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The Collectivisms Versus Individualism Appeals Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4092 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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'Love the Internet, love being free-spirited, love getting up late, love the late night food stands, love car-racing and T-shirts for 29RMB as well. I am not a standard-bearer, nor am I someone's spokesman, I am HanHan, I just represent myself'. When you read this script, do you think that it is an advert launched in the western markets? Actually, it is an advert campaign of a fashion apparel B2C company in China. It is quite interesting to launch an ad which claims I-conscious in a highly collectivistic country. In this essay, the writer will mainly analyze the cultural values behind the ad and discuss how this ad is trying to change the attitudes of the Chinese from group-oriented to self-oriented by using consumer behavior frameworks, such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Fishbein's behavioral intention model and advertising engagement modes.

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Vancl is a B2C company who sells quality fashion clothing and accessories on-line in China (Appendix 1). It was founded in 2007, and now it has become "the NO.1 Chinese fashion apparel B2C enterprise who is occupying 28.4% market share, according to the 'Report of e-business on fashion apparel industry in China 2009-2010'" (http://en.vancl.com). As the concept of the company is to provide quality and stylish apparel at a reasonable price, it considers urban young adults from 18 to 28 years old as its target audiences (http://en.vancl.com). In order to target more consumers and enhance the influence of the brand, Vancl launched an advertising campaign (Appendix 2) in 2010, which achieved a huge success in China. This study is aim to analyze the culture behind the ad campaign based on consumer behavior area.

Literature Review

Collectivism versus Individualism Appeals in Chinese Adverts

Hofstede (1980) developed an individualism-collectivism dimension to differentiate culture. This concept was concluded by Oyserman et al. (2002) that collectivism could be considered as the opposite of individualism, which was usually reflected in the East Asian culture. In thecollectivistic culture, concept of self is relevant to others and the society as a whole (Mooij 2004), which cannot be separated from their social context (Phillips 1976; Shweder 1984). Thus, 'Families, work groups, social roles, positions, or relationships' should be offered as the top priority in an individual's behavior (Mooij 2004, p.96).

In the communication level, Individualism-collectivism dimension divides the self-concept into independent self and interdependent self appealed by low-context and high-context communication, affecting in the communication behavior (Mooij 2004). In general, high-context communication occurs more prevalent in collectivistic culture while low-context communication reflects a communication style in individualistic culture (Hall and Hall 1987, Zandpour et al. 1992, Mooij 2004). Therefore, more copy is used in adverts developed in the individualistic countries. By contrast, collectivistic countries use more visual elements in their ads (Mooij 2004).

According to Hofstede's (2001) framework of culture dimensions, China is a highly collectivistic country. Collectivism concept congests in the daily life of Chinese. For instance, people are more likely to say, "'I often watch basketball games with my family and friends." instead of "I am a sports fan.'" (Liang and Joseph 2010, p.189). Consequently, the level of collectivism may have an impact on the design of local advertising. A host of researchers (for example: Dana et al.1993; Han and Shavitt 1994) have found that collectivistic ideas appear in adverts are more prevalent in the higher collectivism countries, such as China, Japan and South Korea, etc. Similarly, Carolyn (2001) pointed out that group consensus appeals more in Chinese adverts than in American ads. And unlike the commercials in U.S., Chinese were generally "we-conscious" instead of "I-conscious". A research, conducted by Cheng and Schweitzer (1996), identified three main cultural values, in terms of 'modernity', 'youth' and 'family' dominated in Chinese advertisements, which were much different from the results in the United States ('enjoyment', 'modernity' and 'individualism'). Besides, the study also found that comparing with the idea of individualism and manipulation over nature, harmony of social status and oneness with nature were much more frequently discovered in the Chinese advertising (ibid.).

Some researches (for example: Belk et al. 1985; Belk and Pollay 1985; Belk and Bryce 1986; Mueller 1987; Paek et al. 2004), however, revealed that the style of the advertisements in some eastern countries was tending to be 'Americanized' and becoming more individualistic orientations. Zhang and Shavitt (2003), for instance, analyzed 463 Chinese advertisements and found that both modernity/individualism values and tradition/collectivism values existed or dominated in Chinese Ads. The former values were more prevalent in personal use products ads, while the latter were more common in the ads promoting shared products.

