Despite differences in the use of comparative advertising from country to country, little research has been done to explain or predict the differences in the cross-cultural effectiveness of comparative advertising. The purpose of this study was to investigate such differences by conducting an experiment in Korea and the United States on possible links between national culture, individual-level values, and the effectiveness of comparative advertising.
Comparative advertising is commonplace in the United States, but it is not widely used in most other countries, due to cultural norms or government regulation (Kotabe and Helsen 1998). In Korea, where confrontation is avoided and harmony is sought, cultural norms are inconsistent with the tactics used in comparative advertising (de Mooij 1998; Miracle and Choi 1997). Comparative advertising has been allowed officially in Korea only since 2001, and has not been widely used.
Korea and the United States seemed to be a logical pair of countries for this study for two reasons: (1) the sharp contrast in the use of comparative advertising in Korea and the United States, and (2) the extreme cultural differences between the two countries. Hofstede (1991) reported that Korea is a highly collectivistic country with a low individualism rank (43rd out of the 53 countries and regions studied) and a low individualism score (18 in the range of 6 to 91). In contrast, the United States is the most individualistic and least collectivist of the 53 countries and regions studied (ranking number 1, with a score of 91). For this study, national culture, characterized by the extremes of collectivism in the two countries, was selected, along with the type of advertising (direct, indirect, and noncomparative advertising), as the independent variables. Individual values were operationalized by self-construals, a mediating individual-level variable that demonstrates how national culture influences consumer behavior.
Comparative advertising is a message format in which a competing brand attacks another brand(s) in the marketplace by making a direct or indirect comparison of one or more product attributes or benefits. The literature on comparative advertising is extensive, and the conditions under which comparative advertising is effective are widely understood (e.g., Barry 1993; Byer and Cooke 1985; Cho 1996; Droge 1989; Droge and Darmon 1987; Etgar and Goodwin 1982; Iyer 1988; Ki and Lee 2000; Kim and Hong 1996; Lord, Lee, and Sauer 1992; Lyi 1988; MacKenzie and Spreng 1995; Pechmann and Stewart 1991 ; Pride, Lamb, and Pletcher 1979).
The effectiveness of advertising was operationalized by attitude toward the advertisement ([A.sub.ad]), attitude toward the brand ([A.sub.b]), and purchase intention (PI). The literature on these constructs is also extensive (e.g., Baban and Burns 1997; Biehal, Stephens, and Curio 1992; Gardner 1985; Gresham and Shimp 1985; LaTour and Rotfeld 1997; Machleit and Wilson 1988; MacKenzie and Lutz 1989; Mitchell and Olson 1981; Moore and Hutchinson 1983; Shimp 1981).
Since the literature on comparative advertising as well as on [A.sub.ad], [A.sub.b], and PI is so extensive and well known, it will not be reviewed here. The literature review for the present study is limited to national culture and self-construals, and their relationships to the effectiveness of advertising.
THEORY AND HYPOTHESES
National Culture and Advertising Effectiveness
In individualistic cultures, individual goals are emphasized over group goals, social ties between individuals tend to be loose, and communication is relatively direct (Triandis 1988). Members of individualistic cultures are relatively more concerned with clarity in conversations (Kim 1994), and indeed, they view clarity as necessary for effective communication (Kim and Wilson 1994). In contrast, in collectivistic cultures, people from birth onward are integrated into strong, cohesive groups; they are relatively more concerned with issues of face management, and this concern leads to their relatively greater use of indirect communication compared with people from individualistic cultures (Kim 1994; Ting-Toomey 1988; Triandis 1994).
Individualism and collectivism are also related to context. Low-context communication, involving the use of explicit and direct messages, is predominant in individualistic cultures, whereas high-context communication, involving the use of implicit and indirect messages, is predominant in collectivistic cultures (Gudykunst and Ting-Toomey 1988; Hall 1976, 1987; Hofstede 1991). In high-context cultures, speakers tend to convey their meanings indirectly in a relevant context, and listeners tend to look for these indirect meanings. People from high-context cultures often find low-context advertisements pushy and aggressive, whereas those from low-context cultures often find them informative and persuasive (Rossman 1994).
These cultural characteristics are directly reflected in advertising practice (Han and Shavitt 1994; Miracle, Chang, and Taylor 1992; Taylor, Miracle, and Wilson 1997). For example, advertisements employing individualistic values were found to be more persuasive to Americans, whereas advertisements with collectivistic appeals were more effective with Koreans. Furthermore, U.S. advertisements were found to stress more individualism, self-improvement, and product benefits, whereas Korean advertising messages were more concerned about family, groups, and other people. Alden, Hoyer, and Lee (1993) reported that collectivistic countries (Korea and Thailand) had large numbers of humorous advertisements with three or more central characteristics, whereas individualistic countries (the United States and Germany) had fewer advertisements with three or more characteristics.
Comparative advertising is an example of individualistic, low-context communication, which is found to be pushy and aggressive (negative evaluation) or informative (positive evaluation), depending on the culture of the audience. Lyi (1988) reported that comparative advertising in Korea is perceived as ethically undesirable and less believable than noncomparative advertising. Therefore, collectivist, high-context Korean consumers, who are concerned with issues of face management, probably feel relatively uncomfortable with comparative advertising. Conversely, highly individualistic, low-context U.S. consumers probably feel relatively more comfortable with comparative advertising.
The literature on how the cultures of the United States and Korea differ regarding individualism, collectivism, and context, and on how these cultural variables influence direct and indirect communication, suggests that advertising effectiveness with Korean and U.S. consumers ought to be compared for (1) direct comparative advertising (DCA) (advertising that identifies one or more competing brands by name); (2) indirect comparative advertising (ICA) (advertising that refers to the competitor as "the leading brands" without mentioning a specific competing brand); and (3) noncomparative advertising (NCA) (advertising that makes no comparison with a competing brand). The literature on the differences between U.S. and Korean cultures, and the resulting differences in their use of direct and indirect communication, led to the following hypotheses, each of which is divided into three separate subhypotheses (a, b, and c), which were tested and reported separately:
H1 : When exposed to DCA, U.S. consumers will have more favorable (a) [A.sub.ad], (b) [A.sub.b], and (c) PI than Korean consumers.
H2: When exposed to ICA, U.S, consumers will have more favorable (a) [A.sub.ad], (b) [A.sub.b], and (c) PI than Korean consumers.
H3: When exposed to NCA, there will not be any significant difference in (a) [A.sub.ad], (b) [A.sub.b], or (c) PI between U.S. and Korean consumers.
Culture and Self-Construals
A self-construal is conceptualized as a constellation of thoughts, feelings, and actions concerning the relationship of the self to others, and the self as distance from others (Singelis and Sharkey 1995). The concept of self is important in explaining individuals' perceptions, evaluations, and behaviors (Markus and Kitayama 1991; Triandis 1989).
According to Markus and Kitayama (1991), there are two types of self-construals: independent and interdependent. An independent self-construal is defined as a unique entity that is organized with an emphasis on a person's own internal thoughts and feelings. An interdependent self-construal is defined as an entity that is closely intertwined with those of others and that is sensitive to, and contingent on, the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others.
Numerous researchers (e.g., Gudykunst et al. 1996; Kim et al. 1996; Singelis and Brown 1995) report that self-construals of individuals are shaped by cultural influences. Independent self-construals are representative of individualistic cultures, whereas interdependent self-construals are illustrative of collectivistic cultures (Gudykunst et …