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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

In the marketing and advertising literature very few studies have addressed the issue of Web site standardization or localization, and there is a debate as to whether Web sites are culturally neutral or culturally sensitive documents. To address this confusion and deficit in the literature, this research studies how cultural values are reflected in American and Mexican Web sites. A content analysis of American and Mexican Web pages indicates that there are significant differences in the depiction of local cultural values on the Web.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

The growth of the Internet as an international communication medium raises new issues and challenges for the standardization or adaptation of international marketing communications. The Web, on one hand, is globally accessible and capable of mass communication (Hassan & Blackwell, 1994). On the other hand, the Web attracts information savvy ‘inter-market’ segments, is inherently interactive, and is capable of high levels of customization (Hassan & Blackwell, 1994; Ju-Pak, 1999; Sheth & Sisodia, 1997). This leads to the questions: ‘Are standardized or adapted Web-sites more effective at attracting and keeping global consumers?’

While many studies have investigated standardization and adaptation in print or television advertising (Chiou, 2002; Gregory & Munch, 1997; Mueller, 1987; Zandpour, et al., 1994), few studies have explored this issue in the new communication context of the Internet. The few studies addressing this debate have been inconclusive and do not provide enough evidence of either the emergence of a global Internet culture, or the use of a localized approach to communicating on the Web (Fock, 2000; Luna et. al, 2002; Sackmary & Scalia, 1999; Simon, 2001). However, there is evidence that the majority of Web users like to read Web content in their own language and prefer local Web sites for making purchases. For example, approximately 75% of users in China and Korea prefer Web sites in their local language and choose local Web sites to make purchases (Ferranti, 1999). Additionally, users in France and Spain also show a strong preference for Web sites in their local languages (Lynch et al., 2001). This offers preliminary support that at least some level of Web-site adaptation is effective.

In the communication literature, one topic that is frequently studied is the link between adaptation and local cultural values (e.g. Albers-Miller & Gelb, 1996; Han & Shavitt, 1994; Hornik, 1980). This topic has not yet been investigated in the context of international Internet marketing. This creates a gap in the literature. Therefore, the aim of this study is to add to the standardization versus adaptation debate by addressing whether country-specific Web sites reflect country-specific cultural values. To this end we perform a cultural analysis of the Mexican and American Web pages of U.S. Fortune500 firms that have a Web presence in both countries, as well as the Web sites of local Mexican firms. The goal of this study is to provide academics and Web marketers with evidence as to whether Internet marketing is culturally neutral (standardized) or impregnated with local cultural values (adapted) and to extend the standardization versus adaptation debate to on-line communication.

Why Study Cultural Values?

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

Cultural values have a significant effect on communication. They provide broad guidelines for acceptable ways of behaving and acting in particular situations (Feather, 1995); they influence how we interact and socialize with other members of society (Rokeach, 1973); they affect the valences we attach to different situations (Feather, 1995); and they are a powerful force shaping our motivations, lifestyles, and product choices (Tse, et al., 1989). In essence, cultural values represent the most basic and core beliefs of a society, and these beliefs largely influence our communication patterns.

Studies by Hall and Hall (1990), Hofstede (1980, 1991), Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961), Triandis (1972), and Trompennars (1994) provide evidence that cultural value orientations differ significantly across cultures and countries. A study by Caillat and Mueller (1996) found that American and British commercials have different illustration styles and that these differences are based on cultural differences between these countries. Links between communication differences and cultural value differences have been found across various countries including Brazil (Tansey, Hyman, & Zinkhan, 1990), China (Cheng & Schweitzer, 1996), Hong Kong (Tse, Belk, & Zhou, 1989), Japan (Mueller, 1987), Mexico (McCarthy & Hattwick, 1992), Sweden (Martenson, 1987), and Taiwan (Tse, Belk, & Zhou, 1989). Several researchers, therefore, have emphasized the use of country-specific cultural value appeals when developing international advertising campaigns (Albers-Miller & Gelb, 1996; Han & Shavitt, 1994; Hornik, 1980; Zhang & Gelb, 1996). This adaptive communication strategy, i.e. advertising which reflects local values and norms, has been found to be more persuasive and appealing than standardized advertising (Gregory & Munch, 1997; Mueller, 1987; Zandpour, et al., 1994).

However, studies of the effectiveness of communication using culturally appropriate appeals in advertising and marketing have only studied traditional print and broadcast media. Research by Fock (2000) and Simon (2001) has begun to attempt to extend the use of cultural values to the study of Web content. Thus, in this paper we propose to study the Web as a cultural document, and through the application of a cultural value based framework, to analyze systematically the level of cultural adaptation exhibited in country-specific Web sites.

Cultural Categories

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

To develop the cultural categories to be used for the content analysis an extensive review was completed of the major cultural typologies applied in the business literature. The works of Feather (1990, 1995), Hall and Hall (1990), Hofstede (1980, 1991), Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961), Pollay (1983), Rokeach (1973), Triandis (1972, 1994) and Trompenaars (1994) were reviewed. Also, the literature pertaining to the use of these cultural typologies was reviewed to see how cultural value dimensions have been operationalized and tested (Albers-Miller & Gelb, 1996; Borden, 1991; Cheng & Schewitzer, 1996; Fock, 2000; Gregory & Munch, 1997; Gundykunst, 1998; Hang & Shavitt, 1994; Ju-Pak, 1999; McCarty & Hattwick, 1992; Mueller, 1987; Tansey, Hyman, & Zinkhan, 1990; Triandis, 1994; Tse, Belk, & Zhou, 1989; Zandpour, et al. 1994).

