Values and Their Communication in the Advertising Discourse. FMCG’s

Vasile HODOROGEA
University of Bucharest
vasile.hodorogea@gmail.com 

Abstract:

The advertising discourses on various categories of products – in this paper, FMCG’s (carbonated drinks, coffee specialties, chocolate bars) – use universal and operational values to appeal to the consumers. The actualisation in the advertising discourse of these values, present in the cultural and social broad context of the target audience of a certain category, with a high degree of coherence along the discourse, can stimulate a series of its effectiveness indicators (credibility, acceptability, memorability, intent of purchase and brand preference). This research focused on advertising discourses used between June 2013 and June 2015 by nine brands evolving in three commercial categories and on a target audience defined by age (18 to 35 years old) and localisation (urban, Romania). The results show that the cultural source of the meanings present in the advertising discourse can be determined a priori, before starting the creative work. The signification decanted from the cultural context of the consumer can be defined as the raw material that has to be used in the advertising discourse in order to positively influence its effectiveness indicators.

Keywords: advertising discourse, values, isotopy, advertising campaigns

 

Introduction

The fundamental changes of the last few years (from the technological development to the economical crisis) have also determined a migration of the consumer from “the happiness that can be bought” (Brune, 2003) to a more rational consumption, based on new standards: loyalty towards the community, responsibility towards the environment and towards the future, etc. This shift in the individual priorities triggered and continues to produce changes in the advertising discourse at all its levels: from TV commercials to packaging, from digital campaigns to promotional events and concerts.

Both on a global scale and in very specific, local markets (as the Romanian one), the corporations selling goods and services begin to understand the symbolic consumption of their audiences and the fact that the advertising discourse evolves from the unidirectional way of telling the brand story to a dynamic and interactive way of sharing the story with and by the consumers. The amount of companies and brands adapting to this trend grows daily and just as well the number of researches focusing on the conversation carried with the consumer through various  means made available by the modern technology. The adaptation to the consumer and his characteristics becomes the important issue in this research area.

And this adaptation has to consider the cultural codes. The consumers are, thanks to the accelerated democratisation of the access to information, more and more sophisticated (in the most pragmatic use of the term), critical and even reluctant towards advertising, expecting and often demanding coherence and transparency from the creators of the advertising discourse (advertising agencies, brands and companies). On the other hand, the need for local relevancy[1] and the availability of information to consumers are determinant factors confirming the aforementioned evolution trend. The potential buyers of the thousands of products and services flooding the shelves and the windows, the billboards and the ubiquitous ads are consuming daily a discourse that is trying to be locally relevant even if the brands are international.

I examine in this article the coherence of the advertising discourse. And I understand the manifestation of coherence not only within the discourse, but mostly in relation to the cultural and social context in which the discourse is produced and received. I analyse two dimensions of coherence:

– internal coherence, emphasising the way in which expressive meaning-producing materials from different systems work together in order to produce a poly-isotopic discourse, and

– external coherence, showing the way in which the material present in the advertising discourse in its whole is coherent with the cultural values of the target consumers.

The research objective is to understand the relationship between the two types of coherence and the efficiency indicators of the advertising discourse.

 

Theoretical framework and method

The specifics of the research matter required theoretical support from various fields, out of which the most important are semiotics, axiology, cultural studies and sociology.

Reality is built through representations and interpretations in the mind of the consumer, and the consumption of the cultural signification of goods and services seems to be more important than of the goods itself, which do not carry intrinsic meaning – this is added by the individual and is socially shared (Kettemann, 2013). The advertising captures old and new meanings, invests them in goods and services and then carries them to the consumer, in a continuous process of experimentation in which significations are suggested, revised, combined and rearranged. It is this advertising that unfolds for the modern culture a space of play, experiment and innovation in which new cultural meanings are formed and old ones are reorganised and redesigned (McCracken, 1987: 122). These meanings are introduced in the advertising discourse by its creators: marketing departments within the client companies and their ad agencies. Assessing the greimasian premise according to which the value is actualised and identified with the object of the evaluation through a figurative discourse (as that of advertising), in which meaning and value are not necessarily the same and the structure of the system is responsible for the individual construction of values (Rossolatos, 2013), I reviewed some of the typologies of values that create the cultural context of the consumers. I evaluated Tudor Vianu’s vision on the irreducibility, independence and irrationality of the values, (Vianu, 1988) and the polar relationship that he introduced in the organisation of values. Holbrook (1999), Heli Aaltonen (2010), Greimas și Fontanille (1997), Hébert (2001), Hofstede (2011) or Marieke de Mooij (2014) have also proposed various classifications of values that all point in the end to the fact that the power of establishing and actualising a value belongs to the consumer. Nevertheless, the consumer imports his mental instruments from an axiological frame, the one of the culture and society to which he belongs..

