Study reveals how bicultural consumers respond to marketing cues

Oct 04, 2012

Consider a Japanese-American woman strolling through a mall. If she passes by a UNIQLO store, is she more likely to opt for sushi than a hamburger when she reaches the food court? Would this cue of Japanese culture draw out her Japanese side? The answer, according to new research from Columbia Business School's Michael Morris, the Chavkin-Chang Professor of Leadership, and Aurelia Mok, Assistant Professor, City University of Hong Kong (she received her Ph.D. from Columbia Business School in 2010), depends on the degree to which she has integrated her cultural identities.

Prior research found that bicultural individuals switch between their two sets of cultural habits in response to cues in their current setting. Morris and Mok show that these responses differ between two kinds of bicultural individuals: "integrated-self" individuals exhibit chameleon-like behavior, expressing Asian tastes after exposure to Asian symbols, while "divided-self" individuals behave like cultural contrarians, expressing American tastes after exposure to Asian symbols. This holds true even when cues are presented subliminally, suggesting that unconscious motives are at work.

Unconscious, automatic responses can be hard to measure scientifically. The researchers devised a subliminal priming technique in which participants were repeatedly flashed with the word "Asian" or "American" while reading other words in an initial test. These cue words appeared long enough to register subconsciously but not long enough to be consciously seen. Cultural tastes were subsequently measured with a consumer task: that participants could click to get more information about a product. The product appealed to either collectivistic ideals (representing Asian cultural norms) or individualistic ideals (representing American cultural norms). Through individual assessments, the researchers also evaluated the participants' degree of bicultural integration. The results showed that individual differences in self-concepts or identity configurations determined how participants' ad choices responded to "Asian" or "American" priming.

Further research by the authors showed that the key mechanism at play is one of self-defense: a fear of losing or neglecting part of oneself. This threat is felt to a greater degree by "divided-self" individuals, who perceive situations that call upon one of their cultures as excluding the other culture. "Integrated-self" , who feel that their Asian and American sides do not conflict, do not have this perception and the associated defensive response.

With globalization, more and more consumers identify with multiple cultures. This new research shows that persuading bicultural consumers through identity-based marketing is not a straightforward, one-size-fits-all process.

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rebuffing racial insults: How culture shapes our behavior

Apr 12, 2012

The color of our skin or where we come does matter when it comes to how we react to a racist insult. A new study has found that African American women are more likely than Asian American women to directly rebuff racist comments, ...

Actions and personality, east and west

Apr 11, 2011

People in different cultures make different assumptions about the people around them, according to an upcoming study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The researchers studie ...

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

21 hours ago

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.