nationally in Australia) across three important ethnic groups: Anglo-, Italian-, and Chinese-Australians. We demonstrate that there are systematic differences in the interpretations of these groups that we link to historical differences in cultural understandings. We conclude the presentation by developing a future research agenda for using the reading profile to describe cultural differences in ad reception.



Carolyn Costely, University of Waikato

The two purposes of this review are to establish some criteria for what to measure when studying the effects of humour in advertising and to report on suitable existing measures. Past advertising research on humour has provided bits and pieces of knowledge. For instance, we know that humour attracts consumers’ attention but seems not to affect persuasion. Advertising researchers are just now embarking on systematic studies of the effects of humour.

Programmatic research requires a framework of advertising effects such as that proposed by MacInnis and Jaworski (Journal of Marketing 1989). Humour research should systematically examine stimulus characteristics and responses to the stimulus besides marketing consequences (ie brand attitude). Stimulus measures should capture properties of the stimulus thought to elicit humour responses. In particular, towards learning the effects of different humour types, stimulus measures should assess the presence (or degree of presence) of classification characteristics. Speck’s taxonomy (Current Issues and Research in Advertising, 1991), for instance, posits incongruity-resolution, arousal-safety and disparagement as the dimensions underlying humorous communications. Alternatively, Ruch’s classification (Advances in Personality Assessment 1992) claims incongruity, resolution and sexual content as the defining characteristics. Whether as a manipulation check of an independent variable measure, researchers need to assess the extent to which their humorous stimuli possess these theoretical characteristics. Wicker and colleagues (Journal of Research in Personality, 1981) devised a scale that seems to capture many of those characteristics. Advertising researchers typically use judges’ assessments that a stimulus has humorous intents. Variations on this procedure may be worthwhile.

Like others assert for emotional responses, humour responses are likely to mediate the relationship between the stimulus advertisement and outcomes that interest marketers. The MacInnis and Jaworski model specifies both cognitive and emotional responses as mediators. Various attempts to develop comprehensive measures of emotional responses find three response dimensions remarkably similar to the three dimensions that Ruch and Rath found for humour responses (Humor, 1993). Interestingly, Ruch and Rath tried to incorporate both cognitive and emotional responses but found that they loaded on the same factors. Whether humour elicits cognitions distinct from emotional reactions deserves additional attention. Also worth more thought is the degree to which the general emotional reaction measures adequately capture multiple dimensions of humour response.



Marilyn Jones, Bond University Australia

Conversations with consumers and marketing students often evoke questions about the ethics or purpose of marketer behaviours they consider irritating. In an era where marketers are increasingly concerned about consumers’ avoidance of advertising, declining brand loyalty and consumer satisfaction, little has ben done to learn what specific marketer actions are most irritating to consumers. We also do not know how these activities affect consumer thoughts, emotions and actions.

Much existing research focuses on satisfaction and dissatisfaction with specific goods and services after consumers have an opportunity to compare the performance of the good or service to their expectations about its attributes. More recently, Westbrook (1987) has introduced the idea that emotional responses follow product experiences and these also affect satisfaction levels.

Other research in this area (Hunt, Hunt and Hunt 1988) has investigated consumer grudge holding and found that consumers do hold grudges (some for as long as 20 years). The degree of emotional upset was a condition for grudge holding and grudge holding could more often be ascribed to the treatment received than to the performance of the product.

Using the idea that thoughts evoke emotions and that people often act on their emotions, this is an exploratory study that reports 1) what aspects of marketing consumers most find irritating; 2) the thoughts, emotions and actions associated with these aspects of marketing; and 3) relationships among these reactions and between subject measures and these reactions.



Elaine Leong, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1996

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