According to Holbrook (1999: 5), value is a preference relative to an interactive experience referring to the evaluation of an object (product) by a subject (consumer). This value is comparative, as the subject is able to evaluate it in relation with another object. More than that, it can be intrinsic and / or extrinsic. An extrinsic value appears in a means-end equation, in which the consumption is functional, utilitarian and instrumental, oriented towards reaching an end or a future set objective. The intrinsic value is owned by the object and its consumption is itself the purpose of the subject (Holbrook, 1999: 10). Holbrook’s taxonomy (reproduced in table 1) locates the concept of value in direct relation with the way in which the consumer-subject perceives and actualises the product-object.

The culture, a complex set of information and knowledge, structures the values and beliefs of man about desired purposes and objectives transcending specific situations – in this way, it helps the individual to make choices about his behaviours (Solomon, Bamossy, Askegaard & Hogg, 2013: 209). These values work on different levels of generalisation and abstractness, they are however adapted independently by each individual to specific situations and moments.

 

Table 1. The typology of consumer values
(adaptation after Holbrook, 1999: 12)

Consumer Extrinsic value Intrinsic value
Introvert Active Efficiency (Convenience) Play (Entertainment)
Reactive Excellence (Quality) Aesthetics (Beauty)
Extrovert Active Status (Success, impression, boss) Ethics (Virtue, justice, morals)
Reactive Esteem / respect (Reputation, materialism, posession) Spiritual (Belief, mystical ecstasy, sacredness, magic)

 

The universal good, the peace or the family, for example, are conventionally accepted by most of the people as guides for the personal and social life and have a tendency of maintaining validity along generations. Other values, present in the specific culture of a certain generation or within a national culture or a sub-culture, are stored and act on the individual in the frames of custom, habit, stereotype or of utilitarian information.

 

Considering the various typologies and classifications of values (Grünberg; Holbrook; Aaltonen; Rossolatos), I proposed a basic taxonomy of the values that populate the cultural space of an audience:

– universal values, with a higher degree of generality and abstraction (honour, security, family, happiness, God),

– operational values, with a smaller degree of abstraction and with informative, descriptive, utilitarian properties, applicable on specific social situations and actions like consumption (convenience, preparation ease or speed, etc.) or on products and product categories (cooling, energizing, durable, etc.).

For stating the main hypothesis I used the following premises: a) the cultural context of the audience of a product category is populated with a set of operational values (information about the product category, functional and of current use, shared by most of the members of that audience; for example: carbonated drinks appease thirst) and with a set of universal values (that go beyond the limits of that category, abstract: good / bad, family, friendship, etc.); b) the meanings carried by the advertising discourses of the brands in that category are already deposited in the cultural context of the audience (as described above) and the discourses activate those meanings; c) the associations between the meanings and not the meanings in isolation are those that influence the consumption behaviour (Zaltman, 2007: 215-218).

Based on these, I formulated the main research hypothesis as follows: the more a brand values and actualises in its advertising discourse operational and / or universal values from the cultural context of the category (external coherence), in an articulated way (internal coherence), the more it will stimulate the credibility, the acceptability, the memorability, the intent of purchase and the brand preference in its audience.

In order to prove it, I asked the following research questions:

1 – is the internal coherence property present in discourses making the corpus?

