A Content Analysis of Environmental Advertising: Studies of Japanese, Thai, Chinese and American Advertisements

ABSTRACT - This article presents the results from Content Analysis designed to uncover the structures and strategies of international green advertising. Green advertisements from Japanese, Thai, Chinese and American newspapers are empirically analyzed. This comparative study analyzes the frequencies of advertisements based on four major categorical variables: 1) years, 2) advertisers, 3) advertisements objectives, and 4) advertisement appeals. The results support the finding of the previous research by Iyer, Banerjee, and Gulas (1995) and Carlson, Grove, and Kangun (1993), which stated that the environmental image of an organization are most prone to be misleading and/or deceptive. The results also suggest that even though powerful media have dominated the markets while green advertising strategies are globalized ever since the environment issues have been elevated to become the priority items in the international economic and political agenda, the objectives and appeals of green advertising still largely differ among Japanese, Thai, Chinese and American advertisements.



Citation:

Worawan Ongkrutraksa (2002) ,"A Content Analysis of Environmental Advertising: Studies of Japanese, Thai, Chinese and American Advertisements", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 120-126.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 120-126

A CONTENT ANALYSIS OF ENVIRONMENTAL ADVERTISING: STUDIES OF JAPANESE, THAI, CHINESE AND AMERICAN ADVERTISEMENTS

Worawan Ongkrutraksa, Tokai University, Japan

ABSTRACT -

This article presents the results from Content Analysis designed to uncover the structures and strategies of international green advertising. Green advertisements from Japanese, Thai, Chinese and American newspapers are empirically analyzed. This comparative study analyzes the frequencies of advertisements based on four major categorical variables: 1) years, 2) advertisers, 3) advertisements objectives, and 4) advertisement appeals. The results support the finding of the previous research by Iyer, Banerjee, and Gulas (1995) and Carlson, Grove, and Kangun (1993), which stated that the environmental image of an organization are most prone to be misleading and/or deceptive. The results also suggest that even though powerful media have dominated the markets while green advertising strategies are globalized ever since the environment issues have been elevated to become the priority items in the international economic and political agenda, the objectives and appeals of green advertising still largely differ among Japanese, Thai, Chinese and American advertisements.

INTRODUCTION

Green advertising has gained increasing public interests, especially in Japan, since the past decade of the last century. As early as 1990, Volvo’s print advertisement, which was published in the Nikkei newspaper, received an annual advertising award from Japanese Advertising Association. This was the first monumental step for green advertising to advance in Japan (Nihon Keizai Shimbun 1994). While catching tremendous attention and creating strong awareness, the 1992 Earth Summit had called upon the Japanese advertising industry to utilize and employ more environment themes in their advertising processes. For example, Dentsu, Inc.?the largest advertising agency in billing in Japan (Frith 1996) has released a report on the results of its "Green Consumer" Awareness Survey (Dentsu News 1998). The report analyzes and compares the results of the latest survey conducted in October and November 1997 on consumer awareness of the environment as well as on environment-friendly products and corporate communications that employed an environmental theme with similar surveys carried out in 1991, 1992, and 1993. Taking the view that environmental issues are the central theme in corporate communications and that a company or a brand must be environmentally friendly in order to win consumer favor, Dentsu has investigated the most effective forms in which environment-oriented communications should take. According to Dentsu’s report, a rapid increase in the number of people who are environmentally aware, so-called "green consumers," has begun to lend a profound effect on corporate marketing decisions and communications. The report further indicates that while green advertisements have enjoyed a high consumer recognition rate as high as 60 percent and contributed greatly to the improvement in corporate images, many people still believe that the amount of environmental information content disseminated by the companies is insufficient. It is necessary, therefore, that companies work harder to publicize their commitments to environmental protection in the future. Companies that consistently practice green advertising are judged as "carrying out their social responsibility" and showing "earnestness." Furthermore, the negative views that condemn such companies as "hypocritical" and "superficial" on environmental issues have sharply decreased in comparison with previous years due to the increase in environmental activities and products shown in their commercials.

In Thailand, the boom of green advertising, which started about a decade ago, has continued to be one of the most important marketing strategies for the firms (Saereerat 1995). Generally recognized for a long period of time, Thai pollution problemsBmost notably air pollution in the urban areasBhave been in a very critical stage (Saereerat 1995). To help promote public awareness of such problems, multinational oil companies like Caltex, Shell, and the domestic one, PTT (the Petroleum Authority of Thailand), along with automobile assembly plants such as Mercedes Benz, and Honda (with catalytic converter engines) have substantially invested in a continuing series of green advertising campaigns (Saereerat 1995). Siam Motors who assembles and markets Nissan vehicles in Thailand has also launched its own "Think Earth" campaigns (see Appendix A) which won the 8th annual Thailand Marketing Award (social support section) 1991-1992 with huge success such as that of the Save Thai Sea project (Thailand Marketing Award Proceeding 1992). Similarly, retail department store giant like Central Holdings used "UV & Degradable Bag" and "UV & Biodegradable Bag" to participate in green-advertising bandwagon (Siam Post 1992).

