Germanybfrance: Different Advertising Stylesbdifferent Communication Concepts

ABSTRACT - The objective of the following paper is to outline differences in advertising communication between France and Germany. The study reveals the existence of two different advertising styles: the French style tends to be more implicit and seductive mainly drawing upon the imagination, whereas the German style resorts to direct, explicit communication putting forward product benefits. The results of the study should contribute to a better comprehension of consumer behaviour, while also suggesting further research in other fields of communication, e.g. interpersonal business relations, the press and television, in order to identify two different, and generally valid communication concepts for both countries.


Michael Schroeder (1993) ,"Germanybfrance: Different Advertising Stylesbdifferent Communication Concepts", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 77-83.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 77-83


Michael Schroeder, ESCP, France

[The author likes to thank Mr. Dussart for his valuable comments.]


The objective of the following paper is to outline differences in advertising communication between France and Germany. The study reveals the existence of two different advertising styles: the French style tends to be more implicit and seductive mainly drawing upon the imagination, whereas the German style resorts to direct, explicit communication putting forward product benefits. The results of the study should contribute to a better comprehension of consumer behaviour, while also suggesting further research in other fields of communication, e.g. interpersonal business relations, the press and television, in order to identify two different, and generally valid communication concepts for both countries.


For nearly two decades the debate about the globalization of advertising preoccupies professionals and researchers around the world. This becomes evident when studying the rising number of publications and seminars organised in this field (Hite, Fraser 1988, King 1988; Tostmann 1985; Mattelart 1990; James and Hill 1991). It seems that no acceptable compromise has been found between those who advocate global advertising backed by some successful practical examples, and those who are in favour of a more national or even regional orientation of the latter. One of the main elements in this discussion concerns the impact of national culture on advertising and thus on consumer behaviour.

Despite the rising interest in the link between national culture and advertising, very little empirical data is available, mainly covering the United States and other Anglo-Saxon countries (King 1988; Dowling 1980). In addition, comparative studies often prove to be insufficient because they only analyze one aspect (King 1988; Weinberger and Spotts 1989; Resnik and Stern 1977, 1991; Bonnal 1989), without taking into account the complexity of national culture and its effects on advertising. Finally, there are no empirical studies available that deal with the specifically German and French context. Research work that has been published up to know (Jacquemot 1982; Hall 1984; Bonnal 1989; Schroeder 1991) is only based on general impressions without sufficient depth.

In this respect, the purpose of this paper is to partly fill this gap by presenting a comparative analysis of advertising in Germany and France, taking a particular interest in the impact of national culture. Furthermore, it will become clear that both countries have different communication concepts that emerge not only in advertising, but in all other fields concerned by communication, for example interpersonal relations, the press and communication through television programs.


Theory and research dealing with the relation between national culture and advertising are poor. We will therefore refer to theoretical approaches and reflexions which are mostly taken from the field of intercultural communication. The objectives of this chapter are the following:

1. to illustrate the complex and manifold relation between culture and communication

2. to identify possible differentiation criteria for the comparison between advertising styles in both countries.

- Different function of advertising

It is interesting to start with a comparison of definitions found in academic marketing and advertising literature. We think that they may already reveal different functions of advertising. We analyzed a certain number of definitions and made the following observations: Whereas the German definitions nearly all resort to coldly factual descriptions of the role and nature of advertising (Meffert 1982; Tietz 1989) which mainly are: attempt to change consumer behaviour in favour of the product and communication of product benefits, still many French definitions point to the aspect of seduction as the major element (Brochand and Lendrevie 1985; Leduc 1969).

The following definitions may serve as examples for the specifically French way of interpreting advertising:

"Advertising is the flower of life, it is proof of man's optimism and happiness, it distracts the eye and the spirit. This is the most cordial way for mankind to express vivacity" (Leduc 1969).

"Advertising tries, first of all, to be attractive and seductive, the real nature of advertising is seduction" (Brochand and Lendrevie 1985).

Following the review of definitions, a careful conclusion can be drawn saying that French advertising, apparently, has the role to seduce its viewers. This also becomes evident when considering the importance of imagination, dreams, ambiance and esthetics in French advertisements (Hall 1984; Schroeder 1991). In this context it is not surprising to hear Jacques STguTla, President of the French advertising agency RSCG, saying in a television interview recently that "..advertising is a wonderful factory of dreams". Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that women play a major role in French advertising (Keyserling 1965; Mendel 1991). They very often represent the world of seduction, desire and beauty that are very important in this country.

