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Global Consumer Culture: Theories and Approaches


Culture is defined as the total behavioral traits learned, manifested and shared among members of a society. Consumer culture in the past used to vary widely in the entire world and that called for diversity in marketing strategies and advertisement for every region. This seems to be changing. Hollensen (2007, p. 76) claims it is because of the dramatic increase in technological advances, great leaps in communications; which have lead to a commercialized culture, and dominating Imperial governments that have taken over land under the power and political structure (Schroeder & Salzer-Mörling, 2006, p. 114).

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These causes have all lead to a unifying and homogenizing of a global culture in our world today.’ This Global Consumer Culture might be an illusion to marketing managers and they do well to consider the cultural differences because they have an impact on the profitability of the company’s business. The marketer has to learn of the similarities and differences in cultures as he undertakes marketing strategic plans. The FAO Corporate Documentary Repository (1997), on Global Agricultural Marketing management looked into culture in details and entailed the following:

Approaches to the study of culture

Geertz (1983, p. 62) brought out some ways of studying culture which included the list discussed below. Brief reviews of them are as follows:

Anthropological approach

Culture can be deeply entrenched and sometimes be hard to convince their owners otherwise. For example, the Muslim culture of female covering their entire body may look strange to those people whose culture allow female to dress as they please. Anthropology is a time consuming process but it takes into consideration behavior in the light of experiencing it at first hand. The anthropologist studies the country in question to understand beliefs, motives and values of the involved society (Sobol, 2008, p. 64).

Maslow approach

Simons, Kalichman & Santrock, (1994, p. 231) indicated the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which gives a useful analysis. Maslow hypothesized that what people desire can be arranged into a hierarchy of needs and shows that as soon as the “lower” needs are filled, other needs, which are higher, emerge immediately to take over the individual. When the superior requirements are satisfied, there are new others which will be desired as well. Physiological needs appear to be at the bottom of the hierarchy. They include basic needs to be satisfied like food, shelter, clothing, water, air and comfort.

The other need is safety, which is a feeling of security. Social needs include love and relationships. The moment these lesser requirements are realized, the superior ones are desired such as esteem. Self-respect becomes a need too without forgetting the need for status. The highest of all is self-actualization whereby an individual affords to be identified personally. This hypothesis seems simple but gives insight to Universal activities. For example in Africa, in food marketing, the three lower level needs may be emphasized, whereas in the developed countries, the three upper levels are emphasized (Klein, 2000, p. 81).

The self-reference criterion (SRC)

Perception of needs in the market needs can be hindered by one’s own cultural experience. Mooij (2010, p. 91) gave suggestion whereby one could systematically reduce this perception. He brought out that one could define the problem in terms of traits, norms and habits of a country and the foreign traits too. One could also set aside the self-reference criterion to examine it to see how it complicates the whole pattern. The last thing one does is to redefine the problem without the self-reference criterion and solve the foreign market situation. The main disadvantage of this approach is that culture may be hidden and bringing out factors may, therefore, be difficult. However, the approach gives useful guidelines on the need of standardization or adaption in marketing planning.

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Diffusion theory

Since the 1930’s, many studies have been made to assess how innovations are diffused in a society. Rogers, (2003, p. 231) gave a suggestion that adoption was a social phenomenon, characterized by a normal distribution. Here, creators are few who are in the fore front followed by others, who are more conservative, take the innovation on. The adoption processes done in a series of stages which starts from awareness of the product, moves to interest, assessment, examination and either adoption or elimination. Adoption process speed relies on the comparative benefit given by the product, how well matched the product is with current values or experiences, the products complexity, how quickly the product can be tested and how fast that can be forwarded to the destined market (Ritzer, 2007, p. 81).

In international marketing the product or service is assessed in terms of these latter factors and is very useful in speeding its adoption. For example, most horticultural products have no problem in transfer from one culture to another, specific no matter the types they may have (Behrends, 2007, p. 67).

High and low context cultures

Usunier, (2009, p. 106) brought out the model of lofty and stumpy background tradition as a means of considerate diverse educational introduction. In the stumpy background traditions, messages are explicit while in lofty background tradition, minimal ideas are expected. For example in Northern Europe, where there is low context cultures, a person’s word cannot be relied on, everything must be written, but in superior background tradition such as Japan and the Middle East, is primarily a question of trust.


