Date of Award

5-1-2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Mass Communication and Media Arts

First Advisor

Frith, Katherine

Abstract

Along with China's economic growth and opening to the outside world, Chinese young people (mainly the post-80s and the post-90s) are affected by the commercialized culture. When targeting young consumers across cultures, many international advertisers prefer to use standardized visual advertisements. However, culture plays a key role in international advertising as the interpretation of advertising messages varies across cultures. Based on the framework of Analytic/Holistic Thought and Hybridity Theory, this study argued that Chinese and American young consumers adopt different thought patterns to process advertising messages. Looking at two important factors in advertising---image type and product type, this study advocated that marketers need to match the image type with their advertised products or brands, and to adopt congruous images that fit into young Chinese and American consumers' thought patterns. Past research on cultural studies and sociology has contributed to our understanding of how culture shapes the construction and deconstruction of advertising messages, and of the importance of image type used in advertising. In addition, marketing research helps us understand global consumer behaviors, the relationship between consumers' interpretations of ad messages and their attitudinal responses, and the importance of product type. Further, studies from cognitive psychology have provided useful framework for us to analyze the nature of human advertising behaviors and responses. Given the literature, this study sought to understand how culture influences consumers' interpretations of ad messages and how the interpretations further influence their evaluations of the ad and product, and their purchase intentions. This study employed a quantitative experimental design that included qualitative open-ended questions. The experiment tested the effect of culture on generating product/brand thoughts, examined the interaction effect of image type and product type on young consumers' attitudes and purchase intentions, and explored the relationship between the number of generated product/brand thoughts and ad effectiveness. The qualitative questions sought to explore how consumers across cultures recalled different types of objects from the ads and generated different types of product/brand thoughts. In conclusion, the study noted the following two key points: First, Chinese young consumers are less analytic than their American counterparts and tend to be more likely influenced by ad setting while recalling people portrayed in ads. Therefore, advertisers targeting young Chinese consumers may consider using a lifestyle format ad and focusing on portraying the attributes of focal people and objects as well as adding more visual pieces of context information. In contrast, advertising targeting American young consumers can adopt a personalized format, and focus on portraying the attributes of focal people and objects and on linking the attributes of focal people/objects to the product. Second, there is an interactive effect between product type and image type on ad effectiveness. For functional product advertising, using implicit images can be a creative strategy, especially for young Chinese consumers, as they may still infer the performance-related attributes (utilitarian attributes) of the products from background information. However, for symbolic product advertising, it is found that using implicit images discourages both Chinese and American participants from generating product/brand thoughts and from endowing the product with a typical product-user image from the ad.

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