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Cultural aspects of marketing - a contribution from Croatia to CSB Pilot Course

Antonija Kvasina, PhD and Teaching Assistant Department of Marketing at University of Split, Faculty of Economics, Business and Tourism (Croatia) gives an overview of the presentation that was given in Covilhã, Portugal, during the Learning Mobility of Cultural Studies in Business project.


Ms Kvasina participating as teaching assistant in the implementation of our CSB Pilot Course, presented a short 'to the point' story about why culture matters so much in business, from the marketing perspective. Connecting Cultural Studies with Business is a highly challenging task. Culture is informed by a society’s customs and traditions - it’s revealed through a society’s artistic and intellectual achievements and is maintained by a series of behavioural codes passed down from generation to generation. Paying attention to culture in advertising is extremely important for brands that work on a global scale, especially if the brand exists in markets that are culturally different to where they are based. Messages, symbols, rituals and colours can have significantly different meanings and messages across cultures.


Therefore, in order to do business in various international markets, a company needs to research and understand the cultures of countries in which they are planning to do business, understand how an unconscious reference to your own cultural values, or self-reference criterion, may influence your perception of the market’s culture and incorporate this understandings into the marketing planning process. In marketing, it is of great importance to create a message that will be created with respect to cultural differences. However, when doing it in practice, there are many barriers that needs to be overcome, such as language trans-creation, equivalence in meaning, as well as the content of the message that needs to take into account religion, legislative and cultural aspects.


After introducing the concept of culture, as well as why it is so important in implementation of marketing activities, the presentation focused on the practical examples. Firstly, we talked about how culture can pose an important ‘barrier’ for marketing activities. From that point, we discussed several practical examples, such as Electrolux campaign in UK when they used the slogan 'Nothing sucks like Electrolux', the ads that Dolce & Gabbana placed in China and how Chinese people perceived them as highly inappropriate and the ad that Mercedes Benz placed in UK, using the Janis Joplin's song 'Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz'. We debated on the ethical aspects of creating and placing those ads by using various cultural elements, such as slang, food and music, as well as the importance those elements have in different cultures.


Afterwards, we discussed how marketing efforts can overcome cultural barriers. In that part, we talked about the examples of the HSBC's campaign - becoming 'the world’s most local bank', by using various cultural elements from different markets within its ads, along with the slogan 'Never underestimate the importance of local knowledge!’. Further on, we also discussed the example of Starbucks and its entrance to unique Italian market – a country that birthed espresso. Namely, they located it in a historic building that was once a post office with an opulent interior design that reflects the traditional Italian design. That unique Starbucks included the roastery, the bar with Italian aperitif and the bakery, all in one.


In the last part, we focused on the topic how marketing efforts can even go much further and utilize cultural features to create international success. We talked about the brand Shang-Xia, a Chinese luxury label backed by the international luxury brand Hermès. Shang Xia’s products include fashion, accessories, furniture, home décor, jewellery and gifts, and are designed to fill the nostalgic gap left by the Cultural Revolution when many traditional Chinese artefacts were lost. Each piece is delicately crafted with all raw materials sourced from within China. Based on the Chinese characters “Shang” and “Xia”, the brand name literally means “Up-Down”, that reveals a deep philosophy of life: the circulation between two energies of Yin and Yang, past and future, tradition and innovation, and craftsmanship and contemporary design. It aims to create emotion, inspiration and surprise. Shang Xia was an example of successfully blending the Hermès philosophy of innovation with traditional Chinese craftsmanship and contemporary design. Therefore, this example was given as a successful case onto how to create a unique marketing mix by using cultural aspects in its creation.


So, to conclude, as HSCB’s stated in its international campaign – Never assume!


Article written by Antonija Kvasina, Teaching Assistant - Marketing Department, Faculty of Economics, Business and Tourism - University of Split (Croatia). Participant in the Learning Mobility in Covilhã (Portugal) on behalf of the Erasmus Plus K203 Project "Cultural Studies in Business".