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What is International Advertising?

Jessica Hobby
Jessica Hobby

Advertising is a paid message used to promote a product, service or an idea to a specific audience. International advertising refers to advertising which is carried out in multiple countries around the world. Effective advertising requires specialized cultural knowledge that considers differences between target audiences in different countries. International advertising is considered not only a communication process, but a business activity, an industry and a reflection of society as a whole.

The primary goal of advertising is to effectively communicate with the target audience. The communication process involves multiple aspects which are affected by media, culture, literacy and language. For example, a multinational company that wishes to place newspaper ads will find that their ads will most likely be unsuccessful in countries that have significantly low literacy rates. Additionally, cultural norms and values differ among countries. For example, a television commercial for birth control does not cause concern in many Western countries, while the same ad televised in a conservative Muslim country, such as Saudi Arabia, may be very controversial.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

International advertising can also be considered a business practice by which an advertising firm attempts to influence audiences in other countries about itself, and its products and services. Advertising agencies decide whether to create global or regional campaigns that are capable of building a global image about a product or service. Agencies create advertisements and place them in the appropriate media outlets throughout the world.

The worldwide industry of international advertising consists of a large network of advertising agencies. The network is made up of small and medium sized agencies located within one country and large agencies that have multiple offices in multiple countries throughout the world. This industry network is responsible for the communication via the business activity of advertising.

Finally, international advertising reflects multiple facets of society, including values, morals, lifestyles and gender roles. The image of a product or service created by advertising plays a part in promoting specific facets of society. Criticism of global campaigns claims that these images are promoting Western cultures and values. International advertising may act as a force that promotes these cultures and values with many products becoming objects of desire for others in the world. Additionally, communication through a regional or global campaign can also promote integration and diversity by establishing common bonds and creating universal symbols that are able to connect people from different areas of the world.

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Discussion Comments


@allenJo - Personally, I think international online advertising delivers the best bang for the buck. You can custom tailor the advertisements on your website to change depending upon the locale of the end user.

You could do this at the regional level or even at the national level if you want. Online advertising is cheaper than broadcast advertising on cable television and I think it’s easier to conduct an analysis of a campaign's effectiveness.


@NathanG - I remember that campaign. Yeah, it made quite a ruckus, especially among the conspiracy theorists.

It highlights some of the dynamics of international advertising however. They usually try to cater to more globalist values rather than regional interests.

That’s just the nature of the beast. If you’re running the same advertisement in a hundred countries, you have to make it appealing across the board.


I lived in Indonesia and used to watch CNN International via satellite. I remember that there were a lot of memorable international advertising campaigns that catered to the worldwide audience.

One of the most famous was one that was run by Cisco Systems; it was a commercial in which they said something about imagining a world with a cashless society.

That particular advertisement was very controversial, both in the United States and especially abroad, where it cut across the cultural mores of people who were very sensitive to the idea of a globalist, totalitarian society. Cisco eventually pulled the advertisement after much protest from viewers.

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