In China, rapid economic expansion and continued reliance on coal are expected to more than double China’s current carbon dioxide emissions. Consequently, China is expectedto become the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases sometime between the years 2010 and 2025, yet official policy offers little hope for remedial action (Hudson 1997). As a result, Chinese firms such as Shanghai Volkswagen Automotive Company and Chinese’s government have used green advertising as shown in this paper’s results.

In the U.S., the effort to target environmentally conscious consumers has been quite evident in the nature of the advertising messages of commercial firms (Carlson, Grove and Kangun 1993). More specifically, Procter & Gamble has begun using refillable containers and bottles made with less plastic for many of its household products (Reitman 1992). McDonald's Corporation, which has been criticized for its environmentally unsound food packaging practices, has replaced some polystyrene containers with paper, initiated a recycling program for those polystyrene containers still used, and has begun using napkins, towels, and boxes made of recycled paper (McDonald's 1990).

Much has been written within the marketing/ecology domain in the last twenty years (Kilbourne 1995). However, most of the published papers of content analysis in green advertising (see Table 1) are American advertisements (see for more detail from Iyer and Banerjee 1992,1993; Banerjee, Gulas and Iyer 1995; Carlson at el. 1993). Very few studies have looked at Thai, Chinese and Japanese green advertising.

Further research could usefully examine the extent to which the discourses of nature in advertising are culturally and nationally specific (Hansen 2001). With an impending research shortcoming in terms of Asian under-representation, this study is the first attempt to fill such a gap by addressing the following two research questions:

1. What are the general situations (media environment) of the newspaper green advertising in four different countries?

2. What are the appeals the newspaper green advertisers used in four different countries?

TABLE 1

PUBLISHED PAPERS OF CONTENT ANALYSIS IN GREEN ADVERTISING

THE ANALYTICAL FRAMEWORK

The analytical framework consists of four major categories:

1. Frequency of advertisements categorized by year.

2. Frequency of advertisements categorized by advertisers.

3. Frequency of advertisements categorized by type of advertisements objective involved examining what the ad was attempting to promote. Two advertiser goals were identified: 1.green product ads (promotion of a product or service as being green) and 2.green message ads (promotion of a green company image).

4. Frequency of advertisements categorized by advertisements’ appeals. To fit the entire four countries ad’s contents, four different kinds of ad appeals used by advertisers to meet their objectives were identified and categorized. The framework has been inspired by Iyer and Barnerjee (1993) (for more details, see Appendix B) and Obermiller (1995). The first category is negative emotional appeal (consisted of the messages that use fear appeal or negative point of view such as, we will have no more oil to use, if we do not save the energy), the second category is positive emotional appeal (consisted of the messages that use reward appeal or positive point of view such as, the world will be better because of your green behavior), the third category is product info appeal (the messages that show product or service environmental technologies). The fourt category is ambiguous message (the message that only states about environment superficially such as, we care for the environment, etc).

DATA SAMPLING

This article looked at newspaper advertisements from most highest circulation newspaper in Japan (Yomiuri), Thailand (Thairath), China (People’s Daily) and The U.S. (The Wall Street Journal) for 2 years (from January 1997 to December 1998). This study is the attempt to look at each country’s general situation of newspaper green advertisements. Thus, the ads from newspapers selected for this study represent a fair sample of green ads in general. Similar to Iyer and Barnerjee (1993), this study decided to focus on newspaper advertisements for a variety of reasons. The newspaper advertisements have a broader base than television and it represents a larger spectrum of participants thereby ensuring that the sample of this study was adequately representative of the advertising community.

TABLE 2

ANALYSES OF FREQUENCIES BY YEAR

CODING PROCEDURE

From Iyer, Banerjee and Gulas (1995), green advertising is defined as any ad that meets one or more of the following criteria:

1. Explicitly or implicitly addresses the relationship between a product/service and the biophysical environment.

2. Promotes a green lifestyle with or without highlighting a product/service.

3. Presents a corporate image of the environmental responsibility.

The coding used Iyer at el.’s (1995) process, as Japanese, Thai, Chinese researchers coded all ads .To ensure the clarity of the coding scheme, the coders were instructed clearly about the definitions of all categories. The coders did the entire sample of ads independently. Over all reliability, measured by percentage agreement between two judges, was 0.91Ba level higher than that prescribed for acceptance (Kassarjian 1977). Similar to Iyer at el.’s (1995), the most difficult category to code was ad appeals.