Additionally, all of the major cultural typologies were closely evaluated in the context of Web communication. To meet this goal, the prevailing cultural typologies were used to analyze the Web sites of a random sample of 50 U.S. Fortune 100 companies selected from http://www.fortune.com. For example, we analyzed how masculinity had been operationalized in previous marketing and advertising studies and we determined how effectively these previous operationalizations could be extended and adapted to analyze Web communications

From this thorough review process, the four cultural factors proposed by Hofstede (1980) emerged as most appropriate for this study. This was due to consistencies within the literature regarding this typology, and the exhaustiveness of the typologies' cultural value categories. Also, during the above Web site analysis, it was found that Hofstede's typology provided a high and beneficial level of analytical flexibility making it easily and effectively applied to Web communication.

It is important to note that there has been criticism of the use of Hofstede's cultural typology, mainly focusing on the methodology and the context of his work. While these critiques should be considered, it can be argued that Hofstede's typology is appropriate for this study. First, Hofstede's cultural dimensions have been extensively replicated, thereby validating their position as an important part of cultural theory. A review of 61 studies using Hofstede's cultural dimensions by Sondergaard (1994) found that these dimensions were stable across populations and time periods. Second, according to Clark (1990), there seems to be an overlap among different cultural typologies, and the dimensions commonly used correspond well to Hofstede's typology. Third, Hofstede's values have been found to be applicable to the study of consumption-related values and motives (Mooij, 1998). For example, Mooij (1998) validated the use of Hofstede's data in a marketing setting by successfully linking it to European Media and Marketing survey (EMS) data and Reader's Digest Eurodata. This work shows that consumption behavior data does correlate significantly with Hofstede's dimensions. Additionally, Hofstede's dimensions have been successfully used to show cross-cultural differences in Internet diffusion and adoption (Pavlou & Chai, 2002). Finally, Hofstede's framework or typology has been found to be a valid basis for analysis of regional differences and an effective tool by which Web marketers can adapt their Web sites to local cultures (Simon, 1999, 2001). Therefore, based on the above points, and after a thorough review process, Hofstede's typology will be used to quantify cultural values for this research.

The next step is to develop cultural-coding categories based on the four cultural dimensions of Hofstede (1980). To generate effective cultural value categories reflective of the Web content, a list was created of all of the major interactive or multimedia features commonly present on Web sites (clubs, newsletters, FAQs, security policy, privacy policy, “free stuff,” downloads, graphics, hyperlinks, and others). This list was then evaluated to determine which features are culturally sensitive. To help this conceptualization, the work of Albers-Miller and Gelb (1996) was consulted, as they have empirically tested which of the 42 cultural values appeals by Pollay (1983) are reflective of each of Hofstede's four dimensions. Also, the works of Borden (1991) and Gudykunst (1998) were consulted to see what societal norms are exhibited by cultures studied by Hofstede (1980). Finally, other studies that have used and operationalized Hofstede's typology were also evaluated (e.g. Cheng & Schweitzer, 1996; McCarty & Hattwick, 1992; Mueller, 1987; Zandpour, et al. 1994). Based on this extensive review, categories were developed for the four main cultural dimensions (collectivism, high power distance, high uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity).

The collectivism dimension is operationalized, within the context of Web communications, in terms of the depiction of community relations, clubs and chat rooms, newsletters, family theme, pictures and symbols of national identity, and loyalty programs(Table 1). These categories are based on the emphasis that collectivist societies place on community-based social order (Hofstede, 1991), group well-being (Cho, et al., 1997) and the preservation of the welfare of others (Gudykunst, 1998). In collectivist societies, there is an emotional dependence by individuals on organizations and society (Hofstede, 1980); thus people need forums, places, or clubs where they can share their concerns, views, and emotions. The use of these themes in advertising in collectivist societies has been found in studies of other media. For example, advertising themes in collectivist cultures such as China depict self-in-relation-to-others and group consensus appeal (Lin, 2000). Additionally, Pollay (1983) emphasizes the nurturance theme, wherein members of a group provide each other with support and sympathy. Previous studies have also shown that in collectivist cultures the “we theme,” the use of symbolic appeals, and the depiction of family integrity in commercials are all common (Cho, et al., 1997; Lin, 2001; Trompenaar, 1994).

Table 1.  Operational definitions for the categories label.
DIMENSION: COLLECTIVISM
CATEGORIES:
•Community relations: Presence or absence of community policy, giving back to community, social responsibility policy.
•Clubs or Chat rooms: Presence or absence of members club, product-based clubs, chat with company people, chat with interest groups, message boards, discussion groups, and live talks.
•Newsletter: Online subscriptions, magazines, and newsletters.
•Family Theme: Pictures of family, pictures of teams of employees, mention of employee teams and emphasis on team and collective work responsibility in vision statement or elsewhere on the Web site, and emphasis on customers as a family
•Country Specific News: News of that particular country, news archives, and highlights of country happenings.
•Symbols and pictures of National identity: Flags, pictures of historic monuments, pictures reflecting uniqueness of the country, country-specific symbols in form of icons, and indexes.
•Loyalty Programs: Frequent miles programs, customer loyalty programs, and company credit cards for specific country, special membership programs.
•Links to Local Web sites: Links to country locations, related country-specific companies, and other Web sites from a particular country.
 
