An exploratory study of the language effect on cross-cultural marketing

Tana Licsandru, Charles Cui

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Language is one of the most important dimensions of one’s ethnic identity (Jafari & Visconti, 2014; Richard & Toffoli, 2009). For this reason, language is used extensively as a strategic tool to reach multicultural consumers in countries of increased ethnic diversity. Two major sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic theories – the Speech Accommodation Theory (Giles, Taylor, & Bourhis, 1973) and the Revised Hierarchical Model (RHM) (Kroll & Stewart, 1994), respectively, seem to provide a motivation for using vernacular language in marketing communications. Drawing on the two theories, researchers argue that marketing communications in the vernacular language express marketer’s sensitivity and congruity to the audience’s cultural heritage (Holland & Gentry, 1999; Koslow, Touchstone, & Shamdasani, 1994), facilitating, at the same time, message comprehension (Luna & Peracchio, 2001). However, using a vernacular language can be criticized as employing a mono-ethnic prime, which risks being interpreted as an indication of multiple identity blindness (Kang & Bodenhausen, 2015). In today’s society ethnicity is situational and an ethnic individual can have multiple, parallel ethnic identities that cannot be grasped through mono-ethnic marketing messages (Binning, Unzueta, Huo, & Molina, 2009; Jafari & Visconti, 2014; Stayman & Deshpande, 1989). The current study addresses the theoretical inconsistency in the extant literature on the effectiveness of vernacular language use in marketing to multicultural consumers. We follow a constructivist/interpretative approach to data collection and data analysis to explore how ethnic consumers feel about ethnic language depiction in marketing communications. This paper reports on the results of 16 in-depth interviews with multicultural consumers with diverse ethnic backgrounds, occupations and lengths of residence in the UK. . In the interviews a photo elicitation technique was employed, participants being exposed and asked to interpret a series of ethnic embedded print advertisements employing vernacular, standard and bilingual messages. The data collected were analysed inductively using thematic analysis method, which followed the six steps recommended by Braun and Clarke (2006) and Yin's (2016) recommendations on interpretation and concluding. Our findings seem to contradict the principles of accommodation theory in that employing vernacular language cues in marketing communications as a high level of accommodation does not trigger positive affect in ethnic consumers, unless the media used is ethnic congruent. Our results point to new directions of advancing the RHM framework in marketing research by exploring the symbolic roles of second/standard language use in ethnic targeted communications to facilitate cross-ethnic relations and the ethnic individuals’ feeling of social involvement in the host country. The current study makes an important theoretical contribution to the literature on cross-cultural consumer behaviour and international marketing. Our findings aim to reach marketers and researchers in the multicultural marketing discipline.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of 2016 Academy of Marketing Science Annual Conference, May 18 – May 20 at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


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