Art Madsen, M.Ed.
Zhilin Yang, M.Econ., Research Support


The global marketing issues associated with standardization of advertising in differing cultural and environmental contexts are far ranging in their implications for ultimate product success or failure. Citing a research survey designed by Nove Ltd, a major global manufacturer of dry shavers, the present analysis:

    1. Offers an overview of consumer reaction to one Nove product in three unidentified countries;
    2. Provides a discussion of the theoretical basis for standardization of advertising; and
    3. Determines whether, and to what degree, standardization is appropriate for each country.

The paper concludes that a blend of customized, culturally sensitive advertising seems necessary in the case of Country C, and formulates insightful suggestions for the other two nations.


The case study under consideration, that of Nove Ltd., with headquarters and manufacturing operations in Hong Kong, would seem at first glance to contain a number of nearly ideal elements. Indeed, this firm is a globally oriented enterprise that already enjoys a large market share in the dry shaver sector in all three countries separately targeted for expansion of sales -- in addition to a solid market base for all of its products in its previously established major sales territories.

Doubling of the existing advertising budget in these three subsidiary countries and launching a consumer investigation survey to further entrench its sales might, therefore, seem a bit frivolous. NOVE has already submerged its competitors, even in two of the three newly targeted countries. Nonetheless, the firm’s advertising manager, arguably due to expansive departmental urges perhaps unrelated to the company’s overall best interests, as Paliwoda points out (1994, 35), has decided to explore consumer shaving behavior in relation to the Nove dry shaver. Further, the manager called for drafting of a strategic marketing plan for each of the three nations. Each plan must culminate in a decision, supported by actual market data generated by surveys conducted in each country, as to whether or not advertising should be customized or standardized to achieve optimal sales penetration.

In addition to examining survey results available in Nove case study materials, it will become important, as well, to demonstrate an understanding of the theoretical basis of consumer behavior within a marketing context on the basis of cross-cultural factors.

Therefore, this study, while addressing pertinent points related to NOVE, will also contain references to theorists active in the field of cross-cultural and global marketing strategies. It is crucial to keep in mind that this discussion will lead to a viable decision for Countries A, B and C, jointly or severally, concerning the advisability of standardizing advertising in those locales.

Overview of Nove Survey Results

It is obvious that Nove Ltd has considerable influence in the overseas sector. Their advertising and marketing executives have apparently done well in the past in all three countries, in light of the market share figures presented. Only in Country A, which seems to be a highly industrialized and diversified nation, might more progress be necessary to overturn the dominance of Otex, Nove’s closest competitor.

The dynamics of Country C tend to indicate almost at first glance certain patterns discernable in the Third World. Lower literacy rates are apparent; perception of advertising material is marginal; reliance on traditional means of knowledge about product brands, and apparent brand loyalty, are higher than in Country A, as noted on Table 5 in the survey. Of course, further market scanning, locally, would be required if a more serious attempt at total market penetration in Country A were to be made, in spite of pre-existing virtually full-fledged acceptance here among customers.

Already, without looking closely at Country B, a certain polarization is occurring in purchase patterns and product recognition. There seems little doubt that specially tailored, non-standardized approaches to advertising will be required in Country C.

Examining Country B’s profile, one perceives a fierce product loyalty quotient, with 55% of those questioned preferring Nover model shavers. This level of product acceptance and satisfaction is also reflected in the relative number of Nover shavers in use in Country B. Country C, in contrast, demonstrates less brand loyalty than B, while A seems to be least attached to Nover.

Synoptic Table of Pertinent Survey Findings

Key Observation

Country A

Country B

Country C

Literacy, Media Impact,

Product Awareness

Comparatively High

High Awareness

Marginal Literacy

Brand Loyalty,

Repeat Sales

Unstable, Shifting

Seems Stable

Volatile, Unpredictable

Market Complexity Quotient

Sophisticated and Diverse



Third World Conditions

Nover`s Competitive Position in relation to Otex and Porde

Poor Position, Requires Upgrading

Two Thirds

Of All Dry Shavers

Half of Entire Market

This tri-national profile shows, in effect, that there are major differences in awareness of product availability, initial purchasing, repeat sales, and customer acceptance of this specific Nove product. Additionally, market complexity seems to differ. One can infer from the Case Study Tables that the more simplistic patterns of a Third World nation, almost predictable in their replication, are surely not those of a highly competitive and sophisticated nation. Due to the diversity of all countries, however, this dichotomy could have been expected prior to the survey; and, yet, the survey itself was perhaps helpful in determining to what extent, and in what directions culturally targeted marketing initiatives should be implemented.

