Cultural Values and Consumer Behavior

The e-trading example and see how Hofstede’s notions of cultural values might help us predict the speed of diffusion of such new consumer services as equity investments and electronic auctions in Japan and France. As shown the United States scores the highest of all countries on individualism, at 91 with Japan at 46 and France at 71. Indeed, in America, where individualism reigns supreme, we might predict that the virtually social activity of sitting alone at one’s computer might be most acceptable. In both Japan and France, where values favor group activities face to face conversations with stockbrokers and neighbors might be preferred to impersonal electronic communication.

Similarly, both Japan (92) and France (86) score quite high on Hofstede’s uncertainty Avoidance Index, and Americans score low (46). Based on these scores, both Japanese and French investors might be expected to be less willing to take the risks of stock market investments – and indeed, the security of post office deposits or bank savings accounts is preferred. So in both instances Hofstede’s data on cultural values suggest that diffusion of these innovation will be slower in Japan and France than in the United States. Such predictions are consistent with research findings that cultures scoring higher on individualism and lower on uncertainty avoidance to be more innovative.

Perhaps the most interesting application of cultural values and consumer behavior regards a pair of experiments done with American and Chinese students. Both groups were shown print ads using other focused emotional appeals (that is, a couple pictured having fun on the beach) versus self focused emotional appeals (an individual having fun on the beach). The researchers predicted that the individualistic Americans would respond more favorably to the self focused appeals, and the collectivistic Chinese to the other focused appeals. They found the opposite. The Americans responded better to the other focused ads and Chinese vice versa. Their second experiment helped explain these unexpected results. That is, in both cases what the participants liked about the ads was their novelty vis-a-vis their own cultures. So, even in this circumstance, cultural values appear to provide useful information for marketers. However, the complexity of human behavior, values, and culture is manifest.


Life is filled with rituals that are patterns of behavior and interaction that are learned and repeated. The most obvious ones are associated with major vents in life. Marriage ceremonies and funerals are good examples. Perhaps the one most important to most readers of this book is the hopefully proximate graduation ritual – Pomp and Circumstance, funny hats, long speeches, and all. Very often these rituals differ across culture.

Indeed there is an entire genre of foreign films about weddings. Perhaps best is Monsoon wedding. Grooms on white horses and edible flowers are apparently part of the ceremony for high income folks in New Delhi. We even of at least one cross cultural wedding in the United States that had the reception before the ceremony!

Life is also filled with little rituals such as dinner at a restaurant or a visit to a department store, or even grooming before heading off to work or class in the morning. In a nice restaurant in Madrid dessert may precede the entrée, but dinner often at about midnight, and the entire process can be a three hour affair. Walking into a department store in the United States often yields a search for an employee to answer questions. Not so in Japan, where the help bows at the door as you walk in. Visit a doctor in the States and a 15 minute wait in a cold exam room with nothing on but a paper gown is typical. In Spain the exams are often done in the doctor’s office. There’s no waiting because you find the doctor sitting at her desk.

Rituals are important. They coordinate everyday interactions and special occasions. They let people know what to expect.