EMPIRICAL RESULTS

1. Frequencies of Green Ads Categorized by Year

The newspaper green advertising in four different countries can be described that the frequencies of green ads from 1997 to 1998 in Japan was almost unchanged, in Thailand and The U.S were increased but in China was decreased (see Table2).

2. Frequencies of Green Ads Categorized by Advertisers.

Green ads categorized by advertisers reported in Table 3. The largest of Japanese advertisers in the sample were Automobile companies (35%), such as Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi (see Appendix C). The majority of the Thai advertisers in the sample were Thairath newspaper (84.6%) and majority of American advertisers in the sample were Energy companies (41.8%). China had largest ads from steel companies (65.9%).

3. Frequencies of Green Ads Categorized by Type of Advertisements’ objectives

Green Ads categorized by type of advertiser’s objectives reported in Table 4. The majority of advertisers’objectives in Japan and the US used mostly green product ads (promotion of a product or service as being green ). The majoity of advertisers’objectives in Thailand and China used mostly green messages (promotion of a green company image).

4.Frequencies of Advertisements Categorized by Advertisements’ Appeals

Green Ads categorized by advertisements’ appeals reported in Table 5. Japanese and American green ads used mainly Product Info Appeal (the messages that show product or service environmental technologies). Japanese green ads also highly used Positive Emotional Appeal (consisted of the messages that use reward appeal or positive point of view). On the other hand, Thai green ads used highly Negative Emotional Appeal. The majority of Chinese green ads also used ambiguous message appeal (the message that only states about environment superficially such as, we care for the environment, etc).

RESULTS DISCUSSION

Green Advertising in General.

The Frequencies of green ads from Japan, China and the U.S. were almost unchanged in two years. However, Thai green ads increased rapidly from 13 ads in 1997 to 260 ads in 1998. The major reason for this rapid change is because Thailand faced the economic crisis in 1998; this caused Thairath newspaper to put their own corporate image since the lost of their advertising clients.

For green ads in Thailand and China, this study support the finding of the previous research by Iyer at el. (1995) and Carlson at el. (1993) which stated that the environmental image of an organization are most prone to be considered misleading and/or deceptive. As the results show that the majority of advertisers’ objectives in Thailand and China used mostly green messages (promotion of a green company image) and attempted to project a green corporate image rather than focus on the environmental benefit of their product or service.

Green Advertising and Appeals.

The present article provides strong support for Lin’s (1993) study that shows the Japanese ads take a "softer sell" approach. Japanese green ads highly used Positive Emotional Appeal (consisted of the messages that use reward appeal or positive point of view). Japan is regarded as a "high-context society", specific comparative or logically based appeals may not be needed or desired (Lin 1993). On the other hand, Thai green ads used highly Negative Emotional Appeal (consisted of the messages that use fear appeal or negative point of view). For Thai ads, the results have a replication with Obermiller (1995) as Thailand still in the developing state of environment awareness. Negative emotional appeal may be more effective in the lower awareness consumer.

CONCLUSION

A general conclusion of this article is that unlike a majority of green ads in Japan and the United States, a majority of green advertisers in Thailand and China did not address in depth the environmental issues relating to their product or process. Green advertising should cover more fundamental concrete action for environment problems for consumers to react to the problem properly (Kanbara 1998). Consumers can be unsatisfied with the ambiguous message from green advertising (Ohashi 1999). Therefore, to persuade consumers effectively and sustain companies’ goodwill and avoid losing credibility, the companies should emphasis more on the information of practical environment protection, not just a superficial corporate image advertising.

The result suggest that even the world has been dominated by the power of media and green advertising strategy has become global since the environment problem is the international crisis, there are still some differences in green advertising’s objectives and appeals in Japanese, Thai, Chinese and American advertisements.

TABLE 3

FREQUENCIES OF GREEN ADS CATEGORIZED BY ADVERTISERS

TABLE 4

FREQUENCIES OF GREEN ADS CATEGORIZED BY ADVERTISERS= OBJECTIVES

TABLE 5

FREQUENCY OF ADVERTISEMENTS CATEGORIZED BY ADVERTISEMENTS= APPEALS

LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS

This study employed the sample ads from the highest circulation newspapers from each country, which could be bias against those less circulated ones. Thus, further studies will help produce the more robust conclusions by using the sample ads that are originated from newspapers of the same nature. For example, the research that aims at studying business newspapers’ green ads using the sample from Japanese Nihonkeizai Shimbun, Thai’s Tansettakit, and American’s Wall Street Journal might remedy the outlier problems in the research.

The sample ads selected for this study were from 1997 to 1998. This span of two-year period of green advertising may not show a clear trend in green advertising. An extension of the study might offer more support to generalize on green advertising practices.