German advertising, on the contrary, tends to have a major role to inform, to communicate about product information (Hall 1984). In this respect, it reflects a more explicit, tangible way to deal with the product. A recent study (Bonnal 1989) confirms the two different functions of advertising in Germany and France: the former is oriented towards product information and the latter is oriented towards seduction. The magazine The Economist (1989) has analysed diverse studies about cultural differences in advertising and comes to the following conclusion as far as France and Germany are concerned:

"French advertisements play on sex and style, German advertising resorts to coldly factual headlines".

The overall importance of product information in Germany may also be a consequence of business hours which are much more restricted than in France (66 hours versus 100 hours per week in France). German advertising must therefore supply more product information beforehand (Jacquemot 1982).

As previously indicated, studies have already been carried out between other countries than France and Germany referring to the information content of advertising as the principal criterion of comparison (Weinberger and Spotts 1989; Resnik and Stern 1977, 1991). Taking into account the above-mentioned remarks it would be interesting to analyze the aspect of information content in the specifically French-German context.

- Hall's concept of high-and low-context cultures

The second source to descibe differences between French and German communication goes back to Hall's theory about intercultural communication (Hall 1979). Hall defines two different cultures of communication, high-context and low-context cultures. In a high context communication, the major part of the message is in the physical context or internalized and only a very small part of the information is transmitted in the coded and explicit message. In a low-context communication, however, the major part of the information is transmitted in the explicit code (Hall 1979). Communication in a country having high-context can be defined as mentioned below:

"When talking about something they have on their minds, a high context individual will expect his interlocutor to know what's bothering him so that he doesn't have to be specific. The result is that he will talk around and around the point, in effect putting all the pieces in plan except the crucial one" (Hall 1979).

A high context individual tends to communicate in a more indirect, implicit way frequently using allusions and innuendos. The other culture, the low-context culture, is more oriented towards explicit communication, towards clear, direct messages without using ambiguity. France belongs to those countries having high-context, Germany, on the other hand, is a more low-context country (Hall 1979, 1984). According to Hall, the concept of low- and high-context cultures is applicable to all fields of communication which necessarily includes advertising. These two concepts which are in total opposition, help to explain a large number of misunderstandings that still exist in French-German business relations (Herterich 1990; Schulte 1990).

These findings are coherent with another theory in intercultural communication (Gudykunst 1988b) which differentiates between direct and indirect communication. Here, the difference refers to the extent speakers reveal their intention through explicit verbal communication. Direct communication is explicit communication which uses straightforward language without creating ambiguous situations, whereas the indirect style is based on more implicit communication. In the following we will try to verify Hall's and Gudykunst's differentiation on the level of advertising communication.

- Instrumental versus affective communication

Previous research shows another differentiation as to intercultural communication styles (Gudykunst 1988a). Whereas the above mentioned findings mainly point out the different character of communication messages, this study emphasises differences in the nature of interpersonal communication processes. A distinction is made between the instrumental and the affective style. The instrumental style is sender-oriented and goal-oriented and relies heavily on the digital level to accomplish goal objective. On the other hand, the affective style is receiver-oriented, process-oriented and relies heavily on the analogic level to negotiate relational definition and approval. The following analysis should therefore reveal the extent to which these two communication concepts can be applied to the French-German advertising context.

- Transactional analysis in an intercultural context

Finally, we refer to the transactional analysis, frequently used in psychotherapy (Lenhardt 1980; Berne 1983; BerthTlTmy 1980). The transactional analysis has already served to better understand consumer behaviour towards advertising (Lambert 1980) in France, but has not yet been used for comparative studies in advertising. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the transactional analysis can help to illustrate assumed differences in advertising communication between both countries.

The essence of the transactional analysis relevant for this study can be summarized as follows:

Each individual is composed of three states of mind that together make up his personality and determine his relationship with other individuals. The characteristic elements of each state are listed below (Berne 1983):

- Parent : norms, authority, responsibility, protection

- Adult : objectivity, rationality, exchange of facts

- Child : spontaneity, emotion, rebellion, intuition, creativity.

If we follow the concept of the transactional analysis, a more factual communication style corresponds to the characteristics of communication at the adult level. On the other hand, a spontaneous, emotional communication style is in line with communication at the child level. Bearing these levels in mind, we will show, the extent to which differences in advertising communication between France and Germany can be illustrated.


The review of publications and theories suggests the formulation of three hypotheses which will be examined in the study. These hypotheses are the following:

H 1: German advertising contains more product information than French advertising.

H 2: Communication style is more direct, more explicit in Germany than in France.

H 3: Communication in French advertising is more personalised and affective than the German style which tends to be more factual and instrumental.



