Universal Appeals in Marketing

Is There Such a Thing as “Universal Appeal”?

I was recently in a conversation regarding global marketing strategy and the concept of “universal appeal” came up. The argument is that there are certain ideas, values, etc., that translate across global cultures, and can therefore be used in marketing campaigns. But I’m not so sure…

Dutch Professor Geert Hofstede, who has done extensive and widely-accepted research on global cultural difference and similarities, has concluded that each national culture (and in some cases there must be further segmenting, like with the U.S., which is so diverse) falls at a given point on six dimensions:

  • Power Distance (the disparity between those with and those without power)
  • Individualism vs Collectivism
  • Masculinity vs Femininity (which is really better explained as Assertiveness vs Modesty)
  • Uncertainty Avoidance (tolerance for ambiguity)
  • Long-Term vs Short-Term Orientation (focused on the present or the future)
  • Indulgence vs Restraint

Considering those dimensions, I find the concept of universal appeals would be tough to prove. Take superior quality, for example. At face value, it could be assumed that everyone would prefer products and services with superior quality. So, superior quality could be considered an universal appeal.

BUT… what is “superior quality”?

There are many different elements of a product (price, performance, size, features, etc.) that could be considered when determining what constitutes “superior quality.” Each global culture, based on where they fall on each of the dimensions, would value different aspects of a product or service and would perceive “superior quality” differently.

In a Collectivist culture, a product might be superior because of how the product can be shared by the family.  In an Individualist culture, a product’s superiority might be its uniqueness.  In a Masculine culture, the emphasis would be on the grandiosity of the product, while in a Feminine culture the superiority would be illustrated by the product’s ability to provide care to others.  In cultures with higher Power Distance, products are routinely used as status symbols so the “superiority” of the overall product is important, but in cultures with low Power Distance, a “superior” product would be one that equalizes people.

So, I think that while there are “universal appeals” in the sense that certain ideas transfer across cultural segments, the parameters of what values and elements make up that appeal vary greatly. A marketer can decide to use a strategy that focuses on a universal appeal like “superiority,” but still must determine what that looks like in different markets based on its cultural values.

What do you think? Are there any truly universal appeals?


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