Further research conducted on transnational advertisers is strongly encouraged in order to explore how cultural values affect the structure and strategies of green ads using Cheng’s (1996) assumption, for instance, that transnational advertisers should be sensitive to the effects of product categories on cultural values portrayed in their advertising messages.

APPENDIX A

THAI NISSAN THINK EARTH CAMPAIGN

APPENDIX B

APPENDIX C

REFERENCES

Carlson, Grove and Kangun (1993), "A Content Analysis of Environmental Advertising Claims: A Matrix Approach," Journal of Advertising, 22(3) (September), 28-39

Cheng, Hong; John C. S.(1996), "Cultural values reflected in Chinese and U.S. Television Commercials," Journal of Advertising Research, May/June, 27-44.

Frith, Katherine T. (Ed.) (1996), Advertising in Asia, Communication, Culture and Consumption, Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press.

Hansen, Anders (2001), "Discourses of nature, discourses of consumption," Paper presented at the Environmental Issues, Science and Risk Communication Working Group, IAMCR Conference, Budapest, Hungary.

Hudson, Christopher (1997), The China Handbook, Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers.

Iyer, Easwar and Bobby Barnerjee (1993), " Anatomy of Green Advertising," Advances in Consumer Research, 20,494-501.

Iyer, Easwar, Bobby Barnerjee and Charles Gulas (1994), "An Expose on Green Television Ads," Advances in Consumer Research, 21, 292-298.

Iyer, Easwar, Bobby Barnerjee and Charles Gulas (1995), "Shades of Green: A Multidimensional Analysis of Environmental Advertising," Journal of Advertising, 24(2)(Summer), 21-31.

Kassarjian, Harold (1977), "Content Analysis in Consumer Research," Journal of Consumer Research, 4 (June), 8-18.

Kilborne, William E. (1995), "Green Advertising: Salvation or Oxymoron?," Journal of Advertising, 24(2)(Summer), 7-19.

Lin, Carolyn A. (1993), " Cultural Differences in Message Strategies: A comparison Between American and Japanese TV Commercials," Journal of Advertising Researc, 44(July/August), 40-47

McDonald’s Corporation (1990) "McDonald’s and the Environment,"

Obermiller, Carl (1995), "The Baby is Sick, The Baby is Well, A Test of Environment Communication Appeals," Journal of Advertising, 24(2)(Summer) ,55-69.

Reitman, Valarie, (1995), "Green Product Sales Seem to Be Wilting," Wall Street Journal, 220(May10), 135-148

Subhabrata Banerjee, Charles S. Gulas and Easwar Iyer (1995), "Shades of Green: A Multidimensional Analysis of Environmental Advertising," Journal of Advertising, 24(2)(Summer), 21-31.

Japanese Sources

Anonymous, (1998), "Green Consumer Survey Report", Dentsu News http://www.dentsu.co.jp/DHP/DOG/greenconsumer/b3.html

Anonymous, (1997), group researchers funded by Yoshida Hideo Foundation, (Dentsu,Inc), Dentsu Annual Advertising Research Award Proceeding 1997, Tokyo, Dentsu Publishing, 240-276.

Koizumi, Masato and Ongkrutraksa, Worawan (2000) "The Environmentally Aware Advertising: An Investigation of Newspaper Advertising in Japan, Thailand and China," The Bulletin of the Faculty of Letters Tokai University, 72(February), 45-63.

Nihon Keizai Newspaper, advertising section, (1994), Read Business from Newspaper Advertising, Tokyo: Nihon Kezai Newspaper Publishing.

Kanbara, Satoshi (1998), "A Content Analysis of Environmental Advertising: toward the Guidelines for Consumer," The Shodai Ronshu, Journal of Kobe University of Commerce, Vol.L (2&3)(October), 87-115.

Ohashi, Terue (1999), "The Comparison of American and Japanese Green Advertising: From Public Awareness to Public Standard, " Advertising Science Journal, 39 (September), 131-135.

Prime Minister’s office (1999), Global environment and lifestyle, Monthly Public opinion Survey, Tokyo: The Printing Bureau of Finance.

Sato Misawa, Nancy Stella (1996), "A Content Analysis of Magazine Environmental Advertising: A Comparison of American and Japanese Advertising," Bulletin of Nikkei Advertising Research Institute, 30 (3) (June -July), 43-48.

Thai Sources

Anonymous (1992), "The list of Award Recipients," in The 8th Thailand Marketing Awards Proceeding.

Siam Post (1992), "Central & Environment," Bangkok: December, 6.

Saereerat, Siriwan(1995), Marketing for Environment, Bangkok: Pattanasueksa Publishing.

Saereerat, Siriwan (1996), Research Report on Marketing for Environment: Studies of Bangkok Area MBA Students Attitudes, Bangkok: Pattanasueksa Publishing.

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Authors

Worawan Ongkrutraksa, Tokai University, Japan



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



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