Consumer Behavior Across Cultures

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CHAPTER

1

Consumer Behavior
Across Cultures
W hen the Canadian media philosopher Marshall McLuhan coined the concept of the global 1

village, he was referring to Plato’s definition of the proper size for a city—the number of people who could hear the voice of the public speaker. By the global village, McLuhan meant that the new electric media of his time, such as telephone and television, abolished the spatial dimension. By means of electricity, people everywhere could resume person-to-person relations, as if on the smallest village scale. Thus, McLuhan viewed the electronic media as extensions of human beings. They enhance people’s activities; they do not make people the same. If you assume people are the same everywhere, global media extend homogeneity. If you realize that people are different, extensions reinforce the differences. McLuhan did not include cultural convergence in the concept of the global village. In fact, he said the opposite: that uniqueness and diversity could be fostered under electronic conditions as never before. This is exactly what technological development has accomplished. Contrary to expectations, people have embraced the Internet and other new technology mostly to enhance their current activities. In the cold climates, where people used to preserve food in the snow, they have embraced deep-freeze technology most intensely. The colder the climate, the more deep freezers. In Korea, where people used to preserve the national dish Kimchi in pots in the ground, they developed a special refrigerator to be able to do this in the home. The mobile phone penetrated fastest in countries that already had advanced fixed telecommunications infrastructures. It was assumed that the Internet would undermine authoritarian regimes, but in fact it is used to strengthen them. The Internet has not changed people. It has reinforced existing habits that, instead of converging, tend to diverge. There is no evidence of converging consumer behavior across countries. This phenomenon is a core topic discussed in this book that provides evidence of consumer behavior differences that are too large and too stable to ignore.

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C O N S U M E R B E H AV I O R A N D C U LT U R E

Technology and national wealth have converged in the developed world to the extent that the majority of people can buy enough to eat and have additional income to invest in new technology and other durable goods. As a result, countries will become similar with respect to penetration of many of such goods, but what people do with their possessions does not converge. Much of consumer behavior varies across borders. As national wealth converges across countries, its explanatory power declines, and mainly cultural variables can explain cross-country differences. Cultural values are at the root of consumer behavior, so understanding culture’s influence is necessary for those who want to succeed in the global marketplace. Culture is pervasive in all aspects of consumption and consumer behavior and should be integrated into all elements of consumer behavior theory. That is what this book attempts to do. This first chapter reviews the assumptions of homogenization and the underlying causes of these assumptions.

GLOBAL CONSUMERS IN A GLOBAL VILLAGE?
One of the greatest myths of global marketing is of global consumers living in a global village. In a sense, new communication technology has made the world into a global city or village in which we, in theory, can hear and see everything at any time in any place. The question is whether in practice we do hear and see everything at any time and in any place. And then, even if we do, the core question is whether this makes us similar to each other. Jeremy Bullmore says, “In many ways, consumers are growing more alike, and we all know why. Mass communications, travel, multinational companies, the whole apparatus of the global village.”2 Because we adopt some consumption symbols, such as...
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