2 – which is the level of external coherence of the discourses from the corpus (are the operational values of the product category or the universal values from the cultural context of the audience present in the discourses)?

3 – to which extent does the external coherence influence the efficiency indicators (credibility, acceptability, memorability, intent of purchase and brand preference)?

4 – to which extent can the universal values influence the efficiency indicators (is there any correlation between the actualization of the universal values and the impact of the advertising discourse)?

 

The research unfolded in several stages:

In a preliminary stage I evaluated the internal coherence of a series of advertising discourses in order to qualify them in the research corpus.

In the first stage I performed a secondary research on indirect sources, analysing social documents and public sources of information (internet, TV shows, other media, etc.) to collect information about the operational values of the target audience related to the product categories included in the research corpus. Using secondary sources (for example: the Research Report of the Centre for Urban and Regional Sociology – CURS on the Youth of Romania), I also collected information on the universal values populating the cultural and social context of the above mentioned audience. For each product category, I coded and organised the relevant values in a themed grid.

In the second stage I used direct sources (focus group) to accurately determine the operational, descriptive and defining values at work in the cultural space of the audience related to the product categories in the corpus.

In the third stage I made a thorough analysis of the corpus, meant to determine the level of external coherence. This analysis evaluated the presence and the weight in the discourses of the variables revealed in the previous stages. I re-appreciated the internal coherence and I assessed the external coherence in relation with the variables selected in the themed grid, relevant for the audience (as proved by the previous stages). I built a scale with scores from 0 (no values present in the discourse) to 6 (more than 3 values present in the discourse, 3 being set as the absolute number of category values to relate to) which ranked the presence of the values and showed various degrees of external coherence (table 2).

Table 2. Ranking of the presence of the operational values.

Score Qualifying
1 Only one operational value from the category context appears in the advertising discourse in one material;
2 Only one operational value from the category context appears in the advertising discourse in at least two materials;
3 Two operational values from the category context appear in the advertising discourse in one material;
4 Two operational values from the category context appear in the advertising discourse in at least two materials;
5 More than three operational values from the category context appear in the advertising discourse, in one material;
6 More than three operational values from the category context appear in the advertising discourse, in at least two materials;
7 All the operational values from the category context appear in the advertising discourse.

 

In the fourth stage, in order to reveal the correlations between the coherence and the effectiveness of the advertising discourse, I used the self administered e-questionnaire (on the online platform Survey Monkey) and the SPSS software (the Cronbach a factor, the principal component analysis and the Pearson correlations). I related the collected data to each of the five effectiveness indicators in focus, thus confirming the distinctive operational and universal values for the selected corpus.

In a final stage I interpreted the results holistically, relating them to theoretical literature and  earlier researches.

 

Knowing that various limitations are set by, for example, the retention of the advertising messages from previous campaigns, the intensity of the communication (reach and frequency) or the influence of the price on the purchase decision, I included in the corpus a series of discourses produced by brands with similar awareness in the target and similar positions on the Romanian market (in terms of distribution, selling prices range, advertising investments). I narrowed the research area to FMCG’s and focused on the coffee specialties segment (3in1 mixes), the carbonated drinks category and the chocolate bars segment from the sweets & snacks category,  selecting three advertising discourses for each of these three categories.

The research period covered two years, in between June 2013 and June 2015. The amount of research units qualified after the preliminary stage reached 52 pieces of packaging, 18 print ads, 25 TV commercials and nine digital campaigns (nine brand websites, nine pages on the social-media platform Facebook out of which I selected a total of 90 posts, eight channels on the video-content platform YouTube out of which I selected 21 audio-video executions used in the digital campaign, six graphical animations used in the online media and one app developed for mobile devices.

The audience was defined by age (18-35 years old) and location (urban areas in Romania). This segment in the audience account for 4.47 million people, according to INSSE[2]. The reasons for this choice are the following:

– the 18-35 y.o. age interval is the point-of access in many product categories (young people start to consume, to make choices, to express their intent of purchase and their preferences), a large amount of brands targeting them in their discourses;

– the incomes and the social context, on the other hand, allow individuals to become buyers and not only consumers;

– the 18-35 y.o. are consumers of media and advertising; most of them are digital natives, which means they have access to and they actually use new media and the new media vehicles.