DIMENSION: UNCERTAINITY AVOIDANCE
CATEGORIES:
•Customer Service: FAQ's, customer service option, customer help, customer contact or customer service e-mails.
•Secure Payment: Secure lock logo, endorsements from Verisign or Better Business Bureau, privacy policy, security policy, and product return policy.
•Guided Navigation: Site maps, well-displayed links, links in form of pictures or buttons, forward, backward, up and down navigation buttons.
•Tradition theme: Emphasis on history and ties of a particular company with a nation, emphasis on respect, veneration of elderly, phrases “like most respected company,”“keeping the tradition alive,”“for generations,”“company legacy.”
•Local Stores: Mention of contact information for local offices, dealers, shops and other forms of country presence.
•Local Terminology: Use of country-specific metaphors, names of festivals, puns, and a general local touch in the vocabulary of the Web page, not just mere translation.
•Free Trials or Downloads: Free stuff, free downloads, free screen savers, free product trials, free coupons to try the products or services, free memberships, or free service information.
•Customer Testimonials: Customer ratings, customer stories, customer comments about the products, and customers' letters.
•Toll Free Numbers: To call at any time around the clock.
 
DIMENSION: POWER DISTANCE
CATEGORIES:
•Company Hierarchy information: Information about the ranks of company people, information about organizational chart, information about country managers or country-based important people.
•Pictures of CEO's: Pictures of important people in the company, pictures of important people in the industry or celebrities.
•Quality information and Awards: Mention of awards won, mention of quality information and quality certification by international and local agencies.
•Vision statement
•Rank or Prestige of the Company: Rankings vis-à-vis competitors, ranks in the industry, mention of prestige and fame of the company.
•Pride of ownership appeal: Web sites depict happy and proud customers, fashion statement for the product, and use of reference groups to portray pride.
•Proper Titles: Titles of the important people in the company, titles of the people at the contact section, or titles of people on the organizational charts.
 
DIMENSION: MASCULINITY
CATEGORIES:
•Quizzes and games: Games, quizzes, fun stuff to do on the Web site, tips and tricks, recipes, and other fun information.
•Hard Sell Approach: Discounts, promotions, Coupons, Free demos, Product advantages.
•Explicit comparisons: Comparisons with other products, contrasts with other competitor products.
•Realism Theme: Less fantasy and imagery on the Web site, pointed information, lack of nature and oneness with nature appeal, appeals emphasizing product attributes.
•Product effectiveness: Durability information, quality information, product attribute information, and product robustness information.
•Use of Superlatives: Use of superlative words and sentences: “We are the number one,”“The top company,”“The leader,”“World's largest.”
•Clear Gender Roles: Separate pages for men and women, depiction of women in nurturance roles, depiction of women in positions as telephone operators, models, wives, and mothers, depiction of men as macho, men doing manual work, the strength of men, men as powerful personalities.

Similarly, the uncertainty avoidance dimension is operationalized as the depiction of customer service, guided navigation, tradition theme, local terminology, free trials and downloads, customer testimonials, and toll-free numbers. This operationalization is based on the concept that in uncertainty avoidance cultures individuals avoid ambiguous situations and seek advice, security, and guidance to feel at ease (Gudykunst, 1998; Hofstede, 1980). High uncertainty avoidance societies are also “tight societies” that value conservatism and traditional beliefs (Hofstede, 1980). Thus, past customs and conventions are respected, and time-honored traditions are venerated (Pollay, 1983). Since high uncertainty avoidance cultures are rooted in traditions and value ritual behavior (Hofstede, 1980), local metaphors, puns and idioms are widely used. For example, most Japanese Web sites have a customary thank you note for their Web visitors.

To test the reliability of the cultural categories, four doctoral students in a U.S-based AACSB-accredited business school were asked to assign a random list of category items under the cultural dimension they best represented. All four of the doctoral students, all of whom are studying International Business, are well versed in Hofstede's cultural dimensions and have read several articles using his dimensions in a doctoral seminar course on cross-cultural marketing. A overall inter-judge reliability of 85 percent was achieved. Further, a sample of 30 Global Fortune 500 company Web sites from http://www.fortune.com was used for a pilot study to provide an additional test of the categories. This pilot found that three coding categories, namely, celebrity endorsement, product return policy, and viral marketing option, were either not present or showed some overlap. Therefore, these three categories were removed. In the end, a list of 31 operational categories was retained for analyzing the content of Web sites. For more detail regarding the categories, see Table 1 for a list of the categories and the operational definitions of each one.

Choice of U.S. and Mexico

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

The choice of American and Mexican Web sites for the present analysis was based on three main factors. First, the cultural value orientations between these two cultures differ significantly (Gregory & Munch, 1997; Hofstede, 1980, 1991; Mc Carty & Hattwick, 1992), thus giving us two distinct benchmarks to test our hypotheses. For example, it has been found that Mexico is a highly collectivistic society, with a high power distance structure, and with a relatively low tolerance for uncertainty, while the United States is an individualistic society, low on power distance structure and relatively high on tolerance for uncertainty (Hofstede, 1980, 1991). Second, while trade between U.S and Mexico has increased substantially, especially since the passage of the NAFTA, there have been very few cross-national studies of marketing practices, consumer behavior, and advertising messages between the United States and Mexico. We hope that this study will address this deficit in the comparative international marketing research. Finally, both America and Mexico represent significant and growing online consumer populations and are potential future online markets.

Research Questions and Hypotheses

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

While the main focus of this study is to investigate the emergence of a culture-specific or culture-nonspecific (transnational) style on the Web, the specific objectives of the study are two-fold.

