When it comes to ensuring the commercial appeal of an advertised product, it is crucially important to remain thoroughly aware of what accounts for the specifics of the targeted audience’s consumer-behavior. In their turn, these specifics are best discussed within the context of how the factor of the targeted consumers’ cultural affiliation affects these people’s behavioral pattern in general, and their purchasing choices in particular (De Mooij, 2004).
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After all, there is indeed much evidence as to the fact that the manner in which consumers perceive the actual value of different goods and services continues to remain highly reflective of what happens to be the particulars of these individuals’ culturally defined ‘brain wiring’. To substantiate the validity of this suggestion, we will outline the would-be socio-cultural challenges/ opportunities of promoting the Korean alcoholic beverage Soju (with the alcohol content ranging from 16% to 45%) in the US. Below is the screenshot of this product’s Korean-based advertisement poster.
Soju is now commonly referred to as quite possibly the most popular alcoholic beverage in Korea. In its turn, this can be partially explained by the fact that the deployed marketing-strategies, on the part of this beverage’s makers, are fully consistent with the holistic workings of what can be referred to as one’s ‘Oriental’ psyche and with the qualitative aspects of Asian culture as we know it. As Koga and Pearson (1992) pointed out, “Asian cultures… have been described along three dimensions as
- collectivistic in value orientation,
- high-context in communication style,
- vertical in social structure” (p. 86).
This simply could not be otherwise, because most Asians are innately driven to perceive the surrounding social reality in the highly contextualized manner – something that predetermines these people’s affiliation with the collectivistic values more than anything else does. In this respect, De Mooij and Hofstede (2011) came up with another valuable observation, “In the collectivistic (Asian) model the self cannot be separated from others and the surrounding social context, so the self is an interdependent entity who is part of an encompassing social relationship” (p. 183).
Hence, one of the most notable features of the poster’s design is its horizontally-aligned format which correlates with the Korean people’s tendency to think and act holistically – that is, without trying to exercise too much of a will-powered control over the surrounding environment. The large image of a smiling young woman in the poster encourages onlookers to think that the drinking of Soju leads to relaxation (as opposed to aggression). The poster’s blue-colored background comes in particularly, in this regard.
Because poster’s designers were well aware of the targeted population’s tendency to contextualize informational inputs, they made a deliberate point in downsizing the advertised product visually and in placing it in the advertisement’s right-lower corner. By so doing, they succeeded in confirming the validity of the potential consumers’ intuitive awareness that the consumption of alcoholic beverages cannot be thought of in terms of a ‘thing in itself’ (as Westerners tend to do). Rather, it is something that makes one more emotionally comfortable, while socializing with others (Masuda, Gonzalez, Kwan & Nisbett, 2008).
The above-stated implies that there are two major methodological approaches towards ensuring that having entered the US market of alcoholic beverages, Soju will prove commercially successful – ‘adjusting the product’ and ‘filling the demand-niche’. The first of these approaches is concerned with the idea that the beverage in question must be marketed in the way to represent a strong emotional appeal to American consumers, who in turn tend to adhere to the so-called ‘Faustian’ (or Western) existential values, deriving out of these people’s innate predisposition towards individualistic ego-centrism and rationalism (Greenwood, 2009).
This particular trait, on the part of Americans (Westerners), does not quite correlate with the already mentioned holistic-mindedness of Koreans (Asians) – something that determines what has always been considered the main socio-cultural difference between the ‘Orient’ and the West. According to Koga and Pearson (1992), “In terms of cultural evolution, Asian cultures have been obliged to be organized and cooperative, while Western cultures have emphasized individual’s territory and competition; self-identity has been extended to a person’s values” (p. 86).
What contributed even more significantly towards bringing about this state of affairs is that unlike what appears to be the case with their Korean counterparts (who tend to think contextually), most Americans prefer to indulge in the specifically analytical cognizance. As Bower (2000) argued, “In a variety of reasoning tasks… (Westerners) adopt an ‘analytic’ perspective. They look for the traits of objects while largely ignoring their context” (p. 57). This, of course, implies that the marketing strategy of Soju in America must be implemented alongside some altogether different discursive lines as compared to the ones that have been used by marketers in Korea.
With respect to what would account for the culturally sound design of the beverage’s advertisement-poster (meant to be used in the US), our suggestions are as follows:
- The image of the bottled beverage should be situated at the center. Whereas the original poster features the referenced product in the right-lower corner, the ‘American’ one will need to have the bottle of Soju placed prominently at the very center. The reason for this is that due to being endowed with the ego-centric/individualistic mentality, most American consumers are naturally prompted to pay most attention to the specifically ‘direct’ (non-contextual) semiotic connotations of a particular advertisement, especially if this is a visual one.