Theoretical Underpinning of Global Promotion Strategies

There are a number of relevant paradigms that should be examined in light of the preceding observations. Because of the diversity of customer-manufacturer circumstances in Countries A, B and C, a mix of promotional strategies – applied more perhaps to one country than to another – is called for. The advertising manager and his team should determine the extent of implementation for any one component of the selected promotional mix, as a function of more detailed information than available in the Case Study material. However, the principal objective, increased sales dominance, must not be lost in the process.

Along these lines, Cateora (1990) defines promotion mix, within this context, as, "advertising, sales promotion, personal selling and public relations which are mutually reinforcing and focus on a common objective." Similarly, Levitt, in his well-known article published in the Harvard Business Review (1983), mentions that one of the most universal of concepts in marketing is the quest for modernity. He felt that Japanese companies discovered this first, and that they promoted successful products everywhere in the world by highlighting their modern features. ‘Modernity’, as such, could form the common objective across the board in Countries A, B and C for Nover model shavers.

The creation of an advertising image, either customized in accordance with local conditions, or standardized like Coca-Cola’s image, is absolutely necessary in all three countries. Johansson and Nonaka point out that creation of a feeling, a dream, or a spirit, paraphrasing them slightly, in relation to the product image is critical to enhancing sales (1996). This concept could be adapted to Country C where visual impact may be more important, on bill boards and public panels, than advertising in print media. In Country B where literacy seems acceptably high, a more sophisticated approach could be taken, perhaps addressing, in soothing words, the emotional or even romantic issues associated with shaving oneself each morning. Country A might respond favorably to such an approach as well, thus improving sagging or static sales.

Jain in an insightful JOM article (1989) clarifies the relationship of company, product and environment. He states that the characteristics of the product, its market position and its environmental setting must be carefully weighed in determining whether standardization in advertising is appropriate or not. Product environment is extremely important in any promotional campaign, he stresses. It would seem, therefore, as if Jain might argue, across the board, for non-standardization in many instances. Jain adds that proper channels and a well-constructed marketing infrastructure are prerequisites in any global environment. His remarks could, of course, apply equally but differently to Countries A, B or C in the Nove Ltd scenario.

Adding to the preceding thoughts, Douglas mentions the need to achieve "positional advantage" in relation to one’s competitor. In the case of Nover shavers, Country A would seem in need of repositioning its products advantageously with respect to Otex (1995, 272).

In the design of a suitable strategy for a global approach, as Paliwoda points out (1994, p 73), the functional aspects of a non-hi-tech product (a dry shaver is relatively low-tech) could be emphasized. There are possible adaptations to this approach, particularly if beards are in fashion, for instance, in Country C. Trimming of one’s beard could be stressed, or variations on this theme could be developed.

Indeed, demand characteristics of a given product, in this case the shaver, determine the degree or level of standardization -- in both product and advertising. When demand is stable, the product, and its advertising campaign, can be standardized since it is obviously pleasing someone! On the other hand, if the consumer’s needs and desires are constantly changing, then standardization is difficult to sustain. As in the case of Nove Ltd, however, the advertising manager (who seems fairly aggressive in his approach) may not be satisfied with merely sustaining status quo sales, however good they may be in two of the three countries.

Vital Components of an Overseas Market

Bennett mentions the need to assess certain vital components of an overseas market and formulates several excellent standard and non-standard PR and advertising objectives (1995, 314) for overcoming obstacles and barriers. Some of these objectives, in the case of Nove Ltd, could apply tentatively to Country A, others to B or C, as noted in brackets on the bulleted insert below:

A list of suggestions, such as this, is not infinite, but could be quite a bit longer. Matching the correct priorities to the appropriate environment will achieve optimal results, along with a touch of creativity and ingenuity.