 

Collected data

After evaluating quite a vast universe of advertising materials, and applying the selection criteria set in the research design, I narrowed the corpus to nine discourses that were each transmitting at least one coherent message. Decomposing the component materials on the expression-content axis and evaluating the relation between the signifieds and the signifiers as well as the way in which visual and textual elements work together to construct meaning, I found that the nine discourses transmit coherently the following messages:

– in the coffee specialties segment:

  1. a) the Nescafé 3in1 brand is coagulated around the message “live at the present tense”;
  2. b) Jacobs 3in1 proposes a discourse centred on relaxation as it “hires relaxation passionates”;
  3. c) LaFesta 3in1 concentrates on the message: “open your mind”;

– in the carbonated drinks category:

  1. a) one of the discourses produced by Coca-Cola is built around the message “let’s eat together”;
  2. b) Pepsi conveys systematically the benefit of the product surplus by communicating intensively the message “on the +”;
  3. c) Tymbark Fizzy appropriates an alliteration: “the apple in the bubble or the bubble in the apple”;

– in the chocolate bars sub-segment:

  1. a) the Lion brand revolves around the slogan “awakes the lion in you”;
  2. b) one of the discourses used by ROM is built around the quality of being a Romanian product and conveys the message “revenge is sweet”;
  3. c) Snickers stays on the old communication platform centred around the message “you’re not you yourself when you’re hungry” reinterpreted as “do you become a Gremlin when you’re hungry?”.

The operational values I discussed in the literature section are relative: the consumer defines them comparatively, showing his or her preference for a brand or another in the same category. To the same degree, they are personal and they vary between individuals, each actualising a value according to an entire arsenal of knowledge, information and emotions accumulated from previous experiences related to the category or the brand. Just as well, values are situational, depending on the context of the consumer. Based on these premises, I analysed the meanings circulated in the context of the analysed categories and I determined a set of potential values, actualised in some themes and sub-themes in the cultural and social space of the audience, representing the fundamental concepts of truth, goodness and beauty and the theoretical, aesthetical, moral and even economical classes. A second field of research was the media space used by the target, where advertising circulates and the brand – consumer interactions occur.

Amongst the findings: Romanian young people value the family, the socialising and the travel, but are quite uncertain about personal health. For them, the coffee specialties segment is defined by a set of positive operational values: the credibility, actualised by themes as the origin of the coffee or the verisimilitude of the narrative; the natural and the naturality, actualised especially by showing the coffee beans; the taste and flavour, actualised by the theme of the pleasure produced by the consumption itself; the versatility (having more uses or functions), actualised by placing coffee in the liberal, unrestrained consumption area – anytime, anywhere and anyhow, coffee is the ingredient to be used in any circumstance; the individualism, actualised almost as hedonism, as a pleasure experienced individually; the ritual, actualised as a purpose in itself, implying friends or family and using the visual exponent of the coffee cup (red for Nescafé, green for Jacobs); the socializing, actualised through the theme of the social binder; the exchange currency, actualised in the family area, as a reward for mothers and wives, offered by husbands or self-administered,; the convenience and the efficiency, actualised through the theme of the rapid preparation, with no considerable efforts and no substantial knowledge about coffee; the modernity, actualised by emphasising the difference between the traditional way of preparing the coffee and the one influenced by the hurry and speed of the present days; the energy and the energizing effect, actualised by showing coffee producing or triggering the necessary energies for the good starting of the work or school day, or by showing coffee as the recharge agent.

Some other operational values have a negative potential: the chemical recipe is a sensitive matter, while snobbism, actualised in the selling price, is used by some consumers as a preference scale. The coffee overdose is a major health risk so it can cast a shadow on the positive value of versatility.

