Departmental Papers (ASC)

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Book Chapter

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The Influence of Culture in the World of Business

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In thinking about the role of images in cross-cultural advertising, a useful starting point is the concept of "iconicity." In the vocabulary of communications theory, a mode of communication can be termed "iconic" if there is an analogical relationship between its constituent signs or symbols and the things that they represent (Sebeok, 2001; see also Peirce, 1991). For example, in the case of verbal onomatopoeia, a word contains an analogy to a real-world sound. In music, it can be argued that certain compositions - such as classical "program music"- contain analogies to human moods or emotions. However, the mode of communication that is most pervasively characterized by iconicity is pictorial communication. Indeed, iconicity is one of the defining aspects of visual images. Even relatively "unrealistic" images such as stick figures or cartoons are based on some degree of analogy to the visible structure of real-world objects and spaces.

If images can bring us closer to the appearance of reality than other communicational modes can, are they also an effective means of communicating across cultural boundaries? Does the iconicity of visual communication make it a vehicle for the sharing of meaning between people who are separated by linguistic or cultural differences? These are increasingly important questions in the world of advertising. Because of the growing globalization of economic activity, commercial advertising is directed to an ever greater variety of linguistic and cultural communities. Among advertisers as well as researchers, this situation has led to a recurring concern about the degree to which it is necessary to tailor advertising messages to the characteristics of each specific community. Should different ads be produced for different languages and cultures, or can pictures be relied upon to transcend such differences?

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Posted with permission from Peter Lang Publishers:

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Date Posted: 15 May 2017