Consumers' response to offensive advertising: A cross cultural study

Kara K W CHAN*, Lyann Li, Sandra Diehl, Ralf Terlutter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)
212 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to examine how Chinese and German consumers react to print advertisements that are potentially offensive. Design/methodology/approach - Using culture theories about information context, individualism and feminine consciousness, the paper hypothesizes that Chinese consumers will be less accepting of the advertisements than German consumers. It also compares the dimensions of consumer perceptions for both countries and how consumer perceptions are related with intentions to reject the products and the brands because of the ads. A survey of 563 respondents aged 17-58 from urban China (Shanghai) and Germany was conducted in October 2005 and June 2006. A questionnaire with six print advertisements containing sexism and other themes was constructed. Data were collected through five universities. Findings - Findings on perceptions of the offensive advertisements among Chinese and German respondents were mixed. Overall, as expected, Chinese respondents were less accepting of offensive advertising, as they liked the advertisements less than German respondents. However, they were also more likely than German respondents to find the advertisements convincing and informative. Results showed that Chinese respondents and German respondents had different dimensions of advertising perceptions. The two print advertisements that received the most negative perceptions both contained sexually oriented body images. The study also found that advertising perceptions had a significant impact on consumers' intentions to reject the products and the brands. Research limitations/ implications - The city surveyed in China is highly advanced in terms of economical and advertising development when compared with all other Chinese cities. Consumer responses were derived from a student sample. Only the "manner" of offensive advertising was studied, and the "matter" as well as "media" were not covered. Practical implications - Useful advice for marketers and advertisers to understand how far they can stretch the line for controversial advertisements and to assess the possible risk involved. Originality/value - This paper offers insight to design communication and message strategies for consumers of very different cultural backgrounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)606-628
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Marketing Review
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Marketing

User-Defined Keywords

  • Advertising
  • China
  • Consumer behaviour
  • Culture
  • Germany


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