The operational values defining the carbonated drinks category are actualised mostly in positive themes and sub-themes: credibility, actualised in the care for the health; the social class and the belonging group, rarely actualised by introducing inspirational accessory objects or destinations; the socializing, the social binder, the value that practically defines the category, the group of friends and the common activities being easily associated with carbonated drinks; the entertainment, actualised in direct relation with the socialising and, sometimes, with the ritual, the drink becoming the catalyst of the going-out; the cooling, another category defining value, especially during the hot season; the hydration, which is not valued per se but translated into thirst and artificially assimilated with cooling; the versatility, actualised as the availability in any social context of a large variety of carbonated drinks in the adequate dimensions (volume), which creates a direct connection with the convenience and the efficiency; the energising and the energy, actualised as means that the consumer gets from the drinks in order to be able to entertain more and to discover new ways of having fun.

The family binder and the family gathering ritual are less used, family remaining an universal value. The acquisition value, less communicated as well, tends to be actualised in the area of the belonging group and of the social class. With negative potential, the addiction and the abuse are actualised in the category through themes connected to the recipe, to sugar, to sweeteners and to their adverse effects. Credibility may, at some point, work the other way around: the fact that they have some many consumers may make big brands look credible, but, in the same time makes them the target of suspicions (secret chemical substances used to create addiction, subversive advertising, etc.).

In the chocolate bars segment, communication is defined by a set of potentially positive values: the credibility, the value of truth, is reflected by the composition of the products and the natural ingredients; the pleasure and the pampering of the senses, actualised sometimes in hedonic expressions, seem to be the main values of the category and are most of the times associated with the individualism, with the self-administered reward; the versatility, as convenience and efficiency, is actualised in the multitude of social contexts where consumption occurs and in the availability in shapes and sizes easy to buy, transport, handle and consume; the individualism, a defining value for the category, is actualised in the product itself, which is designed to be consumed by a single person; the exchange currency, actualised as a proof of conjugal or filial love in the same time with the ritual, be it in couple or individual, but with a final purpose, happiness. The energy and the energizing are rather implied than actualised and the same applies to naturality, but most of the category talks about caramel, peanuts or chocolate (amongst others) which are, presumably, natural. The maturity is valued in the opposition between adult bars, bringing relaxation to very busy people, and the sweets designed for kids. This opposition is yet weaker than the gender opposition: bars are for men, while women take pleasure in the chocolate tablets. The belonging to a group, less used, becomes a communication territory for the local brands.

The benefices of chocolate create glow that is reflected on the chocolate bars, reducing the impact of potentially negative values. The sugar overdose is yet a recurrent theme in the public discourse and may turn suddenly towards the chocolate bars.

 

The research revealed a set of values having the potential of being successfully actualised in the advertising discourses of the brands in these categories. The focus-groups followed and had the objective, on the one hand, to confirm the existence of the mentioned values in the cultural baggage of the target audience and, on the other hand, to focus the deployment of next stages on the most important values.

Thus, for the coffee specialties I identified six operational values that can be used as specific themes and sub-themes: natural, taste and flavour, pleasure, energising agent, socialising agent, versatility. For the carbonated drinks and the chocolate bars I found five operational values: hydration, cooling, entertainment, versatility, pleasure, and, respectively: pleasure, appetising, energy, individualism, happiness. Each of the operational values needs to be analysed in connection with the themes and sub-themes described by the participants to the focus-groups, as the definition for each is particular for each category. For example, the pleasure in the coffee category is defined as relaxation or delight, while in the carbonated drinks it becomes a feeling of goodness and happiness and for the chocolate bars it gravitates in a sensorial area: a diversity of tastes, all good, sweetness „melting in your mouth”.

The participants to the focus-groups broadly confirmed the existence of the values discovered by the secondary research and, as well, confirmed the deliberate ignoring of the potentially negative value actualisations in all the three categories. Health and presumed risks of sugar overdose or of consumption of sweeteners do not seem to be an interestingly enough theme to produce notable effects on the target audience. That is why I eliminated this value from the following stages. From the operational values defining coffee I excluded, as well, the exchange currency and the individualism, emphasised by the participants as not important.

