Advertisers Create an Imaginary, Cross-Cultural Asia

Unilever creates ads for its Sunsilk hair products that target southeast Asia. Check out this commercial, which the poster claims is intended for ten countries in Asia (India, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Myanmar):

The Chicago Journal of Consumer Research released an article entitled “Marketers Are Creating an Imaginary, Cross-Cultural, Asian World.” They describe how international advertisers meld cultural characteristics of major centers such as Tokyo, Shanghai and Seoul to create an all-encompassing–but anonymous–Asia:

“Cultural referents from cities of influence…are combined together to produce brand images that are clearly Asian, but not from a particular nation,” write the authors.The researchers analyzed marketing strategies and advertising campaigns of Asian brands such as…Zuji, a travel website.

In the case of…Zuji, the researchers found that the consortium of major airlines “has no home country, is designed to be clearly Asian and modern, uses a Hong Kong-born globally popular actor as the brand’s model, uses green and blue for the logo to appeal to the Thai, its name is derived from Mandarin, follows the spatial practices of feng shui, uses an East Asian style of calligraphy, and uses the tagline “Your Travel Guru,” which is most readily associated with India.”

It’s true. On a recent trip to India and Thailand, I noticed that actors in certain commercials had neutral appearances indicating a pan-Asiatic identity. For example, one lotion commercial featured a woman with Korean features in modern Indian dress.

Such cultural mixing, according to the authors, demonstrates that Asian corporations are redefining globalization. “Whereas Western Marketers still sell Asian brands through the idea of an exotic, feminine Asia, Asian marketers create campaigns with a more contemporary, modern, and urban vision of Asia,” write the authors.

Makes me wonder two things. One, as the global balance of power shifts more and more towards Asia, will Americans be seeing more contemporary Asian-style commercials on TV? And two, isn’t it part of advertisers’ jobs to create an imaginary setting? How is an imaginary Asia more pivotal to globalization than, say, an imaginary Latin America?

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Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.