The results are based on the analysis of 86 German and 92 French advertising spots recorded simultaniously in both countries from September 6-14, 1990 at prime time between 6 pm and 8.30 pm on ARD and ZDF (Germany), TF 1 and Antenne 2 (France). The advertisements have deliberately not been classified in product categories in order to be able to draw generalisable conclusions.

The comparison has been carried out in two steps:

1. analysis of easily qantifiable data, for example: length of advertisements, number of personalised messages and information content.

2. analysis of qualitative data, for example: different advertising styles, use of non-verbal communication. In order to obtain satisfactory results the author compared examples of advertisements of the same product or, if not possible, out of the same product category.



Formulation of evaluation criteria

The underlying evaluation criteria for the above mentioned hypotheses cannot always be measured easily, especially as far as H. 2 and H. 3 are concerned. For these two hypothe-ses, no previous empirical data is available. Thus, we have defined the following criteria:

H: 2 To determine the extent to which differences between direct and indirect communication can become manifest, two criteria are formulated:

- the way in which socially sensitive topics and products are presented,

- if non-verbal or implicit communication is used or not.

Both criteria will be illustrated with the help of examples from the sample.

H. 3 Differences between the affective and instrumental style can be shown with the help of a quantifiable criterion:

- how often do ads contain personalised messages that adress themselves explicitely to the viewers. We assume that a high score indicates the existence of a more affective communication style.

With regards to H. 1, we applied the evaluation criteria already used in previous studies (Resnik and Stern 1977; Weinberger and Spotts 1989), The evaluative criteria for information content used are the following: (1) price or value, (2) quality, (3) performance, (4) components or contents, (5) availability, (6) special offers, (7) taste, (8) packaging or shape, (9) guarantees or warranties, (10) safety, (11) nutrition, (12) independent research, (13) company-sponsored research, (14) new ideas.


In the following chapter we will examine, through the three hypotheses, the differences between French and German advertising. In addition, we present results of the study that do not match with the three basic hypotheses but provide, nevertheless, interesting observations.

Information content in French and German advertisements

The quantification of information content with the help of the above-mentioned evaluation criteria was a major problem since product information can reveal itself in different ways : image, verbal communication, symbols, etc. Another problem was to clearly differentiate between product information and information which only contributes to the setting, the atmosphere. In taking these difficulties into account the following figures have to be interpreted with precaution.

The results (see table 1) reveal two interesting aspects: firstly, a German advertisement contains on average more product information than the French one (3.94 versus 2.40 items); secondly, more than a third of the examined German spots contain more than 5 items which in contrast only go for 5.4 % of the French advertisements.

Direct and indirect communication

We were able to identify two major aspects that came up in a number of advertisements. The first is to see how advertisements deal with socially sensitive or unpleasant topics like tampons, AIDS, bleeding from the gums, cleaning of dentures. The sample examined contains both French and German advertisements dealing with these four topics. The second is to analyze the importance of non-verbal or implicit verbal communication, e.g. allusions, ambiguous expressions and interpersonal games (Berne 1989).

- Two different manners to present socially sensitive topics or products

Apparently, there are two ways of presenting socially sensitive topics and products in French and German advertising. The following examples illustrate the existence of two completely different approaches towards the same products or topics. The German approach indeed, tends to be more direct and explicit than the French:

Example 1:

Two advertisements (Blend-a-dent-Express, Polident) deal with the same denture cleaning product. In Germany a denture itself is shown dirty and clean after the treatment in a water glass, whereas in France the denture can only be vaguely seen (clean).

Example 2:

Two advertisements show female tampons (OB, Nett). The German spot clearly points out four product benefits (most used in Germany, adaptability, absorption capacity, availability of different sizes). The French ad, on the other hand, does only show a nice setting with images that could have been taken from a dream and the packshot in the end. Finally, the images are accompanied by background music, by a song in which the singer sings about the softness in general ("..alors si douce..") without directly referring to the product.

Example 3:

The third example concerns toothpaste advertising (blend-a-med/blend-a-myl).The ad has originally been designed for the German market but then has been transferred to France as well with some essential modifications. In the German ad a toothbrush is shown with blood on it and an oversized tooth that falls out of a set of teeth because of paridontitis. Both sequences do not appear in the French version. In this context, it is interesting to state that French viewers to whom the German ad was presented always reacted with disgust to these two scenes.

Example 4:

The last example concerns AIDS. Whereas French ads tend to banalize the illness in presenting laughing couples playing with condoms, the German ad in the sample is very serious, linking the illness to moral questions like faithfulness. The German ad reflects a very depressing ambiance in which a couple tries to talk again after extramarital adventures.