First, the aim of the study is to determine if American and Mexican Web pages differ in their depiction of cultural values. A second goal is to explore further how Web pages localized for Mexico differ in their depiction of cultural values from the Web sites of local Mexican companies. Previous research has shown that advertising prominently reflects local cultural values (Albers-Miller & Gelb, 1996; Cheng & Schweitzer, 1996; Mueller, 1987; Tse, Belk, & Zhou, 1989). Thus, we can anticipate that the Web sites of local Mexican companies will more prominently depict local values than non-Mexican Web sites.

Individualism-Collectivism

In individualist societies, ties between individuals are loose, personal freedom is valued and individual decision-making is encouraged. On the contrary, in collectivist societies, in-group ties are strong, following societal norms is valued, and group decision-making is encouraged. In terms of the individualism-collectivism dimension the United States has the highest score out of all of the countries analyzed, while Mexico ranks lower (32) and is more collectivist in orientation (Hofstede, 1980). Based on this the following hypotheses are proposed:

H1a) Mexican Web pages will reflect a higher level of collectivism than American Web pages.

H1b) Local Mexican Web pages will reflect a higher level of collectivism than the Mexican Web pages of American companies.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance relates to the extent to which the people of a country can tolerate ambiguous or uncertain situations. Countries like Greece, Japan, and Mexico rank high on uncertainty avoidance, and their people are relatively more risk averse, need security, and look for direction. The United States ranks much lower (43) on this cultural dimension than Mexico (18), which is a high-risk avoidance culture (Hofstede, 1980). Therefore, the following hypotheses are proposed:

H2a) Mexican Web pages will reflect a higher level of uncertainty avoidance than American Web pages.

H2b) Local Mexican Web pages will reflect a higher level of uncertainty avoidance than the Mexican Web pages of American companies.

Power Distance

Societies that are high on power distance, such as Malaysia, Mexico, and India, accept power and hierarchy in society and are low on egalitarianism. The emphases in high power distance societies are on status, referent power, authority, and legitimacy. America ranks far below (38) Mexico (56) in terms of power distance scores (Hofstede, 1980). Due to these differences, the following hypotheses emerge:

H3a) Mexican Web pages will reflect a higher level of power distance than American Web pages.

H3b) Local Mexican company Web pages will reflect a higher level of power distance than the Mexican Web pages American companies.

Masculinity-Femininity

Masculine cultures value assertiveness, ambition, success, and performance. To such cultures big and fast is beautiful, the machismo ideal is acceptable, and clear gender roles are the norm. In contrast, feminine cultures value, beauty, nature, nuturance, the maschimo ideal is not acceptable, and gender roles are blurred. Countries such as Japan, Austria, and Mexico are examples of masculine cultures, while most of the Nordic countries score high on femininity. Mexico is a relatively more masculine society (6) than the United States (15) (Hofstede, 1980). Therefore, we hypothesize the following:

H4a) Mexican Web pages will reflect a higher level of masculinity than American Web pages.

H4b) Local Mexican company Web pages will reflect a higher level of masculinity than the Mexican Web pages of American companies.

Methodology

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

Content Analysis of the Web Sites

Content analyses are a reputable and a widely used tool for conducting objective, systematic, and quantitative analysis of communication content (Berelson, 1952; Kassarjian, 1977). This method has been widely used in the fields of marketing research, consumer behavior, advertising and international marketing to understand the characteristics and behavior of the target market (Cutler & Javalgi, 1992; Wheeler, 1988). Content analysis procedures have also been extensively used to study cultural value appeals in traditional print and broadcast media (Albers-Miller & Gelb, 1996; Cutler & Javalgi, 1992; Mueller, 1997; Tse, Belk, & Zhou, 1989). However, the use of a content analysis to study information content on the Internet is still at an infancy stage, and only a few studies have used this technique (e.g. Ju-Pak, 1999; Rafaeli & Sudweeks, 1997). Since content analysis is regarded as an appropriate technique for analyzing the values, norms of behavior, and other elements of a culture as represented in the verbal material produced by people (Berelson, 1952), we use it to analyze cultural values systematically, as depicted on the Web pages of American and Mexican Web sites.

Source of Data

The American section of the sample for the study was selected from the ‘Top Global Fortune500’ firms as listed on Fortune Magazine's Web site (http://www.fortune.com). This list was reduced to just the companies that sold products and services in Mexico and the United States. This determination was based of the information provided on the company's Web site and the company information provided on http://www.hoovers.com. After investigating all of the Fortune500 companies, 145 companies were found to have business activity in both the U.S and Mexico. None of these 145 companies were from Mexico. From these 145-company Web sites only 30 American company Web sites had fully developed and usable American (30) and Mexican (30) Web pages.

To select the local Mexican company Web sites, the list of top local Mexican company Web sites, available at Wright Investors' Service (http://www.wisi.com), was used. From a total of 103 companies listed, a sample of top 35 companies was selected for our analysis.

Thus, a total of 95 Web sites were content analyzed for the purpose of this study. The unit of analysis was the entire Web site. Each Website had approximately 20 to 25 pages of content. This resulted in roughly 2000 pages of Web content to be analyzed for this study. A frequency count was done to record the occurrence or non-occurrence of each item used to operationalize each of the four cultural dimensions.

