E An assessment: Concluding review and future prospects

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“Examples of global brands and mass-cultural icons have indeed become clichés – Coke, McDonalds, Calvin Klein, Microsoft, Levi’s, Dallas, IBM, Michael Jackson, Nike, CNN, Marlboro, Schwarzenegger – some even becoming synonymous for western cultural hegemony itself […] But what does this distribution of uniform cultural goods actually signify, other than the power of some capitalist firms … to command wide markets around the world?” (Tomlinson 1999: 83)

E.1  Summary of the findings

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Finally this concluding chapter will serve to summarize the results from the individual sections of the thesis, to compare and to evaluate them. The starting point of this thesis was whether or not the question if a global consumer actually exists could be affirmed, as so often postulated. In order to be able to answer this question, an investigation was carried out based on the example of Indonesian consumers. This investigation was based on the hypothesis that consumer behaviour was dependent on cultural behaviour, and this was tested by implementing an investigative analytical diagram specially designed for this thesis (integrative analytical diagram for intercultural marketing). This analytical diagram was based on the structuralist definition of culture (elaborated on in Part C). This diagram was applied to Indonesia and verified the assumption that, firstly, consumer behaviour is dependent on culture, and secondly, that cultural differences, for example between Germany and Indonesia, lead to partly differing consumer behaviour, an aspect which, however, contradicts the theory of the global consumer. The results of the analytical diagram portray a general picture of Indonesian consumer behaviour, focus the view of the illusory global consumer, and help definitively to dispel this myth. The hypothetical notional construct of the global consumer gives way to the reality of the glocal consumer, in which culture realistically forms the context of the purchasing-decision. Bermingham confirms in this perspective the assertion of this work (1995: 13):

“It is impossible to understand consumption without also examining our conceptions of culture, the workings of culture, and ultimately subjectivity. In fact it has been the failure to do this which has resulted in the purely economist accounts of consumption which see it in a secondary role after production or which focus on commodities rather than consumers.” (Bermingham 1995: 13)

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Parallel to this diagnosis, the second set of questions which targeted the exploration of Indonesian consumers’ characteristics and how the cultural environment influences their behaviour and decisions, was answered following this work. The in-depth description of the Indonesian consumer and the cultural traditions which colour his or her behavioural patterns, were juxtaposed to and explained via examples of the 4P’s’ adaptation (principally promotion). Thus it was possible to form a concrete picture of the Indonesian consumer on a country (macro) level. Undoubtedly due to the possibility of a multi-level-analysis inherent in the investigative analytical diagram, in future it is necessary to apply the analytical diagram to other sub-levels, thereby enabling statements to be made concerning certain social groups within the plural Indonesian society, enabling cultural behaviour to be compared and finally, to tailor the 4P’s accordingly. This advantage offered by the analytical diagram needs to be conveyed especially to all those who consider investigation on a country level as too generalized and thus disregard the original approach of this work which is to put focus on the importance of culture for consumer behaviour and to urge the business world at the beginning of the 21st century to incorporate theories of cultural globalization into their strategic planning. Tomlinson (1999) argues in the context of the effects of globalization using the term “complex connectivity”, i.e. a complex interconnectedness and connectivity on a global level which can neither be described one-sidedly via economic conditions, nor via the classic image of a cultural westernization. Extended to consumption this means that the reality of a worldwide globalization of demand appears to be different from what the visualization of a steady extension of the “American way of life” throughout the world which would contribute to the global happiness of humankind, suggests.

This thesis expresses that globalization does not lead to a uniform world culture, and rejects the “world-as-a-single-place” hypothesis. Globalization (also cultural globalization) is always a dialectical process. The relationship with space and locality plays an important role: it leads to a dialectical process of de- and re-territorialization. This does not mean that people stop being entities in a geographical location, and that, for example, they only continue to enjoy an existence in the virtual space, and not that everyone will become a globetrotter or cosmopolite. In fact it means that even the most familiar places (locales) are through media or simply through economic processes included in the complex connectivity of the world, however, without acknowledging the postulate of the world’s cultural homogenization. Globalization processes lead to focus on the local, as exemplified in the introduction to the case-study (social mixture). In this connection, advertising, product and brand worlds cannot merely be seen as the exit form of “global life spaces“, but rather as the entrance into “local living spaces“. Besides the presentation of local significance, the thesis has dispelled the myth of the existence of a globally, homogenously and uniformly acting consumer. Consumers buy meanings, not just products and meaning is inter-subjectively shared in the cultural community and with it they are and continue to be locally anchored.

