Language and Visual Communication: How Multimodality Works in Intercultural Marketing Communication

Language and Visual Communication: How Multimodality Works in Intercultural Marketing Communication

Ping Yang
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5778-4.ch002
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This chapter examines how multimodality works language and visual cues together to achieve effective intercultural marketing communication. Language symbols are used as a primary means of communication in TV and radio. Commercial advertisers never forget to use visual communication to persuade consumers. Customers usually use the combined resources such as language (e.g., spoken and written) and visual cues (e.g., colours and signs) to interpret meanings. A qualitative approach is used in this project. Data including written texts and visual images are collected from many sources and critically analyzed with reference to relevant theories. It is concluded that both language communication and visual communication play their role in advertising and their combined communication power is greater. The research outcomes will help business operators and managers understand how culturally appropriate language and visual communication can promote the advertised services and sell their products, thus achieving business success and customer satisfaction.
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In the ever increasingly competitive global markets, successful and meaningful intercultural advertising plays a key role in reaching out to the consumers from diverse language and cultural backgrounds. An international language is needed for this purpose. The English language as a lingua franca is used in many fields as the common medium of communication, more frequently than any other language, especially in such areas as English language teaching (Horibe, 2007; Kirkpatrick, 2007), higher education (Smit, 2010), international business (Millot, 2017; Pierini, 2016), and so on. As a popular medium of publicly advertising products and services worldwide, English is fully utilised to reach potential consumers in many countries such as Colombia (Martinez, 2015), Italy (Vettorel, 2013), China (Li, 2015), Holland (Hornikx, van Meurs, & de Boer, 2010). Furthermore, English has also taken an Asian flavor which makes the Russian advertising of the Far East colourful, unique, and appealing to customers (Proshina & Ustinova, 2012). Booming with other industries, China's real estate advertising has lost no opportunity to use English to demonstrate its emerging and new identity, eager to embrace the international community (Li, 2012). Still next, English is used in magazine advertising in Iran (Baumgardner & Brown, 2012), in French print advertising from 1999 to 2007 (Ruellot, 2011), and in TV commercial advertising in Hungary (Pétery, 2011). The technical and smart use of language in advertising is so important to successful marketing that advertisement designers need to give due credit to planning and designing the spoken advertising message. This is what was written on the Wiley publisher’s website (Sedivy and Carlson, 2011):

In an environment saturated with information, advertising messages attempt to compress as much persuasive power into as small a linguistic space as possible. These messages, the authors reveal, might take the form of a brand name whose sound evokes a certain impression, a turn of phrase that gently applies peer pressure, or a subtle accent that zeroes in on a target audience. As more and more techniques of persuasion are aimed squarely at the corner of our mind which automatically takes in information without conscious thought or deliberation, does 'endless choice' actually mean the end of true choice?

This chapter examines how multimodality functions to work language and nonverbal cues together in order to achieve effective intercultural marketing communication. I first review relevant literature with reference to such theoretical frameworks as the multimodality of communication, cultural linguistics, and communication accommodation theory, then raise three research questions. I, then, describe the research methodology, focus on three emerging themes out of the data examined, and finally discuss the implications in the conclusion.


Literature Review

In this section, I review the previous publications and current literature relevant to the three theoretical frameworks, namely multimodality of communication, cultural linguistics, and communication accommodation theory. This can not only bring in research output from multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary fields, but it can also clearly foreground the theories that underpin the emerging themes to be discussed, as well as help identify the research gap this project is attempting to fill, both in intercultural communication in general, and, specifically, in intercultural marketing communication.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Culturally Appropriate Advertising: The language expressions and visual cues of commercial products and/or services via public media are designed and promoted in a manner that is not offensive and accommodates the cultural needs of the target recipients and consumers.

Nonverbal Humor: Multiple dimensions (e.g., speech rate, various types of fun body language, and personal space and distance, etc.) of wordless and comic forms of expression that invite laughter and pleasure on the part of recipients.

Intercultural Advertising: Promotion of commercial products and/or services in the form of culturally appropriate verbal communication or nonverbal communication or both through conventional media (e.g., TV or newspapers) and new media (e.g., YouTube, mobile apps) to potential customers from diverse language and cultural backgrounds.

Implicit Power of Visual Communication: Because messages are conveyed through images or through what can be visually seen and sensed rather than what can be heard, they could be interpreted differently depending on people’s knowledge and skills, and how they are read. Though hidden and indirectly represented, the intended messages are strong.

Explicit Power of Language Communication: Words and expressions both in spoken and written forms, when well selected and put, can convey the intended ideas and opinions clearly. The intended messages are not hidden, but directly voiced.

Cultural Conceptualizations: Different cultures have their own culture-specific way of expressing cultural concepts. For example, Mandarin Chinese traditionally celebrate their birthday by eating noodles, which represent a long life, or they eat dumplings, representing family get-together and bonding during lunar New Year.

Visual Cues: In communication through images, there are many clues that can convey the hidden and intended meaning, for example, persons, landscape, background, objects, hues, brightness, sizes, shapes, and so forth.

Visual Communication: Messages are conveyed through images or in what can be visually seen and sensed rather than in what can be heard.

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