Difference in Appearance and Fashion Advertising Appeals across Culture

Mooij (2004) used three culture dimensions, in terms of uncertain avoidance, power distance, and individualism-collectivism, to explain the different needs of appearance in different countries. A map (Appendix 3) was designed to illustrate the importance of appearance in the different cultural valued countries by using individualism-collectivism and uncertain avoidance dimensions, according to the country scores calculated by Hofstede (2001). Mooij (2004) claimed that the degrees of uncertain avoidance determined the proportion of consumption spending of individuals, while the dimension of individualism-collectivism differentiated the purpose of well-dressing between suitability of occasion and earning face. Besides, the higher power distance of culture was, the more degrees people would depend on others. Moreover, Mooij (ibid.) mentioned that self-consciousness was another factor to identify the differences in appearance.

Similarly, Phillips and McQuarrie (2010) reviewed numerous of researches (for example: Green and Brock 2000; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982; Petty and Cacioppo 1981) and concluded five modes of fashion advertising engagement (Appendix 4) to illustrate the current situation of fashion ads worldwide. Among these five modes, many scholars (e.g., Murray 2002; Bannister and Hogg 2004; Thompson and Haytko 1997; Richins 1991) found that the engage for identity mode was the most common and traditional model appealed in the fashion adverts, which exactly coincided with Evan's (1989) conclusion of three trends in fashion industry:

'(1) People's use of fashion reflects a desire to manifest the self;

(2) the desire for self-expression is growing; and

(3) there is a continuing need to match female (still the main buyers of clothing and cosmetics) self-images and brand images in more congruent ways' (p. 10-11).

Evan (ibid.) also suggested that self-expression and branding image were more important than fashion and styling newness when promoting a fashion brand.

In General, the advertising appeals in collectivistic counties were more group-identity, while self-identity adverts worked more efficiently in individualistic countries (Cheng and Schweitzer 1996). However, Vancl uses a contrary ad appeals to promote the brand. In the next part, a detailed semiotic analysis will be conducted to explore the different appeals in this advert.

Semiotic Analysis

According to Solomon (2008 p.103), semiotics is a 'study of the correspondence between signs and symbols and their roles in how we assign meanings'¼Œwhich can be interpreted into different information based on the knowledge, culture values, personality and skills of different interpreter. Therefore, analysis of semiotic elements containing in the advert, can help the researcher understand detailed information the advert wants to deliver. There are three components in every marketing message, which should be combined when analyzing an advert, namely an object (product), a sign (symbol), and an interpretant/meaning (Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004). Vancl's advertising campaign is developed to two versions divided by gender. Each version includes large amount of signs and symbols which ccn be interpreted. For example, the price of the clothing marked in the advertisement gives a rough idea of the target audiences. Then the audiences analyze this information using their knowledge, personality and skills based on the different culture, such as considering the average price of this kind of clothing in the market, and calculate that the price is affordable and reasonable. Another interpretation of price can be considered as high uncertain avoidance. More specifically, if consumers have known the price before they purchase, they can avoid the risk of buying inappropriate products. Thus, in this ad, marked price can be interpreted into both price-friendly and avoidance of risk (Figure 1).

Adapted from Solomon, 2008. "A Semiotic Relationship".


Vancl clothing


Marked price




Risk avoidance





Figure 1: An Example of a Semiotic Relationship in Vancl Advertising

In order to understand the messages interpreted in this advertising campaign by different targets, the writer interviewed five people who spoke Mandarin by asking them to use three words to describe the personality containing in this ad. The top three personalities referred most frequently were self-conscious, lively and enjoyment in life. Here, 'self-conscious' means that the ad is 'I-conscious' oriented, expresses a sense of confidence, self-respect and self-fulfillment. 'Lively' can be explained that the ad appeals are more related to daily life and realistic, while 'enjoyment in life' means that a sense of fun, enjoyment and happiness towards life. Based on this interview result, a detailed semiotic analysis is conducted and summarized (Appendix 5).

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory (1987), clothing can be categorized to the physiological needs, which is the most basic need of humans. However, from the results of semiotics interpretation, the writer found that Vancl focused on targeting the audiences to the forth level needs - self-esteem needs (Appendix 6). As it is shown from the survey, Vancl encourages people to be confident and self-respect, clothing is no matter the basic needs of human beings. Wearing Vancl apparel can help the consumers achieve to self-esteem level.

Moreover, another finding is discovered. The three personalities concluded by the respondents are much similar to the elements (excitement, fun and enjoyment in life, self-fulfillment, self-respect, etc.) of the List of Value (LOV), a value approach developed by Kahle and Timmer (1983). Surprisingly, these three personalities, which generally occur in the most western counties, are opposite to the culture value in China concluded by Hofstede (2001, Figure 2). As it is shown by the individualism index, the score (20) is lower than the average of other Asian countries (24), which means that China owns a highly collectivistic culture. Chinese consider 'group' as their priority, focus more on their families, friends and society as a whole, than themselves (Mooij, 2004). The writer analyzes the ads in depth on the basis of the Hofstede's culture values (Appendix 7) and finds that, although collectivism deeply influences on the development of Chinese advertisements, Vancl's ad campaign, however, pays a lot attention to self concept. Take the script as an example. The copy of two versions keeps the format of 'Love …, I am not …, I am …', which is much different from the 'we-conscious' adverts in collectivistic countries. It emphasizes self, and gives the opinions of the individuals instead of groups, which reflects an individualistic cultural value.