After the two years of research my conclusion is that globally standardized advertising (which targets the supposedly existing global consumer segment) appears no longer to be a powerful means to win customers over to products and brands. Advertising is not and cannot be an instrument of homogenization, since advertising is always consumed and interpreted locally, and local culture plays a significant role in this process. The over-simplified worldview prevalent in numerous companies of a one-dimensional modernization is thus a fallacy since there are huge differences in requests, attitudes and preferences (multiplied exponentially by economic and cultural variables) on the part of existing consumers in Southeast Asia. The simplistic image of purely economic globalization does not reflect the complex connection between culture and consumption. Tomlinson (1999: 84) explains:

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”Movement between cultural/geographical areas always involves interpretation, translation, mutation, adaptation and indigenization as the receiving culture brings its won cultural resources to bear …” (Tomlinson 1999: 84)

As an example of the different interpretation of products and brands, David Howes (1996: 9) can be quoted. He shows how consumers interpret global brands locally thanks to Coca-Cola and the local myths attached to it. Coca-Cola is seen in Russia as a means of smoothing out wrinkles, in the Caribbean, it is synonymous with Cuba Libre. “It seems that Coke is perceived as a native product in many different places – that is, you will often find people who believe the drink originated in their country not in the United States“, affirms Howes (1996: 6). The mere existence of mass products is far from able to be traced back to the existence of a “uniform capitalistic monoculture” (Tomlinson 1999: 85). The long under-estimated impact of cultural influences on consumer goods’ interpretation has been revised since the mid 1970s (Douglas and Isherwood 1978; Sahlins 1976; Belk 1982; Bronner 1983; Felson 1976; Furby 1978; Graumann 1974, 1975; Hirschman 1980; Holman 1980; Leiss 1983; McCracken 1985; Prown 1982) but has not expanded into marketing literature. The theory that consumer goods have a significance that goes beyond their utilitarian character and commercial value is, however, valid today in the social sciences. This significance rests largely in the ability of products to carry and communicate cultural meaning (McCracken 1986: 71-84).

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The fact that products can convey cultural significance which is able to be interpreted differently according to cultural background, is largely underestimated in all but a few globally operating companies, and does not lead to reconsideration of globally standardized strategies. Although the trend of successively rejecting purely (standardized) global strategies in favour of strategies which take local peculiarities into consideration is perceivable, companies still approach local consumers in a multitude of ways. Whereas Procter & Gamble has in the past few years obviously opted for stringent centralization of resources, Nestlé is till positioned rather locally. Unilever, the company which serves as the example in this study gives its overseas subsidiaries quite a lot of opportunities to adapt themselves to local constellations and consumer requests.

The Unilever study and the success of its ethnic-specific product described show that intercultural marketing can be executed optimistically and with none of the trepidation commonly associated with intercultural marketing. Intercultural marketing and the even more specific ethno-marketing with its selection of target groups, apparently continue to be a foreign concept for many firms. The Sunsilk example demonstrates the opportunities which may be offered by an intercultural marketing strategy. Offering very specialized products for certain target groups pays off, since niche markets are very lucrative and attractive. However, profound knowledge of the target market is necessary to understand the complex emotional and cultural peculiarities of a country. Many companies have difficulties implementing ethnic-specific marketing in Indonesia, since the topic might be controversial and could be considered pejorative. However, it is believed that the consumer should be addressed not as a socio-political being but rather as a potential customer in his whole range of every-day experiences. The selective revitalization of tradition against the background of rapidly and dynamically changing societies, as seen in the clothing changes among Muslim women in Indonesia, should not be considered with trepidation as a problem, but rather as symptomatic of social phenomena or trends of development, like other trends marketing ties in with. And this connecting factor must be culture. In the language of Clifford Geertz, culture is the means by which people “communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about attitudes towards life. Culture is the fabric of meaning in terms of which human beings interpret their experience and guide their action” (Geertz 1973). If marketing connects with the complex nature of culture and not merely with geographic or economic factors, it can function in a much more targeted manner as the Sunsilk example shows.

E.1.1  Recommended course of action

Culture can be considered as a vitally important orientation support for intercultural marketing. The orientations have to be analyzed and the practices which document a change in social environment have to be recognized. Practices are always a process and a result and are thus limited from a time perspective, whereas orientations can be considered to be stable. The analysis of cultural globalization processes and their accompanying emphasis on the “local” result in a paradoxical situation in which culture as an explanatory factor becomes increasingly important, although the emergence of global brands has apparently led to converging consumer preferences. The reality is however that these preferences constantly diverge with the ever-increasing choice of consumer goods and with the lifestyles that can be created or associated as a result. Intercultural strategies should be increasingly implemented, as recommended in this thesis. These intercultural strategies which can also be described as “Act Global, Think Local“, are opposed to the 1990’s favoured slogan “Think Global, Act Local“ paradigms. “Act Global, Think Local“ on the contrary means reaping all the benefits of globalization in production, sourcing and distribution and the connected benefits of economies of scale in production and organization but with the exception that marketing and branding which works with images are difficult to make standardized and therefore have to be localized. It is all the more important to understand this since an inverted colonization can be identified, i.e. the “Latinization” of Los Angeles, the emergence of a globally oriented high-tech industry in India, and the springing up of very successfully operating indigenous firms in Southeast Asia.

