Advertising and Values: A Study on Cultural values Manifested in Advertising Targeting the Urban Middle Class in China

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Conference Proceedings
Authors: Wenhua LiZiqi Ye

Abstract: Advertising is the mirror that reflects social and cultural trends and is capable of shaping society (Sivulka, 2012). We are influenced subtly by the meanings advertisers create in advertisements; in turn, our lifestyles and value priorities can affect the strategies of advertising design and branding. However, this mirror is distorted since advertising reflects only selected attitudes, values, lifestyles, and philosophies that work for sellers’ interests (Pollay, 1987). This paper examined the advertisements launched in nine of the most popular lifestyle magazines in China, to identify the frequently used values manifested in advertising, and its influences on the lifestyles of Chinese consumers. Two key theories are adopted in the value and advertising study: Hofstede’s five dimensions of national culture (1984) and Schwartz’s theory of basic values (1992). 525 print advertisements were selected. The advertising appeals were coded to identify the values that appeared most frequently in the advertisements. Pollay’s measurement of values manifest in advertising (1983) is used as the basic measurement guide. The value theme categories selected for content analysis were based on Schwartz’s value system. 12 values are finally adopted in the coding process: Family, Kinship affection, Accomplishment, Enjoyment, Social status, Love, Sense of belonging, Social responsibility, Utility, Self-fulfillment, Economic value, Authority power. After content analysis, we found that “utility,” “enjoyment,” “social status,” “accomplishment,” and “authority power” are the top five most frequently used values in advertisements targeting the Chinese middle and elite classes. This finding suggests that advertisements in China still play an important role in delivering utility information in product functions and effectiveness. Enjoyment is the second most frequently used value in these advertisements. Enjoyment is considered a typical western value (Cheng, 1997), which was forbidden in Confucian tradition. In Confucian tradition, enjoyment is discouraged. Working hard and not spending more than necessary are considered virtues (Hofstede and Bond, 1988). Nowadays, enjoyment is legitimated by mass media, western movies, and advertisements. Pursuing good quality life and enjoying it is considered a reward for hard work. The value of social status is the third frequently used value theme in magazine advertisements. As elite magazines are targeting the Chinese middle class, their audiences are readers who desire to move upward to a higher social status. These people are likely to have status consumption. They want to express their social status through consumer goods. The status meanings of consumer goods are usually delivered via advertisements using “social status” value. The frequent use of social status value in advertisements shows the strong need of Chinese consumers for social status. When values of consumers are consistent with the values reflected in advertising, the likeability toward advertisements, products, and brands will increase, and consequently, advertising will be more effective (Polegato and Bjerke, 2006). This study examines value and lifestyle issues from the perspective of advertising in emerging markets. The mediating role of advertising enables us to better understand the formation of and changes in the values and lifestyles of the new middle class in emerging markets, such as China. The findings of this study can also contribute to advertisers and designers by enabling them to understand the value themes in advertisements that attract them the most.

Keywords: Advertising, Cultural values, Middle Class

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1001850

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