The role of intercultural communication in integrated marketing


What could be worse than investing thought in a campaign, only to find out it is not the right one for the target market? This is exactly what MBC had to face with their #womenempowerment campaign. Not only did they incorrectly market their idea but they used the wrong terminology to put the message across. Words like “be free” and “be rebellious” were not exactly Saudi Arabia’s cup of tea. In a conservative society of Saudi Arabia, it was considered an insult that MBC would ask Saudi women to break free of their culture, even though this was not the intention of the campaign.

The ability to know and understand people’s behavior is key in the field of marketing. The online and offline atmospheres demand the use of consumer psychology and emotional understanding based on cultural differences. Solely knowing the theory of marketing and having the skills to use technology is not sufficient to deliver a cutting-edge message with exceptional return on investment. Every marketer should acknowledge the individual differences present across cultures, communities and languages. Even the body movements and hand gestures used across cultures do have different meanings. Every group comes with unique set of interests that evoke diverse types of emotions. In fact, these differences extent to the social media platform that each culture finds comfort in using.

Global brands, in specific, should consider that there are key cultural differences which can be reflected in the use of language and word choice as well as through the exhibition of behaviors. Simply put, what may be perceived as normal in one culture, could be seen as abnormal and unacceptable in another. The role of intercultural communication in an integrated marketing approach is a highly vital one, especially in countries which bring together more than one culture. The biggest and most realistic example is the United Arab Emirates, where more than 100 different nationalities come together to share their culture within their own community of living.


So, what are the key cultural differences to consider when designing an integrated marketing campaign?

  • Power distance

Countries in which the less powerful members accept the unequal distribution of power is a high power distance society. On the other hand, countries with a low power distance, depress the differences between the authority figures and the citizens. Designing a marketing campaign in a high power distance country, requires messaging that falls in line with the beliefs and rules set by the authority figures. Knowing that the authority figures approve of the campaign tactics, the citizens will conform. Otherwise, with a low power distance society, the audience looks for individual empowerment and motivation for growing and changing without mere approval of authority figures.


  • Individualism and collectivism

Individualistic countries promote taking care of the self and building individual power. While collectivism emphasizes the greater good over individual interest. Members of collectivist cultures find the need to conform and belong to a group. Key messages of a campaign, to be implemented in an individualistic culture should highlight the benefits of the individual by inducing emotions of finding resources within one’s self and not within the community members or the surroundings. On the other end of the spectrum, collectivism requires a campaign that highlights the importance of family, friends and colleagues. These elements should be acknowledged in the tactics of the campaign in order for it to be an effective one, evoking the right kind of emotions.


  • Femininity and masculinity

A masculine society is one where the members show high emphasis on male traits such as material possessions and assertiveness, while a female driven culture is more fostering and compassionate. In a masculine oriented country, campaign should highlight the focus on solving a problem and taking action. This means that practical, punchy answers should be given within every tactic immediately after an emotion has been evoked. However, in a feminine culture, emotions should highly be emphasized and elaborated on. In other words, in a masculine community, offer a focus on action. In a feminine one, provide a focus of emotion on many different levels.


  • Uncertainty

Countries which tend to stick to existing structures and to behaving in line with tradition have high uncertainty avoidance. On the other end of the spectrum lies societies which are low on uncertainty avoidance. This means that the citizens are more open to change and do not fear the introduction and adoption of new concepts. Therefore, when designing a campaign for countries with high uncertainty avoidance, the marketer should develop tactics that fall in line with what the citizens are already used to experiencing because otherwise, any ambiguity will be repelled and unaccepted. Contrarily, countries with low certainty avoidance would enjoy a change and the introduction of new experiences proposed through a marketing campaign.


In a nutshell, as Anthony Robins, an American businessman, author, and philanthropist, correctly stated “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others”. Every marketer should be culturally sensitive, understanding and respecting in order to be able to communicate a message effectively.