- Use of non-verbal or implicit communication

The French advertisements in the sample reveal a frequent use of non verbal and implicit communication while the German ads tend to be more explicit. This applies especially to male-female relations in which sexual allusions are quite common in France. The following examples represent ads that are characteristic of the French approach. The more explicit, fact-oriented German advertising style has already been pointed out above. It seems that German advertising does not leave any space for ambiguous communication especially in sexual terms.

Example 1:

Advertising for washing powder (Persil Ultra). German advertising points out product benefits alone, presented through female witnesses. The French ad, however, contains less product information but shows a conversation of a male and female person in which sexual allusions are made. In the ad a woman sees her husband coming back from a visit to their female neighbour.

Example 2:

Advertisement of the Peugeot 205 Garce in France. This ad is nearly exclusively non-verbal, showing a couple that separated after having an argument. In the next phase the pretty woman takes off with a plane seeing her boyfriend who tries to impress her with his Peugeot on the ground. One becomes aware rather quickly that the girl "plays" with her boyfriend using body language, gesture and mimic art. No word is said about the product.

Instrumental and affective style

The third hypothesis mentioned above suggests that the nature of interpersonal communication may be different in French and German advertisements. It has already been pointed out that qualitative criteria in advertising are difficult to measure.

A general observation of the ads in the sample reveals that French ads prefer the analogic communication level to get their message across (gesture, mimic art, etc.). But the most important aspect is the way advertisements take into account the viewers. We analyzed how many times advertisements address themselves explicitly to the viewers ("..your children..", "..take care of your health..", "..your beauty.."). These two elements (frequent use of analogic communication and personalised advertising messages) may hint at the existence of a more affective communication style in France. As already indicated, the German style is oriented towards the digital communication level and it uses much less personalized messages. Table 2 sums up the main results:

Other results

Apart from the main results that have been stated above, the study also reveals two side-aspects that deserve mentioning. Firstly, it is striking to find out that the length of advertisements differs with Germany having a mean length of 29.9 seconds compared to 22.8 seconds in France.

Secondly, the role of women in advertising seems to be different. Despite the unavaila-bility of data we consider it useful to present some impressions based on the sample examined. The first observation concerns the way in which couples are presented. In general they embrace and kiss rather frequently in France but only very rarely in Germany. The second observation deals with women. It becomes evident that in French advertisements women are presented in a much more direct and sexual way, putting forward their physical beauty and seductive potential. In German ads, however, women tend to be much more reserved and prudish. This may be due to different sex role comprehension in both societies.

Both observations are in line with the results of hypothesis 2 which dealt with non-verbal and implicit communication in France showing, amongst other things, a frequent use of interpersonal games that are often based on sexual allusions.


The results of the comparative study of French and German advertising presented in this paper indicate a more personal, affective, implicit and seductive French communication style which is opposed to a more pragmatic, neutral, explicit and informative German style.

The results coincide with research in intercultural communication already mentioned, for example Hall's theory. His differentiation between high-context and low-context communication explains the more indirect implicit communication patterns in French advertisements. Hall assumes that a high-context individual attaches much more importance to interpersonal relations (Hall 1984), which becomes apparent in the affective, more personalised style of French advertising. The specific German advertising style is due to the existence of a low-context culture which emphazises explicit, straight-forward communication, even with regard to socially sensitive topics.

Taking into account the model of the transactional analysis it is striking that the characteristics of the German advertising style, as shown in the results, are coherent with the communication at the adult level. Advertising seen in this perspective is designed to communicate facts and product information. German communication is pragmatic, efficient and often lacks personal warmth. Some German spots give the impression that communication somehow takes place outside of the persons who talk (Spot for Sidolin, OB, Soja +l, Calgoon). The latter only serve as a tool to convey product benefits. Such a communication concept very often excludes intensive communication at the child level; in general, German advertisements repress emotion and spontaneity.







As far as the French communication style is concerned, the study hints at a completely different, more affective, cordial, spontanious and emotional style. This is in line with the communication at the child level. French advertisements seem to be taken much more out of normal life and thus present people in a more natural way. One example may illustrate the more intense communication at the child level:

A French spot deals with the laser printer Rank Xerox; a computer talks with its user. The computer refuses to work and said in a very childlike way: "You don't give us the possibility to express ourselves (in allusion to the existing, unsufficient printer)." The user replies: "Don't worry my little thing, we are going to find what you need.". Once the new printer installed, the computer reacts with a very soft, curious but still childlike voice: "Please show it (the new printer) to me. Then, the user turns the computer in the printer's direction.