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In times of international marketing, the knowledge of a country is to be as complete as possible for market success (Griffin and Pustay 2002: 82). Otherwise major inroads into a foreign market may be tedious and unmanageable. Translating marketing’s 4Ps into the local setting is an art which requires “artists” (experts) who understand the significance of cultural and ethnic heritage and entrench respect for differences in ethnicity and religion. These experts are trained in area studies which offer the prospect of experiencing cultures and therefore comprehend them superiorly.

The observations made in this thesis are sufficient to make it clear that world markets have become far too complex and refined to be understood as purely economic (in the sense of business studies and economics). If people simply bought what they needed then the capitalist economy would have collapsed long ago. It can also be put this way: consumers’ needs have become a rare resource. This is why marketing and advertising have to trigger a series of wants by creating artificial needs. In other words, marketing interprets consumers’ wishes and these wishes are nothing more than an interpretation. Since consumer wishes are determined locally, they must be deciphered, which contradicts standardization. Standardized global marketing strategies will optimistically be increasingly substituted by local approaches adapting to and respectful of local cultural contexts.

For many international observers Indonesia’s diversified and rapidly changing marketplace with consumers who are experiencing the newfound power of increased spending capabilities, coupled with an unprecedented array of choices, it is easy to believe that Indonesian consumers are behaving more like their “Western” counterparts. However, the trend towards Islamization (which is also apparent in advertising and product worlds) demonstrates that the concept of Indonesian consumers adjusting to Western consumer patterns does not reflect reality. In the past few years, Indonesia’s retail environment has changed dramatically (DT, interview December 2004). Product development and marketing have become more sophisticated. Layered and diverse product assortments are reaching increasing numbers of customers. International brands have made dramatic gains in exposure and acceptance. Not to consider the penetration of the Indonesian market would be grossly negligent. The opportunities, risks and imponderability associated with the Indonesian consumer market are culturally bound. Marketing appears to be problematic for many companies since they lack the necessary data and insights or the validity of both. Besides, Indonesia is in no way a brand technological no-man’s-land since domestic brands such as Indofood or Sampoerna are widely accepted by consumers and successfully defend themselves against newcomers. As a result, gaining market share in Indonesia’s fast paced retail environment will become more difficult and expensive. Indonesia is not demanding adventure, just strategically based intercultural marketing wherever possible. The to-date unknown cultural variables were deciphered in this thesis.

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This thesis’ contribution is to reveal the cultural elements influencing Indonesian consumer behaviour, and to make a plea for intercultural marketing. The recommended course of action is in favour of differentiated standardization. Owing to rapid growth in markets outside the Triad countries, i.e. in developing and emerging markets, in future only those companies which can generate revenues in these markets will play a worldwide role. However, substantial severe shortcomings in knowledge of foreign markets still exist. Additionally, there are only very few consumer approaches spatially oriented and tailored to local needs. This is because entrepreneurial pseudo-visionaries see the consumer of the future living in a global village, as a monolithic entity, and thus have global advertising campaigns developed by their marketing teams. Nuances are not always sufficient. It is precisely globalization which requires a localized marketing approach, and thus international marketing (to be understood as intercultural marketing in this thesis) continues to pose a challenge. Learning about cultures and their interaction must take priority. The potential client, his environment, his culture and the existing social groups in the country have to be understood and evaluated. It is becoming apparent that crude and rudimentary background information is no longer sufficient in a globalized world. Many Westerners still associate Indonesia with inexpensive manpower in labour-intensive industries. In contrast, the cities of Indonesia have become showcases of a progressive and aspiring country.

It is imperative to scrutinize internationalization strategies. Here, one option is the “conquest” of Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. Despite all global and regional uncertainties the risk of neglecting the Southeast Asian emerging markets outweighs the one connected with an operational commitment and is rapidly increasing. In this conquest, cultural aspects of overseas business still have to be considered. Those who want to be successful have to be prepared. ”The need to understand Southeast Asia … has never been greater“, write French and Crabbe (1998: 1) and these words nicely sum up the essence of this work.


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