Far be it from some sort of over-arching, existential, or politically-charged claim, the statement that “all marketing is cultural” is demonstrably true and inescapable. Whereas traditional schools of thought may have held that marketing is detached from human nature or consumer interaction, marketing actually constitutes a form of communication which is inseparable from its means of creation and from its audience. In this sense, all marketing certainly is cultural; marketing (especially integrated marketing) is a form of communication; all communication is informed by culture; and cultural aspects inform both the creation of and receptivity to marketing communication.
The notion of marketing as being inherently cultural first necessitates the establishment of the assertion that communication itself is cultural. As much as the term “integrated marketing communication” implies such an assertion, canonical assessments of the act of communicating go as far as saying exactly the same. In fact, it is stated that “every act of communication—whether personal or mediated—is affected by and contributes to large cultural forms and patterns” (Littlejohn, Foss, & Oetzel, 2016, p. 387). As consumers, we are largely bound to our cultural norms, practices, and values as we receive, interpret, and act upon forms of communication (Littlejohn, Foss, & Oetzel, 2016, p. 387). This includes forms of marketing communication, especially considering that integrated marketing communication “is all about managing the various contacts a firm has with its customers” (Mueller, 2007, p. 50).
In arguing that all marketing is cultural, this sort of connection is invaluable, since the success of any given effort at marketing communication hinges upon its ability to predict and influence consumer behavior by way of deeply understanding cultural cues and values (Korzenny, Chapa, & Korzenny, 2017, p. 16). Marketing is a form of communication, and all communication is cultural, so all marketing is cultural—this much is clear so far—but what is cultural about marketing beyond marketing being an act of communication?
There are two perspectives in this brief analysis from which to perceive marketing as being inherently cultural, based on what is established so far about the nature of marketing communication—the perspective of the marketer and the perspective of the consumer. From the marketer’s perspective, all efforts at communication must be made with culture in mind, since “attitudes, motivations, and expressions of needs vary" by culture (de Mooij, 2013, p. 12). In the consideration of strategy (whether in an advertising or an accounting firm, etc), cultural considerations must come first in informing strategy, as cultural differences are of significance in any such context (Nijhoff & Hodges, 2010, p. 6). As Nijhoff and Hodges state (2010) as relates to strategy building, “in the battle between culture and strategy, culture generally wins” (p. 6). This is because: 1. the culture of the agency or organization which wishes to communicate with another culture has significant influence upon the form that such communication takes and 2. most communication and marketing theory has its basis in Western practices, cultures, and histories to the omission of other cultures and histories (de Mooij, 2013, Nijhoff and Hodges, 2010).
From the consumer’s perspective, all marketing is cultural because consumers from varying cultures (whether international or between cultures within the same country) have different needs, perspectives, and methods of interpretation as relate to communication, marketing-related or otherwise (de Mooij, 2013; Mueller, 2007). If any effort at marketing communication is to succeed in influencing or predicting consumer behavior among cultural and ethnic cohorts, marketers need to deeply understand, appreciate, and apply relevant cultural differences and values (Korzenny et al., 2017; Nijhoff and Hodges, 2010). Because members of differing ethnic and cultural cohorts perceive and respond to marketing communications in distinct (and hopefully predictable) ways, it is impossible to separate marketing from cultural influences. This is seen, and proven, in literature and in practice; marketing strategy and the receptivity of such strategy on behalf of consumers is wholly influenced by culture (de Mooij, 2013; Korzenny et al., 2017; Mueller, 2007; Nijhoff and Hodges, 2010).
Suffice it to say that culture influences every aspect of marketing; from the initial communication itself, to the way in which it is framed by the marketer, to the way in which it is perceived and responded to by the end consumer. The realization that none of our forms of communication, whether related to marketing or otherwise, can escape culture can be daunting, but it need not be—the call to understand and interpret culture merely pushes us marketers beyond our own inculcated cultural frameworks and into a space of challenging, growing, and empathizing.
de Mooij, M. (2013). Global Marketing and Advertising: Understanding Cultural Paradoxes (Fourth edition). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Korzenny, F., Chapa, S., & Korzenny, B. A. (2017). Hispanic Marketing (3 edition). New York: Routledge.
Littlejohn, S. W., Foss, K. A., & Oetzel, J. G. (2016). Theories of Human Communication, Eleventh Edition (11 edition). Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.
Mueller, B. (2007). Communicating With the Multicultural Consumer: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives (60463rd edition). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Nijhoff, M., & Hodges, S. (2010). Dilemmas of Culture and Marketing Strategy. CPA Practice Management Forum, (2), 5–10.