Following up on concepts that seem peripherally related to Bennett’s priorities, Malhotra (1988), when speaking of third world nations, seemingly fitting the profile of Country C, indicates that there are acceptable statistical and quantitative methods for determining customer preferences. Many of his observations might apply to Nove Countries A and B as well, since models for customer preference, brand recognition and loyalty are all fairly uniform and can be applied to the full range of socio-economic environmental circumstances.

This last two segments of this Nove Ltd dry shaver case analysis have dealt principally with the theoretical concepts behind marketing of merchandise in globally diverse locations, and with vital elements within typical overseas markets. Sifting through standardized or customized advertising strategies for Nove’s A, B and C markets is quite another story.

Customization, with a Streak of Standardization, Seems Indicated

Speaking from America, Hofstede rather high-handedly, but perhaps accurately defined culture as:

" … the interactive aggregate of common characteristics that influence a group’s response to its environment." -- 1980, p. 18

Advertising executives, such as those at Nove Ltd who designed the survey questions, were doubtless well aware of the implications of Hofstede’s definition. In fact, it is important to identify the mutually shared characteristics of a nation’s population and to note quite carefully the responsive behavior of consumers within that environment. The cultural attributes of a given market cannot therefore be underestimated.

The Nove Ltd investigation questionnaire yielded several clear-cut results indicating that major differences among the three countries exist. This would tend to suggest that standardization of certain aspects of all three advertising campaigns is necessary, in terms of brand image perhaps, but that customization of the approaches utilized seems indispensable.

Furthermore, simple market place economics are called into play as well. In countries where demand for the Nover model shaver is limited (Country A) in relation to competing models, it might prove advisable to lower the retail price or offer a promotional introductory sale. In Country C, where print media seem of limited value, and where consumers may be tempted to ‘jump brands’ it seems wise to suggest a massive campaign using large billboards, flashy pictures and slogans likely to increase loyalty. Testimonials, perhaps in large market places, in third world countries, such as C seems to be, are perennially popular. All of these strategies are clearly "customization", as opposed to standardization.

The characteristics of shaving must also be stressed. Here, standardization is possible since a beard is a beard, and comfort is comfort. Careful attention, however, to the reasons those who shave enjoy certain shavers, and not others, must be forthcoming when designing an ad campaign for each nation. Countries B and C place priority on "ease" of shaving; whereas a mix of factors motivate the shaving public in Country A.

Perhaps foremost in the decision to standardize or not is the history of success in previous ad campaigns. If existing sales figures are any indication of historical success, Country A requires a change of strategy; whereas Countries B and C require, it would seem, intensification of an already successful approach. On balance, customization is indicated, but with a streak of standardization to reinforce brand image and corporate reputation in the minds of astute consumers in all three nations.


Bennett, R. International Marketing: Strategy, Planning, Market Entry and Implementation, Kogan Page, London, 1995.

Cateora, P. International Marketing (7th Edition), Richard D. Irwin, Inc. Boston, Mass, 1990.

Douglas, S. and Craig, C. Global Marketing Strategy, McGraw-Hill, New York, London, 1995.

Hofstede, G. Culture’s Consequences, Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, 1986.

Jain, S. "Standardization of International Marketing Strategy: Some Research Hypotheses", Journal of Marketing, January 1989, 70-79.

Johansson, J. and Nonaka, I. "Relentless: The Japanese Way of Marketing", Harper Business, 1996.

Kapferer, J. Strategic Brand Management, Kogan Page, London, 1992.

Levitt, T. "The Globalization of Markets", Harvard Business Review, May-June 1983, 92-102.

Malhotra, N. "A Methodology for Measuring Consumer Preferences in Developing Countries", International Marketing Review, Autumn, 1988.

Paliwoda, S. The Essence of International Marketing, University of Calgary, Prentice Hall, New York, London, 1994.