Power Distance






Low Individualism (20)









Figure 2: Hofstede's Framework for Assessing Culture - China

Furthermore, this campaign seems to reform the advertising layout from a traditional way to a new style. As it is shown, there are two versions exclusively designed by gender. The layout of these two versions is similar: there is an image of the spokesman in the left of the picture, while a script containing large information in the right. This is also an uncommon way of the traditional Chinese advertisements.

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Lastly, according to Fishbein and Ajzen (1980), brand attitude and subject norm are two components which influence the intention and finally determine the purchasing behavior. In highly collectivistic countries, subjective norm stands for an important position in this evaluation process (Lee, 1991). In this case, however, Vancl shifts consumers' focuses from subjective norm to brand attitude (Figure 3). Therefore, it can be considered that Vancl's ad is trying to change Chinese's attitudes from collectivism to individualism.

Adapted from Fishbein and Ajzen, 1980. 'Fishbein's Extended Model of Behavioral Intention'.









Normative Beliefs

Friends recommend the brand to me, it seems suit me.

Norm Evaluations

When wearing Vancl, I am more acceptable among friends and feel that I am one in the group.





Brand Beliefs

Just be yourself

Belief Evaluations

When wearing Vancl, I seem to achieve a unique and self-esteemed life like the celebrities own.

Self conscious



Figure 3: Model of Behavioral Intention of Vancl

How to Change Attitudes

Undoubtedly, it is not facile for a brand to change the attitudes of consumers, especially changing an ingrained notion which has rooted for thousands of years. Harmony is a central concept of Confucian, which results in the group-oriented behaviors in Chinese. According to the appearance map (Mooij, 2004), China is categorized in the left-bottom quadrant, represents a culture of low uncertain avoidance and highly collectivistic. People in this kind of culture pay a lot attention on face, context, low-structured and conformity, who generally buy clothing based on others' opinions. What is Vancl doing is to shift the appearance concept of Chinese from the left-bottom quadrant to the right-bottom quadrant, where UK and U.S. are, representing an individualistic culture. Consequently, Vancl engages the ad with self-identity concept. During this attitude changing process, the ad focuses on the elements of celebrities and scripts to evoke the 'ideal self' of the consumers (Figure 4).

Adapted from Phillps and McQuarrie, 2010. 'Modes of Advertising Engagement in Women's Fashion'.

Mode of


Ad Element






Engage to



& Scripts






Figure 4: Mode of Advertising Engagement of Vancl

From analyzing the ad, some clues of the reason why Vancl successfully changes the attitudes of its consumers can be discovered. Firstly, the boom of Chinese economy contributes to the process of culture exchange. An Increasing number of foreign enterprises develop their business in China and bring their culture. Besides, the development of technology helps Chinese access to the culture from different countries via TV, Internet, etc. All these are unconsciously influencing the cultural values of Chinese, which provides a prerequisite for Vancl to implement this advertising campaign.

Moreover, the effect of celebrity plays an important role in the attitudes changing process. As what suggested by Malhotra (1988), using a spokesperson was an essential marketing strategy to help to match the brand image with consumers' self-concept. HanHan and WangLuoDan, the two spokesmen Vancl selected, own high preferences among Chinese youth, and their characters meet the image of Vancl as well. As celebrities represent a sense of credit, attractiveness and power (Kelman, 1961), consumers can be easily influenced. Especially in the collectivistic countries, consumers are eager for the acceptance from peers and society, following celebrities is a clever way to make them acceptable.

Finally, the execution of the ad assists in achieving the purpose of attitude changing. The different version by gender designed on the basis of different cultural value of males and females, targets to audiences widely and accurately. The scripts express the opinions of a unique attitude towards life from the celebrities, which influence consumers powerfully. Since China ranks high score in collectivism, the scripts are designed on this special situation: claim to be I-conscious; meanwhile, meet the traditional cultural values of Chinese. More specifically, although most of the scripts advocate self-identity, at the end of the scripts, Vancl utilizes the collectivistic culture to call for in-group and offers a sense of involvement. The last sentence, 'I am like you; I am Vancl (common people)', gives the consumers a hint that it is not difficult to achieve such life as the two celebrities own, wearing Vancl helps to be this ideal self both in the private context and social context.