Perception is defined simply as the ability to see what is in culture. High perceptual skills are needed so as not to misperceive a situation, of which could lead to negative consequences. These theories give a useful insight into how to avoid a number of pitfalls of culture in doing international business. Consumer products happen to more sensitive to culture than business-to-business products, mainly because technology is universal. However, over generalization have its dangers. For example, drink can be very universal and yet it is culturally bound. Tea tops English habits, coffee

American but neither of the two is universals in Africa. Coca Cola however may be acceptable in all three cultures, having even the same advertising appeal to the three cultures (Featherstone, 2007, p. 87).


Nationalism as one of the cultural traits that is increasingly coming up and the break-up of Yugoslavia and the USSR supports that fact. In Western developed countries, a high degree of interdependence exists while less developed countries do not have the same interdependence in general, and thus organizations need to consider their contribution to the development of nations making sure that they are not holding them back from development. Culture is a very powerful variable, which cannot be ignored.

The elements of a culture

Elements of culture are mainly as discussed below (Schroeder & Salzer-Mörling, 2006, p. 51).

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Material culture

Material culture could simply be regarded as tools, artifacts and technology. Before getting involved in marketing in a foreign culture, there is an importance of assessing the material culture like transportation, power, and communications. Looking at Input-output tables may be helpful in this assessment. All marketing aspects are affected by material culture such as power sources of power for products, availability of media and distribution. For example, if refrigerated transport does not exist in many countries in African, material culture introductions into a country could bring about some cultural changes of which they may be desirable or not desirable.

Such a case was with Zimbabwe. Until 1990, it did not allow packing of beverages in cans, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Economic and environmental reasons were given; economically, it was because it did not have canning facility and environmentally Zimbabwe had seen how Botswana had a lot of litter due to discarded empty cans. The advent of trade liberalization which was under the Structural Reform Program, Zimbabwe allowed importation of cans for experiment after which an environmental assessment could be done and the result was a huge influx of canned beverages from Botswana, South Africa, Australia, USA and Europe (Hawkins, 2006, p. 78).


Language is a reflection of the nature and values of a given society. Some countries have two or three languages. In Zimbabwe, for example, there are three languages used. There are groups upholding linguistics in Nigeria, which have engaged in hostile activities. Language as it is can cause communication problems, especially where there is use of media or written material. It is therefore best to learn the language or involve a person who has an understanding of it well (Kotabe & Aulakh, 2002, p. 67).


Aesthetics refer to the ideas in a culture, which concerns beauty and good taste brought out in music, art, drama and dancing and an appreciation of color and form There is a difference in African music and Western music. Aesthetic differences have an effect design, colors, packaging, brand names and media messages. For example, if it were not for explanation, the brand name FAVCO could not mean anything to importers from Western, while in Zimbabwe most people recognize FAVCO as the brand of a product in horticultural field (Goodwin & Ackerman, 1997, p. 78).


Education is the transmission of skills, ideas and attitudes and training in particular disciplines. Education has the ability to transmit cultural ideas and can be used for change (Lury, 2011, p. 78). For example, the UN agency commonly known as UNESCO gathered data on information on education in a certain year just recently, and the results showed that in a country such as Ethiopia 12% of the group with viable age to enroll in a secondary school were the only who enrolled. That figure is multiplied in a country such as USA whereby the figure is high up to 97% enrolling in secondary schools (Belk & Sherry, 2007, p. 87). Education levels affect marketers in a number of ways, which could be listed as follows:

  • Programs of advertising and labeling has to be in a way that appeals to both learned and those who are not learned. This becomes a bit tricky to marketers because both groups have different levels of understanding.
  • Excluding of girls and women from formal education affect literacy rates which in turn affects the market because the number of those female who do not buy products because of illiteracy, could be a better part of the purchasing group.
  • Market researches have to be conducted thoroughly in order to determine how consumers are able to interpret a product’s advertisement and where they as marketers need to work on.
  • Products appear to be complicated and with instructions which may seem hard for the illiterate and thus making the individual not to consider buying the product.
  • Relationship with distributors enhanced and,
  • Support sources such as finance, advancing agencies among others