Reliability

Through a series of intensive sessions, two coders, fluent in both English and Spanish, and two U.S. postgraduate students fluent in English were trained in the coding scheme. These four coders were different from the students discussed above that were used to test the reliability of the cultural categories. Both of the coders analyzing the Mexican Web pages were international graduate students, and while most of their education had been in either Mexico or Venezuela, both coders were in the U.S. for their postgraduate degree. A random sample of 25 percent of the Web sites was examined for rater reliability. Both of the coders analyzed the full Web sites to count the occurrence or non-occurrence of each of the 31 items under each of the categories. When disagreements occurred the items were reviewed by a third coder and a majority rule was used to determine the coding. Inter-judge reliability was then calculated by using a per-item agreement method suggested in the literature (Kassarjian, 1977). Overall reliability for American Web pages was 89 percent. For Mexican and local Mexican Web sites, the reliabilities were 83 percent and 87 percent respectively. This is an acceptable level of reliability (Kassarjian, 1977). To check the intra-judge reliability a random sample of 25 percent the Web sites was coded again after two months. An intra-judge reliability score of 90 percent was achieved in the case of American Web sites. In the case of Mexican and local Mexican Web sites, intra-judge reliabilities were 91 and 93 percent respectively.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

On the Internet, as the entry barriers for international markets have been tumbling, domestic and international competition has been increasing. In such a challenging, borderless, and competitive environment, the organizations that will win global online markets will be the ones that think global and act local. This involves catering to a wide range of linguistic, cultural, content, technical, legal, marketing, and infrastructural issues both at a local and a global level. However, the results from this study indicate that even though American companies are adapting their Web sites to Mexican audiences they still have a long road ahead in terms of online localization. In the following paragraph we discuss the main findings of the content analysis.

To test the hypotheses regarding country differences in the depiction of cultural values on the Web, cross-tabulation tables for each of the 31 items listed under cultural value categories and the four cultural dimensions were analyzed for between-country differences using a chi-square test (Tables 2 and 3).

Table 2.  Frequency of items under cultural value categories: A comparison of Fortune500 U.S. and Mexican Web pages
ItemsMexico(30) (%)U.S (30) (%)Chi-sq(p<) df=1
     
Collectivism    
Composite Score63.543.828.32(.00)
1. Community Relations83.383.3ns 
2. Clubs or Chat room36.723.3ns 
3. Newsletter67.040.04.28(.03)
4. Family Theme46.73.315.0(.00)
5. Country-specific information86.786.7ns 
6. Symbols & Pictures of Nation66.716.715.4(.00)
7. Loyalty Programs56.713.312.4(.00)
8. Links to Local Web sites8073.3ns 
     
Uncertainty Avoidance    
Composite Score6155ns 
1. Customer Service86.093.3ns 
2. Secure Payment76.373.1ns 
3. Guided Navigation96.790.4ns 
4. Tradition Theme70.026.711.2(.00)
5. Local Stores83.373.3ns 
6. Local Terminology16.720.0ns 
7. Free Trials and Downloads26.726.7ns 
8. Customer Testimonials16.713.3ns 
9. Toll Free Numbers73.383.3ns 
     
Power Distance    
Composite Score554314.98(.036)
1. Company Hierarchy Information30.020.0ns 
2. Pictures of CEO's70.053.3ns 
3. Quality Information and Awards80.070.0ns 
4. Vision Statement76.770.0ns 
5. Rank or Prestige of the Company76.746.75.7(.01)
6. Pride of Ownership appeal23.723.3ns 
7. Proper Titles46.736.7ns 
     
Masculinity    
Composite Score86.746.717.4(.008)
1. Quizzes and Games26.733.3ns 
2. Hard Sell Approach70.040.05.45(.02)
3. Explicit Comparisons3.313.3ns 
4. Realism Theme50.046.7ns 
5. Product Effectiveness93.383.3ns 
6. Use of Superlatives86.746.710.8(.001)
7. Clear Gender Roles40.0015.0(.001)
Table 3.  Frequency of items under cultural value vategories: A comparison of Fortune500 Mexican Web pages and local Mexican Web sites
ItemsMexico(30) (%)Local Mexico(35) (%)Chi-sq(p<) df=1
     
Collectivism    
Composite Score63.564.611.76(.067)
1. Community Relations83.3604.25(.04)
2. Clubs or Chat room36.723.3ns 
3. Newsletter67.074.34.28(.03)
4. Family Theme46.780.07.8(.005)
5. Country-specific information86.791.4ns 
6. Symbols & Pictures of Nation66.762.9ns 
7. Loyalty Programs56.762.9ns 
8. Links to Local Web sites8057.13.8(.04)
     
Uncertainty Avoidance    
Composite Score6150ns 
1. Customer Service86.080.0ns 
2. Secure Payment76.337.110.2(.001)
3. Guided Navigation96.788.6ns 
4. Tradition Theme70.065.7ns 
5. Local Stores83.380.0ns 
6. Local Terminology16.745.76.2(.01)
7. Free Trials and Downloads26.717.1ns 
8. Customer Testimonials16.75.7ns 
9. Toll Free Numbers73.334.39.87(.002)
     
Power Distance    
Composite Score5566.513.17(.022)
1. Company Hierarchy Information30.034.3ns 
2. Pictures of CEO's70.060.0ns 
3. Quality Information and Awards80.094.33.05(.07)
4. Vision Statement76.785.7ns 
5. Rank or Prestige of the Company76.791.4ns 
6. Pride of Ownership appeal23.717.1ns 
7. Proper Titles46.782.99.44(.002)
     
