Why Asian ads are more emotional
Using emotional appeal in advertisements is a common phenomenon among Asian brands. Take Bangladesh for example. Oftentimes, the storytelling in local TVCs focuses more on the sentiments of the protagonist rather than the attributes of what the ad is trying to sell.
Many local advertisements that we see on social media from different brands follow the same criteria. To understand why this is so, we need to know how culture impacts communication. According to American anthropologist Edward T. Hall, cultures can be divided into high-context and low-context.
In high-context cultures, people prefer to convey information implicitly, relying heavily on context. Nations that fall under this category are Japan, China, Philippines, India, Arab countries, Mexico, Spain, and of course, Bangladesh. High-context societies like to build relationships among their people and maintain committed bonds. These societies are highly collectivist, meaning they classify people based on which groups they belong to over their individuality. One's birthplace, gender, family, etc. may be considered the primary aspects of their identity. That is why people in collectivist societies feel more accountable to their communities, which is reflected in the commercials of Asian countries. We often see ads in South Asia that go beyond the brand and the product, and the storyline delves deep into the protagonist's family and peers. By highlighting the communitarian benefits, these commercials portray familial integrity and in-group harmony. In addition, the usage of sentiments pushes these ads to be emotive in nature. Such advertisements are longer in duration and are often presented in the form of short films.
On the contrary, in low-context cultures, people prefer direct forms of communication that explicitly cover the necessary information. Advertisements directed towards consumers in these cultures tend to be information-heavy. These ads will try to convince their target market to buy a product and will highlight what makes their product suitable based on its attributes. These cultures also tend to be largely individualistic. The US, the UK, Germany, France, Scandinavian countries, Australia, Switzerland, and most other Western nations fall into this category. Such societies prioritise the individual over any communities, and their preferred style of communication is explicit verbal communication. A good number of their advertising storylines rely on personal success, individual preferences and benefits, self-independence and the like. Their commercials generally use rational appeal that highlights the product's features and its ability to provide individual satisfaction.
Even though these variations in communication styles tell us why different cultures opt for different promotional strategies, the contrast occurs only at the extremes. Not all advertisements in low-context cultures use only rationality. Neither do all advertisements produced in high-context cultures use sentimentality as the main tool. It is fair to say that most emotionally appealing advertisements are from high-context and collectivist cultures.
The concepts of collectivism and individualism were popularised by Dutch psychologist Greet Hofstede. His groundbreaking theory of cultural dimensions is so relevant in many aspects of different societies that they even manifest themselves in the ways brands advertise. This theory is backed by surveys from 50 different countries, conducted in 1970, which contain data of around 117,000 people. According to Hofstede, this study was "probably the largest matched-sample cross-national database available anywhere at that time."
One study conducted in China and Germany found that individualistic appeal is effective for both individualist and collectivist societies, but a collectivistic appeal is only effective for collectivist societies. Thus, when advertising something to a collectivist society, either a collectivist or an individualist approach can be used. However, the same study also found that collectivist societies respond more positively towards an individualistic appeal, as the Chinese samples responded better to such advertisements in contrast to collectivistic appeals.
Nevertheless, both kinds of appeal are required in the field of marketing. Emotional appeal plays a role in drawing out the target audience's emotions to make them buy what is being advertised. Rational appeal, on the other hand, can effectively make the promotion seem obvious in such a manner that it truly cannot be refuted. There can also be advertisements that mix both rational and emotional appeals. As this leaves room for doubt about what type of appeal a brand should use, the best way to determine this is to explore the core needs of the target market, along with their culture.
Sirazum Monir Osmani is a Marketing and International Business major at North South University, Dhaka.