Acculturation Theory & Marketing

While yesterdays post was very much related to postacculturation, i.e. taking a contemporary look at how within a globalised world consumers create identity, todays post goes “back to the roots” by looking at acculturation – or the change that occurs to both when two cultures come into contact (i.e. the meltiong pot paradigm). Researchers during the 1930s to the 1980s have attempted to explain what happens by relying largely on diffusion models, i.e. focusing on how certain attitudes, concepts etc. change as a result of cross-cultural contact.
A dominant paradigm is Acculturation Theory, proposed by Berry in the 1980s, explains how individuals from a a cultural background react when in contact with another culture (mostly in the context of immigration). The theory posits that, depending on how these individuals react to the “host” culture and how much of their “home” culture they retain, individuals will either integrate, assimilate, reject or become marginalised. From a marketing perspective, we can see examples of all four categories occurring in contemporary (marketing) communications: For example, integration can be seen in the case of global celebrities endorsing local products, merging both home and host culture. Similarly, assimilation can be seen in contemporary communication where “culturally others” have become completely integrated (or assimilated) into their host culture; relinquishing their “home culture”. For a comical version of this, check out this Goodness Gracious Me sketch for example.
A typical example of “rejection” directed marketing can be seen in advertising directed specifically at certain groups, emphasising ”home” culture. Examples can be found on television stations specifically targeting certain ethnic groups, which link consumption of particular goods to cultural origin.
Lastly, “marginalisation” targeted advertisements are typically adverts that are culture free, pan-national advertisements.

While Acculturation Theory is useful for explaining consumer behaviour, attitudes of consumers and marketing towards ethnically diverse consumers, it has also been heavily criticised. For example, the categories are seen as too fixed – and personalities in real life may be more fluid than the theory suggests. Further, against a backdrop of globalisation of markets and consumption, many academics have started to highlight the role of the consumer in shaping their own culture – as discussed in the previous post, often “oscillating” between local and global products and “home” and “host” concepts becoming increasingly obsolete.