Thus, it can be concluded that three factors contribute to help Vancl change the attitude of Chinese consumers, namely impact of other culture, influence of celebrities, and elaborate ad execution (such as scripts and visual design, etc.). These three factors combined as the persuasion stimuli, affect on the attitude changing process from collectivism and group-oriented to individualism and self-conscious. This impact is not only influence the target audience, but also powerful to publics. Consequently, wearing Vancl is a personal choice, which helps consumers achieve their ideal self. As the attitudes of publics are changed as well, it unifies the opinion of what others think of you and what you really want to be (Figure 5).

Actual Self



Impact of other culture

Elaborate execution of ad

Influence of celebrities

Attitude Changing

Focus on self

Just be yourself


Idea Self



Enjoyment of life

Social Self



Enjoyment of life


Appeal to

Individualism oriented


In group

Figure 5: Framework of Attitude Changing Process of Vancl Advert

In conclusion, self-concept plays an important role in Vancl advert campaign. The ad delivers the message that Vancl "represents 'who you are and what you are not'" (Rune and Rosemary 2006, p.868). Thus, wearing Vancl can promote self-concept of consumers, and correspondingly bolster up their actual or ideal view of themselves (Fournier 1998). Based on this purpose, Vancl uses two spokespersons, who own high reputation among Chinese youth and also have a unique lifestyle, to help the brand promote self-concept. As Carroll (2009) referred, this is an efficient way for a brand to shift the culture from that brand to consumer. Moreover, using celebrities also helps Vancl persuade or change the attitudes towards their consumers (Kardes et al. 2010) from group-oriented to self-conscious. Just like Kelman (1961) claimed, attitudes could be changed through three processes: internalization, identification and compliance. For consumers, HanHan and WangLuoDan represent a credible, attractive and powerful image. Thus, their persuasion could help the brand reform a new attitude or behavior to attract the consumers to imitate through the referred three processes (ibid.), and finally achieve the purpose of changing the attitudes of their consumers.


Admittedly, the article may not have analyzed the advert roundly, and still have some limitations as well. Firstly, as it is an ad in China, the translation of the copy may not very accurately due to different language expression, which may cause some different interpretations of signs or symbols and correspondingly influence the different understanding of this advert.

Moreover, the frameworks developed in this study are exclusively suitable for Vancl. Although celebrity endorsement has become increasingly popular since 1970s (Tom et al., 1992; Agrawal & Kamakura, 1995), there are not enough studies to prove that it works on most of adverts which try to change the attitudes of their consumers. Thus, Further quantitative and qualitative researches are required for determine whether the model of this study also suit for other brands or industries in China.

Finally, consumer behavior across is a deep and wide topic, which can be reflect to other subjects, such as psychology, sociology and history, etc. Therefore, there may be still some factors across other subjects influencing the attitude changing process of Vancl advert.


This article begins with a rough introduction and background of the Vancl advert campaign in China. The literature review part focuses on collectivism-individualism culture dimension and cultural appeals in Chinese adverts, difference in appearance and fashion advert appeals between different cultural values. Moreover, self-concept and celebrity endorsement are also included. Semiotic analysis gives an outline of the advert and helps to understand the advert thoroughly. In order to acquire more accurate message and cultural values containing in the ad, a survey is conducted among five Chinese speakers. Consequently, three main advert personalities are determined, namely self-conscious, lively and enjoyment in life, which could be explained to the self-esteem needs by Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Then Fishbein's extended model of behavioral intention help to define the influence of the Vancl ad on the purchasing behavioral intention. The next part explains the methods Vancl used in the ad to change the attitudes of consumers from group-conscious to self-conscious by using an adapted advertising engagement model. And then a framework of attitude changing process of Vancl advert is finally developed.


Based on the limitations and conclusion parts, the writer summarizes some recommendations both for further research and brand managers. For further research, more quantitative and qualitative researches should be conducted to create a model, which suits for different brands in other categories who want to develop a self-identity advert campaign in a highly collectivistic country. Besides, more subjects, such as psychology, sociology, history, economics, etc., should be related to determine other factors which affect the attitude changing process, so that the model can be modified.

For managers, the collectivism level of different products is different. Thus, claiming self-identity in the ad is another way when promoting a less collectivistic product in a highly collectivistic country, such as clothing and cosmetics. In the collectivistic countries, it seems to be a unique way to promote a brand and help the advert outstanding among other ads, however, it is not omnipotent. What should managers do, is to analyze the market accurately and frame an advert campaign which precisely suit the brand.


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