Other spots (Kodak, Scip Micro, Lada, Literie Bultex) also make frequent use of spontanious, emotional actions, e.g. slap in the face, couple in bed, which can be situated as well at the child communication level.

It can be assumed with certainty that such a communication style would not be considered as serious in Germany, especially when it comes to rather sophisticated and expensive products like a laser printer or a car.


The results of this study suggest a completely different advertising style in France and Germany. It would be interesting to extend research beyond the field of advertising in order to find out, to what extent results can be generalised and finally lead to the formulation of two different communication concepts valid for all fields in which communication takes place. In this context we refer to some comparative research work that is already available in the field of the press and television programs.

- Comparative studies of television news programs

Research work includes a comparison of news programs on TF 1 at 8 p.m. in France and on ARD ("tagesschau") at 8 p.m. in Germany. Both programs have the highest viewer audience and thus guarantee relative representativity (Schroeder 1990). The profound analysis of these news programs which were recorded during the same week in both countries has revealed a number of interesting aspects one of which being the French tendancy to personalize news presentation, news reports and the weather forecasts. The comparative results concerning these three areas may be summarized very briefly as follows (the complete results are in the process of publishing):

The French news-reader plays a major role in the program because he does not only read the news, but he creates a relationship with the audience. He is doing this through personal comments, in addressing himself very often personally to the audience without losing eye contact and by mixing pure information and comment. The situation in the German news programs is completely different. The news-reader only reads the factual news without personal comments or personalised messages to the audience. On the contrary, he always pays particular attention to a clear separation of information and comment. In this context it is quite understandable that the success of a French news program highly depends on the talent of the news-reader who has to be some sort of showmaster. The popularity of these news-readers is measured regularly and published, a procedure which does not exist in Germany.

News reports, too, are submitted to personalisation. The French reports more often deal with personal stories (personal dramas, outstanding personalities of French society, etc.) that one would rarely find in German news programs. Moreover, more complex topics are often made transparent with reference to witnesses or people concerned, e.g. during the Gulf war, where a number of reports dealt with soldiers talking about their daily life and problems, for example their feelings of homesickness. This is very unusual in German programs where reports tend to stay on a very abstract, factual level, nearly never descending to the individual level.

Finally, the presentation of the weather report contains interesting elements as well. On TF 1, the French channel, it takes the speaker about four minutes to present everything, using very often personal comments, he tries to create a link between himself and the viewers. The German report, on the contrary, does not show the speaker but only the map and the figures. In 45 seconds everything is said in a strictly factual way.

- Comparative studies of the press

Other research work includes a comparison of articles in newspapers/magazines and of magazine covers and an analysis of the importance of visual elements (Schroeder 1992). The following aspects briefly sum up the main results (the complete results are in the process of publishing):

A comparison of 30 articles has been carried out. They originate from the same magazine concept in France and Germany with exactly the same editorial strategy and positioning. The articles were taken out of AUTO BILD in Germany and AUTO PLUS, the French version that has been launched by the same editor. Furthermore, the articles examined deal with the same cars that were tested. It turned out that the French articles presented more or less the same amount of information but in a more personalized way. The French journalists used very often personal impressions and exclamations to point out extraordinary details of the car whereas the German journalists remain factual and pragmatic always endeavoured to hold back their own opinion. In addition, the visual presentation of the French magazine is much more vivid, using more colours and photos than the German magazine.

These impressions are confirmed when regarding the serious weekly press (SPIEGEL, LE POINT, EXPRESS). The German magazine is very factual and sober whereas the French concepts have in general shorter articles, more photos and colours. Finally, French journalism, especially as far as politics is concerned, tends to be indirect, far less aggressive and critical than the investigating journalism known in Germany, Great Britain and the USA (Comarin 1989; Charon 1988).

It is clear that more research work has to follow in order to be able to elaborate specific communication concepts for both countries. Once these concepts defined they would not only provide a more complete approach as to the impact of culture on national communication which we consider vital for better comprehension of consumer behaviour. These concepts could also be precious tools for advertisers and advertising agencies who deal with the problem of national adaption of advertising strategies. Finally, they could provide important information for other sectors confronted with the internationalization of communication services or products, e.g. magazines that are to be transferred from one country to another.

Despite the differences between French and German communication that are the issue of this paper, we are well aware about the fact that cultural differences in communication are submitted to change, probably to a process of homogenization which is mainly due to the rising influence of international television, education and geographical mobility.

The paper deals with a comparison between German and French communication. We are convinced, however, that similiar studies can easily be carried out between other countries with comparable results.


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Michael Schroeder, ESCP, France


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993

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