Interpreting value across culture – where do you begin?

While the results of misfit marketing campaigns are easier to identify and pick on, the deeper questions raised are far more difficult, imho, to answer. This struck me this morning as I was reading Alex Shifrin’s take on the Dove advertising campaign just launched in Russia [via Russian Marketing blog].

Shifrin says,

This latest Dove effort is a prime example of how adaptation can go wrong. I’m not arguing against the validity of feminism in general, nor am I trying to downplay the importance of "inner beauty." Well, maybe I am. Maybe because everyone knows that it’s because "inner beauty" is one of those wretched consolation prizes, like "good personality," which you grant to those who aren’t…beautiful. This Beauty-Myth-for-consumerists may work in suburban North America, but not here.

But my main point is that the kind of mindset which values this alleged "inner beauty" carries more weight in other markets, such as in the West. And perhaps ONLY the West.

Looking beyond the obvious in Shifrin’s analysis of what didn’t work in a specific campaign, the issue here is less to do with a badly adapted ad campaign and more to do with the identification of cultural values. Or rather, the former is directly due to the latter. So that then, imho, is the major hurdle, one that can be identified as common across all such stories –

The stumbling block is in the correct identification and interpretation of values across the linguistic and cultural borders.

Value is contextual, as Tom Guariello once pointed out. And context is provided by the society, the culture and the language, as those far better immersed in these areas than I, have said before. Yet these issues crop up again and again as we look at products and services introduced to new markets.

This frequency leads me to wonder whether there is a missing piece in the creative development or implementation process? A blind spot, so to speak, one which, if identified and inserted into whatever system or process is used for the creation of the strategies and directions?

I also came across this post on the same product in India – what’s interesting here is that the writer blithely supports the positioning while focusing on the price point as the problem for lack of sales. That assumption too seems to be a product of that culture’s value system.

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3 Responses to Interpreting value across culture – where do you begin?

  1. niblettes says:

    At the risk of sounding like a Thomas Friedman or a Chris Anderson (seeing everything in terms of a single beloved lens) this sounds exactly like a symptom of supply side thinking which asks “what have we already got?” instead of “what do people need?”
    http://www.niblettes.com/blog/2006/06/10/supply-side-thinking-is-toxic-to-innovation/
    On the other hand perhaps Unilever’s campaign is trying to sell product by encouraging women to feel good about themselves as they are rather than as how Cosmo models suggest they should be. There isn’t much precendent for this approach. So perhaps what we’re seeing here isn’t so much cultural tone-deafness as promotional training wheels?

  2. niti bhan says:

    while I’d have to think about all the assumptions being made in this campaign, and that I think would take some serious indepth research in each of these countries and cultures, my first instinct is to rebel against the fundamental assumption that women in other cultures associate external beauty with feeling good about themselves. That, I think, is the crux of the problem.
    If anything, the subtler promotional training wheel is the message that beauty matters in the first place, else we wouldn’t be telling you that it didn’t matter. I believe this approach is an Aristotlean rhetoric tool used in argument, if I’m not mistaken.

  3. sabu nair says:

    amazing site..keep going…

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