Religion is a means of providing a quality establishment deep in the society’s actions and assist people understand why people behave the way they do rather than how they behave. This is due to the religious beliefs that each group upholds. There are many religious groups in the world. Just to mention a few examples, Hindu, Budhi, Christians, Islams, Judaism, Shinto and many others. This gives marketers a reason to put religion into consideration as they plan their marketing because religion affects marketing Religion affects marketing in a number of ways as below

  • Religious holidays – During Ramadhan, there are minimal activities since majority of the shops are not opened for they take that day as holy.
  • Consumption patterns changes with each religious group in different days and seasons, for example fish for Catholics on Friday.
  • Economic role of women in the religious group – For example in Islam women are supposed to be Homemakers
  • Joint and extended families – Hinduism and their organizational structures.
  • Institution of the church as brought out in different countries.
  • Market divisions with religion in different regions. For example, Malaysia and Indian cultures making market segmentation.
  • There is need to be sensitive to the diverse religions and avoid interfering with other peoples religious activities, which may affect marketing in a sense that the group you interfered with may be the potential customers and they may decide not to buy.

Attitudes and values

Values in most cases have a religious foundation, and attitudes relate to economic activities of a society. It is essential to determine the thoughts that are required in the marketing arena that will give rise to prosperity among other benefits for each society. African cultures risk indisposed; hence business skills are not always being relevant. Attitudes are always a determinant of human performance so it is necessary that study be completed carefully on these to understand what consumers want and give them just that (Slater, 1997, p. 52).

Social organization

Social organization refers to the way people relate to each other, for example in nuclear families, extended families, friends and relatives. In other countries, kinship could be, because of tribe and thus division is made in regards to this issue. Other groups may have the decision to be because of religion, politics, age and many more depending on the social organization the people of the region mostly embrace. All these named groups have an effect on how a marketer does his planning and how he hopes to employ marketing strategies in order to win the consumers hearts persuading them to have a taste of his products (Hollensen, 2007, p. 62).

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Conclusion after the report

After going through the FAO document, one comes to knowledge of how cultures affect commerce. It is advisable for every marketing manager to go through such documents in order to know how to go about marketing with cultural factors in mind. The points that come out about culture are that culture must fit together logically, culture is learned, and it is manifested within boundaries of acceptable behavior among others. This awareness helps companies to be more competent and more global sensitive.

It is interesting that most consumers spend so much time in purchasing and consumption of goods and services than they do in most important day-to-day activities such as working and enough sleep as recommended (Goodman & Cohen, 2004, p. 98). They have a high consumption on products, services and other facilities of entertaining themselves. These consumers having the knowledge on how they consume products and services, makes them look for ways of wise consumption of everything they purchase.

This calls for marketers spending long hours and more money in a way of trying to influence the way the consumers spend (Hunt, 2002, p. 105). This is because the marketers depend on the consumers for the profitability of their businesses and therefore they have to do anything to make the consumers buy their goods. This is also interesting. Therefore, specific consumer behavior and culture have to be included in marketing strategies. The strategies are campaigns that a company undertakes to make sure that consumers buy their products. To be able to do this, one should do a market research so that products are produced as per the consumers’ needs (Geertz, 1973, p. 78).

There are two ways of doing research:

Secondary research, which involves using information that has already been put together by other people after a research and this, makes it easier for any marketer to access information on market issues. For instance, if one had an idea of starting a business that involved stock exchange, the person does not have to go asking about the stock exchange rates from local people. The information is in the media already and has just to consult the media. Primary research on the other hand entails that one designs a research by himself and conducts it on his own. For example, one might have to find out from the consumers themselves if they like their soft drinks being sweet or having a tarter taste. If one wants to know more on research for a better business deal, he might want to look in the book (Geertz, 1983, p. 87)

Sayre (2001, p. 72) covers all key topics which include quantitative research, qualitative research and the differences between those two mentioned types of research. There are steps that one has to take before conducting any form of research, the techniques used to collect data, tools used in collecting data in a research and how to explain the findings of a research to someone else, either a business partner or a significant person in international business. It is necessary for any person who thinks of engaging in international trade to read this.


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