- The beverage’s name and the poster’s slogan must be reformulated to be consistent with the culturally defined cognitive leanings of American consumers. In this regard, it will not only be necessary to make sure that all of the poster’s inscriptions are in English but also to ensure that the product’s would-be chosen new brand name is pleasing to the (American) ear, in the aesthetic sense of this word. As to the advertisement-slogan – instead of encouraging people to believe that by drinking this beverage they will become more appreciative of life and more socially integrated as individuals (as it is the case with the Korean poster), it should be concerned with pinpointing the product’s ‘tangible’ value – it’s unusually high alcohol content. Like well-known Budweiser beer, the Korean beverage Soju can be advertised in the US as the ‘king of malt liquors’.
- The poster’s palette should be readjusted to incorporate more ‘warm’ colors. The logic behind this suggestion has to do with the fact that, as opposed to Koreans, most Americans believe that the activity of drinking alcohol is essentially anti-social and that it does not have any purpose other than allowing people to alter their state of mind for a while – a socially escapist gesture. The presence of the predominantly ‘warm’ (red, yellow, brown, etc.) colors in the visual advertisement of Soju, intended to target the American-based consumers, will help to make the potential buyers more emotionally comfortable with the activity under discussion. Consequently, this should result in boosting up the product’s sales.
The ‘filling the demand-niche’ approach to marketing Soju in America is concerned with the well-established fact that American society has been turned multicultural a long time ago, and also with the ongoing exponential progress in the field of information technologies which continues to exert a strong influence on the social dynamics in today’s America.
First of the mentioned developments presupposes the continual enlargement of the population of Korean immigrants in the US – the individuals who by virtue of their ethno-cultural affiliation should feel motivated to purchase Soju. For as long as this specific category of potential consumers is targeted, marketers will be in the position to promote the concerned product in essentially in the same way as it is being done in Korea. It is understood, of course, that this would allow the latter to reduce the associated marketing costs.
There is even more to it – the rise of information technologies, which contributes enormously towards making the Americans evermore interculturally aware, allows marketers to go about increasing the beverage’s commercial appeal in America without having to apply a particularly extensive effort. After all, this specific development has naturally helped to popularize what are now commonly rendered the ‘Oriental’ existential ethics among many native-born Americans. What it means is that, for as far as these individuals are concerned, the qualitative readjustment of the initially deployed marketing strategy in Korea may turn out to be merely translating the initially used advertisement slogans in English.
Overall, there is indeed a good reason to believe that if reasonably priced, the Soju drink should be able to secure its own segment in the US alcoholic beverage-market. The rationale behind this suggestion has to do with one of the foremost operational principles of the free-market economy. In times of economic recession (as it is the case nowadays), consumers tend to pay less attention to the ‘perceived’ (or simply put – imaginary) value of goods and services while allowing their purchasing choices to be more affected by the considerations of utilitarian usefulness.
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This, of course, provides Soju with the strong competitive advantage in the targeted market – and the main reason behind this is as follows: this particular beverage has a very high for American consumers percentage of alcohol in it. Given the fact that people buy alcoholic beverages for no other purpose but to get ‘buzzed’, this feature will serve as a powerful incentive for American consumers to favor Soju as one of the most ‘value-tangible’ products of its class. What can be even greater contribution to the extent of the Korean beverage’s market-competitiveness is that during the period of economic downturn, people become especially susceptible to the temptation of drinking alcohol as the circumstantially appropriate way to address life-challenges.
Thus, we can safely conclude that once available in the US, Soju may end up becoming one of the country’s most popular alcoholic drinks, provided, of course, that it is being marketed in accordance with the aforementioned recommendations. In this respect, the beverage’s ‘ethnic’ status should not prove much of an obstacle.
Bower, B. (2000). Cultures of reason. Science News, 157(4), 56-58.
De Mooij, M. (2004). Consumer behavior and culture: Consequences for global marketing and advertising. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
De Mooij, M., & Hofstede, G. (2011). Cross-cultural consumer behavior: A review of research findings. Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 23(3/4), 181-192.
Greenwood, S. (2009). Anthropology of magic. Oxford: Berg Publishers.
Koga, Y., & Pearson, B. (1992). Cross-cultural advertising strategies in Japanese vs. American women’s magazines. Intercultural Communication Studies, 2(1), 85-103.
Masuda, T., Gonzalez, R., Kwan, L., & Nisbett, R. (2008). Culture and aesthetic preference: Comparing the attention to context of East Asians and Americans. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(9), 1260-1275.