The Institution of Advertising: Predictors of Cross-National Differences in Consumer Confidence

Article excerpt

The institution of advertising depends upon customer confidence. From both a managerial and a public policy perspective, it is important that customers have confidence in advertising as a reliable source of information about the marketplace. Here, we explored the cultural factors which affect customer confidence in advertising. Using a sample of sixteen European nations, we tested Hofstede's theory of cross-national values. In particular, we found that Hofstede's dimensions of uncertainty avoidance, masculinity, and individualism are important predictors of advertising confidence.

Introduction

Advertising has important economic and social consequences. From a very early time in the communication literature, authors have debated the extent to which advertising adds value and contributes to the quality of consumers' lives.1 Recently, a comprehensive model to explain consumers' global attitudes toward U.S. advertising2 was developed and tested. At the same time, it is becoming apparent that consumer evaluations of advertising vary across cultures.3

The purpose of this paper is to explain cross-cultural differences in consumer confidence in the institution of advertising. Consumer confidence in the industry is important for a variety of reasons. For example, it has been argued that advertising can be a powerful force in economic development and can serve to globalize economic activity.4 That is, advertising is seen as a force contributing to consumer well being and overall quality of life. At the same time, communication managers rely on customer confidence in the institution of advertising so that they can communicate with potential customers. Thus, a permanent loss of confidence could seriously impede the attainment of communication objectives or could impede the pace of economic development. Unfortunately, there is some evidence that customer confidence in American advertising is eroding over time.5

In part, this loss of confidence in the institution of advertising may stem from some of the negative (social) consequences which are perceived to emanate from the advertising industry (e.g., an undue emphasis on materialism and consumption). Of course, marketing practices in general are criticized on these very same grounds; and advertising serves as a most visible instrument of marketing strategy.

As U.S. firms contemplate entering international markets, they need to be wary about encountering different patterns of advertising perceptions than they are used to in their home markets.6 While the decision to globalize a brand frequently rests on operational considerations, the decision to globalize advertising is a consumer issue and depends on marketers' ability to understand consumer perceptions of advertising. As argued above, these perceptions may differ markedly from nation to nation or from culture to culture. We propose that cultural values are a critical link to understanding confidence in advertising. Such stable and enduring belief systems characterize a culture and affect attitudes and behaviors.

In this study, we used Hofstede's7 theory of cross-national values to explain differences in consumer confidence toward the institution of advertising. We investigated customer confidence in 16 European countries, relying upon national probability samples in each nation. Thus, this study is by far the most comprehensive investigation of European confidence in advertising yet undertaken. We attempt to explain the differences among countries using a subset of Hofstede's "universal dimensions."

Criterion Variable: Consumer Confidence in the Institution of Advertising. A wide variety of measures has been proposed to operationalize consumers' overall evaluation of advertising. Perhaps the first and most influential approach emphasized advertising as an institution, rather than a process.8 This is the perspective which we adopt here, and we label our criterion variable ADV^sub conf^ (representing "Consumer Confidence in the Institution of Advertising"). …