Masculinity    
Composite Score51.456ns 
1. Quizzes and Games26.720.0ns 
2. Hard Sell Approach70.077.1ns 
3. Explicit Comparisons3.32.9ns 
4. Realism Theme50.025.74.0(.04)
5. Product Effectiveness93.394.3ns 
6. Use of Superlatives86.794.3ns 
7. Clear Gender Roles40.077.19.9(.002)

Collectivism

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

The frequency count from cross-tabulations of Fortune500 Company Web sites revealed that American Web pages, as compared to Mexican Web pages, less frequently used a collectivism theme (U.S.:43.8% vs. Mexico: 63.5%). This difference is significant (chi-square = 28.32, p < .001). The items newsletter (U.S.: 40% vs. Mexico: 67.0%, chi-square =4.28, p< .03), family theme (U.S.: 3.3% vs. Mexico: 46.7%, chi-square=15.0, p< .00), symbols & pictures of national identity (U.S.: 16.7% vs. Mexico: 66.7%, chi-square=15.4, p< .00), and loyalty programs (U.S.: 13.3% vs. Mexico: 56.7%, chi-square=12.4, p< .00) significantly differed between U.S and Mexican Web pages(Table 2). Thus Hypothesis 1a) is supported.

The second stage of analysis was to compare American Fortune500 companies' Mexican Web pages with local Mexican Web pages. Cross-tabulations revealed that collectivism levels were similar between the two samples (Fortune500 -Mexican Web page: 63.5% vs. Local Mexican Web site: 64.6%) (chi-square = 11.76, p< .067). Furthermore, only the family theme was more prominently displayed in local Mexican company Web sites than in the Mexican Web pages of Fortune500 companies (Fortune500-Mexican Web page: 46.7% vs. Local Mexican Web site: 80%, chi-square=7.8, p< .001) (Table-3). Thus hypothesis 1b) is only marginally supported.

Uncertainty Avoidance

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

The frequency of the occurrence of uncertainty avoidance features was slightly higher in Mexican Web pages than in American Web pages (U.S.: 55% vs. Mexico: 61%) and this difference was not significant(Table 2). Only the tradition theme was more frequently displayed in the Mexican Web pages (U.S.: 26.7% vs. Mexico: 70.0%, chi-square=11.2, p< .00)(Table 2). Thus hypothesis 2a) is not supported.

The comparison of the Mexican Web pages of American Fortune500 companies with local Mexican company Web pages revealed that the depiction of the uncertainty avoidance theme was more prominent in case of American company Mexican Web pages (Fortune500-Mexican Web page: 61% vs. Local Mexican Web site: 50%), but that this difference was not significant(Table 3). Moreover, the use of security information and toll free numbers was significantly higher for American company's Mexican Web pages(Table 3). Only local terminology was more prominently displayed in local Mexican Web sites (Fortune500-Mexican company Web page: 16.7% vs. Local Mexican Web site: 45.7%, chi-square=6.2, p< .01). Thus Hypothesis 2b) is not supported.

Power Distance

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

The American Web pages showed significantly lower levels of the occurrence of power distance items, as compared to the Mexican Web pages (U.S.: 43% vs. Mexico: 55%, chi-square = 14.98, p< .036). Only one item, the rank or prestige of the company, was found to differ significantly between the U.S. and Mexican Web pages(Table 2). On the other hand, of the remaining six items, five were in the predicted direction. With the limited sample size used in this analysis and the resulting limited power of the statistical analysis, these non-significant items merit attention. Together, the results paint a picture of a difference between American and Mexican Web pages. Thus hypothesis 3a) is partially supported.

An analysis of the Mexican Web pages of the American companies and the local Mexican company Web pages showed that local Mexican companies showed a significant difference for the ‘Power distance’ category (chi-square = 13.17, p< .022). This difference is in the predicted direction (Fortune500-Mexican Web page: 55% vs. Local Mexican Web site: 66.5%). Furthermore, the items like quality information and awards and proper titles were much more significantly displayed in local Mexican Web sites than in the Mexican Web pages of American companies(Table 3). Counting the non-significant items, 5 of the 7 features were in the predicted direction. Thus, hypothesis 3b) is partially supported.

Masculinity

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

The Mexican Web pages showed higher levels of the occurrence of the items under the masculinity category as compared to their American counterparts (U.S.: 38% vs. Mexico: 51%). A chi-square analysis found this difference to be significant (chi-square = 17.4, p<.008). The frequency of the depiction of use of superlatives (U.S.: 46.7% vs. Mexico: 86.7%, chi-square=10.8, p< .00), and clear gender roles (U.S.: 0% vs. Mexico: 40%, chi-square=15.0, p<.00), was significantly higher in the case of Mexican Web pages(Table 2). Counting the non-significant items, 5 of the 7 features were in the predicted direction. Thus hypothesis 4a) is partially supported.

In the case of local Mexican company Web sites, while the depiction of masculinity was higher than in American company Mexican Web pages (Fortune500-Mexican company Web page: 51.4% vs. Local Mexican Web site: 56%), this difference was not significant(Table 3). The depiction of gender roles seemed to be especially high in the case of local Mexican Web sites (Fortune500-Mexican company Web page: 40% vs. Local Mexican Web site: 77.1%, chi-square=9.95, p< .00)(Table 3). On the other hand, there was no other support for the hypothesis. Therefore, hypothesis 4b) is not supported.