 

I then evaluated the discourses in their entirety, considering that in the cultural and social context of the audience, they are working as a whole to produce a unitary message (the packaging is working together with the TV commercial just as well as the digital materials work together with the printed materials, their interconnection being determined by the fluid modes of use of the media and of the promotional vehicles). Taking into account the rapid flow of information, the use of the mobile smartphone as an interface for the collection of information and the social media mechanics, its functions that complement the use of the TV and of the computer in a digitalised structure of information and advertising, I considered that an analysis concentrated on a TV commercial or on a poster would be limitative.

The analysis of the corpus revealed that each of the nine discourses includes a set of universal values, used at a higher level of abstraction, and a set of operational values, characteristic for the category and the target audience segment, at different degrees and with different expressions (table 3). For the coffee specialities, the variation between brands is substantial, with a fluctuation in the total score from 10 to 1. For the chocolate bars, the total score is more concentrated, the three brands cumulating from 6 to 10 points. For the carbonated drinks, the international brands cumulated similar scores (9 and 10), while the regional Tymbark Fizzy only scored 3 points, with no universal value attached.

Table 3. Scaled scores of the universal and operational values

Category Brand Universal values

(from 1 to 4)

Operational values (from 1 to 7) Total score
Coffee specialties Nescafé 3in1 3 6 9
Jacobs 3in1 2 5 7
La Festa 3in1 0 1 1
Carbonated drinks Coca-Cola 4 6 10
Pepsi Cola 3 6 9
Tymbark Fizzy 0 2 2
Chocolate bars Lion 4 5 9
ROM 2 7 9
Snickers 1 6 7

 

The regional Tymbark, present in two of the three analysed categories (with La Festa 3in1 in coffee specialties and Tymbark Fizzy in the carbonated drink) did not use any universal values in its discourses. The global brands (Nescafé 3in1, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Lion) cumulate the highest scores of their categories using the highest number of universal and operational values, each on more materials included in their discourses (from packaging to TV commercials).

The analysis confirmed that operational values are used more in the communication, thus meeting the need of identification and delimitation of a symbolic territory of evolution for each brand. If this finding was forecasted, the one regarding the scarce use of the universal values was not. For example, none of the analysed packagings used representations of any universal values, while the messages disseminated in the digital campaigns seem to especially eliminate this type of values. Another unexpected result appeared in the Snickers bar case: its global discourse, adapted for five vehicles, only uses one universal value, actualised as friendship, and only in the TV commercial.

 

In the next stage, assessing the answers received for the questionnaires, I concluded that each brand appropriates a communication territory defined by a series of statements describing themes and sub-themes that actualise the operational values identified in the previous stages. The distribution of the statements and the associations with the brands were built using the principal components analysis (PCA); that led to the ranking of the values for each category. The analysis of the deviations from the expected scores indicated a hierarchy of operational values in each category.

Thus, for the coffee specialties, the strongest association comes with the value of versatility, with scores of 1,00 and 0,89, followed by taste and flavour with 0,88, pleasure with 0,75 and 0,55, natural with 0,71 and socializing, with scores in between 0,58 and 0,37. The energising (an intrinsic value of the category due to the caffeine and sugar in the composition) is the value with the weakest association, reaching only 0,14.

For the carbonated drinks, the operational value of pleasure has the strongest association when the theme and the sub-theme of actualisation detail a reference to the taste: “I like it because it is sweet”, for example, scores 0,73. Versatility is either strongly associated (0,90 and 0,52) or weakly (0,48 and 0,21), depending on the theme and sub-theme of the statement. Entertainment and cooling receive good scores and, contrary to the expectations, socialising receives scores (in between 0,68 and 0,63) placing it on the median of the string of values, even though it is present in all the discourses and seemed to be a defining value of the category.

The strongest association for chocolate bars is individualism (between 1,00 and 0,32), followed by energy (0,84 to 0,37), pleasure (0,78), appetising (0,40) and happiness (0,36). Depending on the theme and sub-theme of the statement, there are weak associations too, with scores under the median of the string (0,32). Unlike the coffee specialties (where caffeine should have brought a strong association with energising), in this category, the combination of cacao and sugar seems to trigger a strong association for the energy (0,84).

