Testing Real World Advertisements Language Cues Impact on Dominant and Non-Dominant Ethnic Groups: Comparing Malays and Indians in Malaysia

Article excerpt


This paper sets out to extend current knowledge on targeted advertising effects by noting consequences on attitudinal and behavioral reactions on a real world advertisement campaign by Malay and Indian respondents. It uses Malay and English language as cues. This paper tests the effects based on relevant theories in the communication and advertising literature on two distinct ethnic groups (Malay and Indian) in Malaysia utilizing questionnaires which are based on a set of real world advertisement for the dominant and non-dominant ethnic group in Malaysia. The advertisement used was for a soft drink. Data collected was analyzed using Manova, General Linear Model (GLM), and Bonferoni. Findings indicate that Malays accept English language as part of their cultural schema. Indians reacted as expected, as the non-dominant ethnic group and there were minor negative reactions by the non-targeted group. One limitation is that the study used three different advertisements, but each respondent only saw one. The advertisement was in Malay, English and both Malay and English yet there was none in Indian for the Indian respondents. Future research will benefit from further improvements (impact of product type or by targeted group of the product instead of the generic ethnic group) and replication to other ethnic groups or targeted groups. Advertisers may use English language in their adverts if targeting Malays and Indians. The major contribution of this paper consists of the determination that a dominant group cultural schema may extend to another dominant language.

Keywords: Advertising, Targeted, Ethnicity, Malay, Indian, Malaysia


Studies have shown that when an ethnic group is targeted, they react positively (De Run, 2005, 2007). Even when targeting is as simple as a matter of packaging that utilizes language cues significant to a specific targeted group (De Run, 2006). On the other hand, if a group that is not targeted becomes aware of such targeted efforts, there may be negative attitudinal, emotional and behavioral reactions (De Run, 2005, 2006, 2007). From a Malaysian perspective, there are a number of cross-cultural issues that have yet to be dealt with, especially since the focus now is on nationalities instead of ethnicities (Fontaine & Richardson, 2003). Most studies in this area deal primarily with national level data and neglect the effect of ethnicity (Hofstede, 1980, 1991). One of the most important issues raised from this ethnic based cross-cultural perspective is the paradox of language used in advertisements and the reaction of different ethnicities (De Run, 2006, , 2007). This issue is relatively important as most Malaysians are bilingual, trilingual or even possess the ability to communicate and understand more than three languages (Fontaine & Richardson, 2003; Hassan, 2005).

Yet correctly targeting someone and obtaining a positive reaction is not a direct knee jerk reaction and is certainly not so clear-cut, as it seems. The issue of cultural schema of dominant and nondominant ethnic groups complicates ethnic targeting and its presumed responses (Brumbaugh, 2002; S. A. Grier & Brumbaugh, 1999). Previous studies have only indicated the national cultural level of nations (Hofstede, 1980), not looking at the niche perspective of the nation cultural schema at grass roots level, that of the various ethnic groups. Findings obtained from such a macro level in the Malaysian context are thus questionable. Aside from that, relevant cues must also be taken into account, such as language (De Run, 2005, , 2006, , 2007), race (Whittler & DiMeo, 1991), and religion (Fontaine & Richardson, 2003). At the same time, there are still conflicting findings with regards to the impact of dominant versus non-dominant ethnic groups' cultural schema. In Malaysia, the Iban react more like Malays even though they are nondominant, thus supporting cultural schema thinking. …


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