To summarize, four of the hypotheses (H1a), H3a), H3b), and H4a)) are strongly or partially supported, one is marginally supported (H1b)), and three are not supported (H2a), H2b), H4b)). Therefore, the findings support some level of cultural adaptation of Web sites and seem to highlight that Web content reflects the cultural value orientation of the country that the Web page is targeting. Secondly, the findings also show that overall Local Mexican Web pages more frequently depict power distance and collectivism values, and that U.S. marketers need to further adapt their Mexican Web sites for these two cultural values. These results have especially important applications for marketers, as they show that marketers still have room to improve their adaptation to specific (in this case Mexican) cultures. In the following discussion some examples and insights are shared, supporting the results.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

From the results it is clear that family theme, tradition theme, use of local terminology, proper titles, and rank or prestige of the company were some category items on which American Web pages differed from Mexican Web pages, regardless of whether the Web sites was advertising to a local or an American audience. For example, the Web site of http://www.cemex.com, a local Mexican company, beautifully depicted the collectivistic feature emphasis on teamwork, and linked this to the overall success of the company. Similarly, the tradition theme was prominently depicted in the form of ‘legacy statements,’‘legacy of the founding fathers of the company,’ and ‘pictures of founding Chairman.’ Local terminology was another feature used extensively in Mexican Web pages. For example, most of the Local Mexican Web sites used native terms. For instance, Grupo Modelo, a brewery, used local slogans like “Tu Tienes Corona,” meaning ‘you have a crown’ to market their Corona brand of beer.

In most of the Mexican Web sites, local or otherwise, the use of proper company titles was common. In addition to plain titles, emphasis was also placed on the professional degree the person held, inlcuding Licenciado, Ingeniero, and Doctor. Another interesting feature found in the Mexican Web pages was a clear depiction of gender roles. Men play a predominant role in the pictures shown on the Web sites. In most of the pictures, men were shown conducting most of the company operations, and women, while barely depicted, were shown played traditional roles (see Figure 1).

image

Figure 1. An illustration of how cultural values are depicted on some Mexican Web sites.

Download figure to PowerPoint

To gain more insight into the sensitivity of the Internet to cultural differences, an additional comparison of local American and Local Mexican Websites was completed (see Table 4). In brief, a Chi-Square analysis found that Mexican Websites were more Collectivist, more Masculine, and exhibited higher Power Distance. Similar to the above findings, no differences between countries were found in terms of Uncertainty Avoidance. The findings indicate that when the local Websites of two culturally distant countries are examined, their content strongly reflects the specific culture in which it was created. Therefore, we can conclude that the Web reflects cultural values.

Table 4.  Frequency of Items under Cultural Value Categories: A Comparison of Fortune500 U.S. Web pages and Local Mexican Web sites
ItemsU.S (30) (%)Local Mexico(35) (%)Chi-sq(p<) df=1
     
Collectivism    
Composite Score42.564.726.47(.00)
1. Community Relations83.3604.25(.04)
2. Clubs or Chat room23.328.6ns 
3. Newsletter40.074.37.82(.005)
4. Family Theme3.380.038.43(.001)
5. Country-specific information86.791.4ns 
6. Symbols & Pictures of Nation16.762.914.19(.00)
7. Loyalty Programs13.362.916.51(.00)
8. Links to Local Web sites73.357.1ns 
     
Uncertainty Avoidance    
Composite Score61.256.8ns 
1. Customer Service93.380.0ns 
2. Secure Payment62.937.18.51(.004)
3. Guided Navigation90.088.6ns 
4. Tradition Theme26.765.79.87(.002)
5. Local Stores73.380.0ns 
6. Local Terminology20.045.74.77(.029)
7. Free Trials and Downloads26.717.1ns 
8. Customer Testimonials13.35.7ns 
9. Toll Free Numbers83.334.315.85(.00)
     
Power Distance    
Composite Score4058.219.95(.006)
1. Company Hierarchy Information20.034.3ns 
2. Pictures of CEO's53.360.0ns 
3. Quality Information and Awards70.094.36.78(.009)
4. Vision Statement70.085.7ns 
5. Rank or Prestige of the Company46.791.415.65(.00)
6. Pride of Ownership appeal23.317.1ns 
7. Proper Titles36.782.914.56(.00)
     
Masculinity    
Composite Score32.948.926.86(.00)
1. Quizzes and Games33.320.0ns 
2. Hard Sell Approach40.077.19.29(.002)
3. Explicit Comparisons13.32.9ns 
4. Realism Theme46.725.7ns 
5. Product Effectiveness83.394.3ns 
6. Use of Superlatives46.794.318.29(.00)
7. Clear Gender Roles0.077.139.59(.00)

Implications and Future Research

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References

The findings from this study confirm that the Internet is not a culturally neutral medium. Instead, there are significant differences in the depiction of local cultural values on the Web. By providing evidence of cultural adaptation on the Web, this research enhances the validity of previous studies that have confirmed the use of a localized-specialized approach to advertising in print and broadcast media (Albers-Miller & Gelb, 1996; Cutler & Javalgi, 1992; Tse, Belk, & Zhou, 1989). Furthermore, this research also serves as a benchmark for future studies attempting to measure the cultural values reflected in Mexican marketing. This will increase in importance as the Mexican economy grows, becomes technologically advanced, and becomes further integrated into the global marketplace.

We hope that the proposed framework based on Hofstede's cultural values will be useful for marketers and Web site designers to develop country-specific Web sites. If applied, this framework can not only culturally adapt Web sites, but also enhance Web site usability and increase the global competitiveness of the companies using global Web communications. The framework can also be successfully used to design culturally adaptable banner advertisements and streaming videos on the Web.