I mapped the associations for each brand in graphics using two reference axis: Ox – the importance of the operational values (up: important; down: less important) and Oy – the association of the brand with the values (left: weak; right: strong). The overlay of these graphics on the analysis from the previous stage helped me understand and interpret the relation between the advertising use of the operational values and the way the audience understands those values. For this purpose, I also included in the questionnaires brands that have not communicated or have communicated less in the analysed period (like Amigo, Kit Kat, Albeni, Schweppes Tonic or Fanta Madness), but were mentioned in the focus groups.

These results show that the operational values of versatility (expressed under the theme “easy preparation anywhere”), taste and flavour (expressed under the theme “the bitter taste of coffee”) and natural (expressed under the theme “made of natural coffee”), even though strongly associated with the category, are not appropriated by neither of the brands that communicated actively in the research period. These values are associated by the respondents with a brand that is considered traditional, Amigo. This brand did not communicate in the past five years; its most recent advertising campaign was launched in June 2015, at the end of the research period. This could be explained by the fact that Amigo lacks specific operational values (as it did not communicate) and profits from those of the category.

The territories claimed by the three brands in focus are overlaid. Yet, LaFesta 3in1 takes over the area of „it is for everyone” (versatility) while Jacobs 3in1 conquers the space of „the first date” (theme used for the value of socializing). The other themes expressing the pleasure and socialising are associated by the respondents both with Nescafé 3in1 and Jacobs 3in1 (Graphic 1).

Unlike the coffee specialties, the carbonated drinks have better defined territories. The strongest association, with the theme „wanted by kids”, is correlated to Tymbark Fizzy, the same as „it’s sweet”, both themes actualising the value of pleasure. Taking into account the relevancy for the category of these actualisations of the sub-themes with highest scores (1,00 and, respectively, 0,73) we can conclude that, in fact, this brand does not conquer a territory but is intuitively placed by respondents in the category.

The versatility and the socialising characterise Coca-Cola („for every occasion”, „for every meal”), while Pepsi fits with the entertainment („inspires fun”) and cooling („is consumed with ice”). The versatility is associated less by Pepsi through the sub-theme „is consumed during travels”, with a score of 0,32, as opposed to „for every occasion”, scored with 0,52 and attributed exclusively to Coca-Cola. The only value that correlates with both global brands is versatility when expressed through „used at the office”, which is yet weakly correlated with the category (0,21) (Graphic 2).

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Graphic 1.

Coffee specialties brands associations with statements describing the values of the category

 

 15
Graphic 2

Carbonated drinks brands associations with statements describing the values of the category

 

In the chocolate bars, the brands that did not communicate in the research period are associated by respondents with the category defining values (individualism, through the statement „for anyone”, with a score of 1,00 in the category, is associated, for example, with Albeni). While Lion and Snickers both fight for a territory described by energy („it gives me energy”), individualism and happiness („it makes me feel happy”, „it eliminates stress”), ROM attaches the pleasure („it melts in my mouth”), appetising („it has chocolate”), and happiness („for moments of relaxation”). Snickers associates with the theme „rapid snack for when I’m hungry”, expressing energy, a value strongly correlated with the category and aligned with the brand positioning: „you’re not you yourself when you’re hungry” (Graphic 3).

 

 16
Grafic 3

Chocolate bars brands associations with statements describing the values of the category

 

Interpretations

In two of the categories, the global brands create local discourses with better results than the local or regional brands. Nescafé 3in1 and Jacobs 3in1 have better discourses than LaFesta 3in1, and Pepsi communicates better than Timbark Fizzy. The effectiveness of these discourses was built less on the local verisimilitude for the coffees and more on the category defining operational values. The two local brands of the regional company Tymbark Maspex score the worst in their categories, showing that they evolve practically outside the cultural space known to the audience in connection with coffee or carbonated drinks.

On the contrary, a very effective local discourse is proposed by a local company in the chocolate bars segment, for ROM. Lion and Snickers used discourses with no localisation, with no local verisimilitude. And if Snickers succeeds to capitalise on older awareness campaigns that have stabilised the brand in the mind of the consumers, Lion has no historical advantage. The competitor ROM, using mostly local values (even though not defining for the category but in the area of the national pride), succeeds to score better and create a real awareness problem for the two brands with a stronger international background.

