Academic journal article International Journal of Business Studies

Advertising Resources in Oil Rich Arab Gulf States - Implications for International Marketers

Academic journal article International Journal of Business Studies

Advertising Resources in Oil Rich Arab Gulf States - Implications for International Marketers

Article excerpt

Marketing and advertising researchers are at odds on whether standardized advertising messages and tools can be used across cultures. The dispute has heightened with the advent of globalization in which national boundaries become blurred. But if globalization has managed to cross geographical frontiers, its role in merging cultures and traditions is less discernible particularly in conservative societies like the oil-rich Arab Gulf states where massive oil revenues are fuelling consumerism leading to a surge in advertising budgets. The flow of petrodollars is bringing about dramatic transformations in these societies and their media landscape. This paper provides an overview of these transformations and their impact on advertising. It argues that despite globalization, the countries still exhibit distinct cultural, religious and traditional values as well as demographic features that are important to consider by international marketers, advertisers and agency managers targeting or working in these countries.

Key Words: Advertising, culture, media, oil prices


Practitioners and researchers in the field of marketing and particularly advertising are divided on whether advertisers can use standardized messages and tools across cultures (Dhal 2004). The dispute has been there ever since Levitt (1983) published his seminal article The Globalization of Markets, which put forward the notion that advertising can truly be globalized and standardized. But in the years since, there has emerged a solid body of literature on the crucial role local cultures and traditions play in advertising (c.f. Kotler, 2006; Woods et al., 1985; Cheng and Schweitzer, 1996; Ji and McNeal, 2001; Luqmani et al., 1989; Fam et al. 2004) This paper takes the view that homogenization of advertising as maintained by Levitt is hard to achieve particularly when examining countries exhibiting distinct cultural values, traditions and economic policies that play a vital role in shaping market strategies, thus rendering it necessary to locally adapt advertising campaigns.

Homogenization has even been found hard to attain within local cultures which ostensibly look standardized as is the case of the countries which are the target of this study. Kilicbay and Binark (2002: 509) have demonstrated, for example, "that Islamic discourses on veiling as a religious practice are not as coherent as they claim to be", and the practice of wearing the attire does not have a unified meaning even within a single conservative Muslim society. They argue that Turkish Muslims, for instance, use the veil in three distinct ways: (1) as a purely religious practice, (2) as a political symbol and (3) as a new form of consumption.

Ways of acting and competing are bound to vary from one market to another. In marketing and advertising their products, companies obtain advantages by adapting or sometimes "breaking the rules" (Gronhaug 2001: 160). Rules of competing particularly in the advertising market, Gronhaug says, cannot be compared with those governing contesters playing chess where the same set of rules applies everywhere. The underlying premise of most of recent advertising research related to countries not sharing the same cultural and traditional values and exhibiting major demographic shifts is that "advertising is inherently and necessarily enmeshed in the broad cultural experience of those at whom it is aimed" (Cannon et al., 2000: 1).

This study covers six Arab Gulf oil states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which together form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC is part of the larger Middle East but it has emerged as a separate economic region, reputed for its massive oil wealth and member-state's efforts to pursue joint economic, educational and cultural policies through treaties, directives and rules which they eventually hope will turn them into a union. Although the countries exhibit homogenized cultural and traditional values in terms of religiosity and ethnicity, their massive oil wealth and strife to modernize is leading to dramatic shifts in several ways of life. …

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