Finally, studying cultural content on Websites can also provide insights into the cultural and societal characteristics of a particular national culture and help marketers to avoid cultural faux pas when marketing globally. However, the framework proposed in this study puts serious demands on Web designers and marketers to study different cultures minutely and then design international Websites. Thus, to implement this framework, Web designers will not only need to be able to identify and incorporate etic dimensions of culture (cultural values) but also will need to study each culture to find the specific elements (symbols and language use) which are so crucial in an emic enquiry. For example, Web marketers can further enhance the cultural adaptation of their international Web sites by being sensitive to spatial orientation or how the Web content is structured in the Web space. Spatial orientation has a direct effect on Website usability, because it effects visual perception. For example most of the oriental scripts (Japanese, Korean, Chinese) are justified and read vertically, on the other hand Arabic is read from right to left, and English is read left to right. Thus for Arabic reader a left justified Web page might not be visually appealing.

Other elements on the Web sites that need to be localized include:

Web Page Layout

Special attention should be paid when translating roman-based alphabets (English, French, German) to non-roman based alphabets (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) as the rules of bolding, underlining, capitalizing, and font selection vary between these two sets of alphabets (Rockwell, 1998). For example if a font size of nine is used for oriental alphabets they become less legible. Thus, attention should be paid when selecting character sets, character fonts, collating sequences and word order.

Text Length

Text length determines the format of the Web pages needed for the Website in a particular country. For example when translating into languages that use roman-based alphabets, the size of the text is expected to go up by thirty percent (Rockwell, 1998). Furthermore, the text length has implications for graphic use, font size, line length, and scan order for the page.

Navigation Modes

The variations in language readability (left to right, or right to left, or vertical) across cultures also impacts how people browse the Web pages. For examples studies by Barber and Badre (1998) and Sheppard and Scholtz (1999) have shown that people in Arabic cultures who are used to reading from right to left prefer navigation bars in a similar sequence.

Translation Equivalence

When translating the Websites special attention is needed to how various concepts, words, and sentences are translated from one language to another. The international marketing literature is full of marketing blunders caused by a lack of translation equivalence. Thus special attention is needed to vocabulary equivalence, grammatical equivalence, conceptual equivalence, and idiomatic equivalence.

Dialects

Language not only differs among cultures but also among various subcultures in the form of different dialects. Even though United States and Britain are considered culturally less distant, English usage differs significantly between these two countries. Alvarez, et al (1998) gives an example of selecting between Castilian and Latin American dialect when targeting Spanish consumers.

Country-Specific Symbols

Country-specific symbols include anything that portrays a way of life or culturally specific knowledge. For example in Arabic cultures the use of pictures of men, women, and animals is discouraged, while elaborate text in a calligraphic style is acceptable and liked. Furthermore, use of visual metaphors (star, crescent, cross), animal figures, religious objects and signs, taboo words, graphics of hand gestures, aesthetic codes, forbidden food (beef in India), may need a detailed emic enquiry of the specific culture.

Icons

Several icons are very country-specific. When analyzing a Website special attention is needed to know whether the icon is understood in a particular culture. For example, the icons of a yellow school bus, or a red hexagonal sign, and an American mailbox with a flag may not be well understood outside the U.S. Thus, when using icons on the Web, country-specific understanding is needed.

Color Symbolism

Different colors mean different things to people in different cultures. For example, Ricks et al. (1974) give an example of a company whose green-labeled packaging was not well received by some Malaysians, because to them green symbolized the jungle and its dangers and diseases. However, green is associated with fertility in Egypt, safety in the U.S. and indicates criminality in France (Barber & Badre, 1998). Similarly, in western cultures white is the color for the bride's gown, while in India widows wear white. Thus, the use of specific colors on Websites has to be congruent with the needs and expectations of the specific country being targeted.

Before concluding, there are some limitations of this study that need to be highlighted. First, the results from the present study are limited in their scope, because the Web sites selected for analysis were chosen on the basis of company rankings without any consideration for industry and product category. In part this limitation was due to the small number of companies which had well-developed Web pages for both the U.S. and Mexico. From this small sample, it was difficult to segment Web sites based on industry or product category. Thus, it is recommended that future research should conduct industry and country-level comparisons to further validate the findings from this study. This small sample also limited the power of the statistical analyses. Second, the U.S. and Mexico are two nations divided not only by culture, but also by level of economic development and technology. Thus, differences between these two distinct nations may be based on these differences, not on cultural differences. Therefore, future research should compare countries with similar levels of economic development and technological advancement, but with different cultural value orientations (e.g. the U.S and Japan). Finally, it is important to note that cultural differences are not only limited to value-orientations; cultures also differ in usage of language, colors, icons, signs and symbols. A detailed semiotic framework for analyzing cross-cultural differences in Web content could complement and strength the category framework proposed in this study.

In conclusion, it is clear that just translating a Website into a local language is not sufficient for developing global Web sites. The use of software on the Internet that offers automatic translation services may be prone to various cultural errors, and this lack of cultural adaptability may have caused some of the past marketing blunders on the Web. By providing a cultural framework to analyze Web communication this study hopes to help marketers and Web designers to customize international Web sites and to avoid the encoding and decoding errors so common in intercultural communication.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Why Study Cultural Values?
  5. Cultural Categories
  6. Choice of U.S. and Mexico
  7. Research Questions and Hypotheses
  8. Methodology
  9. Results
  10. Collectivism
  11. Uncertainty Avoidance
  12. Power Distance
  13. Masculinity
  14. Discussion
  15. Implications and Future Research
  16. References
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