Education, one of the most important social institutions, affects aspects of the culture, from economic development to consumer behavior. The literacy rate of a country is a potent force in economic development. Numerous studies indicate a direct link between the literacy rate of a country and its capability with less than 50 per cent literacy, but when countries have invested in education the economic rewards have been substantial. Literacy has a profound effect on marketing. To communicate with a literate market is much easier than communicating to one in which the marketer must depend on symbols and pictures.
The Media: The four social institutions that most strongly influence values an culture are schools, churches, families, and most recently, the media. In the United States during the last 30 years, women have joined the workforce in growing numbers, substantially reducing the influence of family on American culture. Media time (TV and increasingly the Internet) has replaced family time much to the detriment of American culture, some argue. At this time it is hard to gauge the long term effects of the hours spent with Bart Simpson or an Ever Quest cleric-class character. Indeed, the British Prime Minister’s cameo on The Simpsons reflects its prominence around the world.
American kids only 180 days per year in school. Contrast that with 251 days in China, 240 days in Japan, and 200 days in Germany. Indeed, Chinese officials are recognizing the national disadvantages of too much school – narrow minds. Likewise, Americans more and more complain about the detrimental effects of too much media.
Government: Compared to the early (during childhood) and direct influences of family, religion, school, and the media during childhood, governments hold relatively little sway. Cultural values and thought patterns are pretty much set before and during adolescence. Most often governments try to influence the thinking and behaviors of adult citizens for the citizens own good. For example, the French government has been urging citizens to procreate since the time of Napoleon. Now the government is offering a new birth bonus of $ 800 given to women in their seventh month of pregnancy – despite France having the second highest fertility rate in the EU behind only Ireland. Also, major changes in governments, such as the dissolution of the Soviet Union, can have noticeable impacts on personal beliefs and other aspects of culture.
Of course in some countries the government owns media and regularly uses propaganda to form favorable public opinion. Other countries prefer no separation of church and state – Iran is currently ruled by religious clerics, for example. Governments also affect ways of thinking indirectly, through their support of religious organizations and schools. For example, both the Japanese and Chinese governments are currently trying to promote creative thinking among students through mandated changes in classroom activities and hours. Finally, governments influence thinking and behavior through the passage, promulgation, promotion and enforcement of a variety of laws affecting consumption and marketing behaviors. The Irish government is newly concerned about its citizens’ consumption of Guinness and other alcohol products. Their studies suggest excessive drinking costs the country 2 per cent of GDP o to discourage underage drinking the laws are being tightened again.
Corporations: Of course, corporations get a grip on us early through the media. But, more important, most innovations are introduced to societies by companies many times multinational companies. Indeed merchants and traders have throughout history been the primary conduit for the diffusion of innovation whether it be over the Silk Road or via today’s freight and / or the Internet. Multinational firms have access to ideas from around the world. Through the efficient distribution of new products and services based on these new ideas cultures are changed and new ways of thinking are stimulated.