The only global discourse with indisputable success belongs to Coca-Cola. Infused with some local adaptations for the digital campaigns, it doesn’t just easily step in the edible paradigm, but it seizes it. Roland Barthes noticed the symbolic power of the brand in the USA in the 50’s and placed it in a position of power similar to the one of the wine in France (Barthes, 2013: 23-30). More than fifty years after, the food habits and the eating rituals get to be easily associated with Coca-Cola even in Romania (presumably all-over the world), as a result of the consistency of successive discourses that have set the brand on a visible position in the dictionary of signs used by the members of every community. The observation of a focus-group participant is expressive for this situation of the brand: “have you lately seen a wedding with no 2.5 litres bottles of Coke on the table?”.

Although, from a financial perspective, the local production of a few TV commercials wouldn’t be a difficulty for a company like Coca-Cola, the results show that the same creative communication strategy, decanted for years and effectively implemented, can and will produce considerable effects on the brand indicators in different markets. Coca-Cola is not linked anymore with the American imperialism, nor with national cuisines – it just transcended those stages.

The localisation of the discourse of its competitor (Pepsi), a tactical alliance of advertising with the playful (Rovența-Frumușani, 2005: 152) “on the +”, is in fact a visible attempt of adaptation of the brand global promise to the wording and culture of its destination local market. The English „pulse” in the original brand claim was used as such and the ”on the +” was added in order to append a local, Romanian, accent to the discourse. Its textual form anchored the images in the TV commercials, shot in locations easily recognizable by the audience. The results are far better than those of Tymbark Fizzy, yet, they do not reach Coca-Cola’s.

All of the nine brands use tenaciously the social media platform, their Facebook pages proving that the brands have come to understand the information sharing protocol and the way it helps the integration into the network of social, material, economical and cultural relations that dynamically influence the life of the individuals (Jenkins, 2014: 14). This use of the digital medium points also to the fact that brands can easily let go the traditional and conventional media: Snickers hasn’t used print ads ever since the beginning of the economical crisis, in 2009. This did not mean redirecting the budgets to mobile apps or other digital new vehicles, but a concentration of communication efforts in the online area (Facebook applications, promotional websites, etc.).

Be it a 100% locally produced discourse, like ROM’s, or a global discourse adapted to the cultural, social and economical realities of the local market, like Coca-Cola’s, the explicit use of signs and meaning connected with the relevant and defining values of the category appears to increase the effectiveness of the advertising discourse. Metonymic method of representing a certain culture (Cmeciu, 2010: 61), the discourse succeeds thus to achieve its goal: persuading the consumer.

 

Conclusions

Investigating the source of the meanings in the advertising discourse and the way they are translated from a culturally determined representation regime in a signification system, the one of the advertising, the present research advances the thesis that the coherent actualisation in the advertising discourse of the operational and universal values from the larger cultural and social context of audience of the category, is able to stimulate a set of effectiveness indicators (credibility, acceptability, memorability, intent of purchase and brand preference). The results show that the cultural source of the meaning present in the advertising discourse can be determined a priori, before even starting its execution. In other words, the meanings decanted from the cultural and social context of the consumer can be used as raw material that has to be used in the advertising discourse to stimulate its effectiveness.

The operational values that populate the context of a certain category of products (FMCG, automotive, etc.), can be found using the financially effective method of the secondary research of social documents and of the general communication of the category. The results of this research can be verified and confirmed if needed, through conventional qualitative techniques, currently used, as the focus-group or the in-depth interview, or even through more expensive quantitative techniques as the questionnaire.

 

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[1] Think global, act local, phrase usable in various fields, from architecture to advertising, attributed to the Scottish sociologist Patrick Geddes (1854-1932).

[2] The National Institute for Statistics keeps a public record of the last census here: http://www.recensamantromania.ro/noutati/volumul/; last accessed: 17.07.2015.