A kaleidoscope of consumerism

November 12, 2004

This book addresses a global audience, as reflected in the diverse backgrounds of the contributors and the examples they present.

Consumer and company behaviours across six continents are fairly covered and compared. The 38 contributors maintain a high level of lively curiosity and offer a fresh dimension to the plodding approaches taken by more established scholars in this field.

They cover standard marketing processes: segmentation, branding, pricing, promotion, and so on. Contexts include business-to-business, business-to-customer and (taking a reverse perspective) customer-to-business marketing communications and relationships. E-commerce is discussed in eight chapters or case studies.

In their preface, the co-editors claim that this book differentiates itself from existing cross-cultural management and international marketing texts by shifting focus "away from internal organisational issues to deal directly with external and practical 'consumer issues' in the marketplace". These are dispersed across the text.

In contrast, common assumptions about "culture" are challenged directly. This is important because the "cross-cultural" element is the book's unique selling point, for which the editors deserve credit. They define their theme as "the process of marketing to global villages - entities that are as global as they are diverse" (their emphasis). The systematic and kaleidoscopic focus on the diversity of consumer behaviour puts into a human perspective the rather lazy generalisations about "globalisation" and "culture" common in other business texts. Ultimately, however, the book fails to resolve the complications created by invoking such notions.

It is probably best used as a textbook or supplementary resource for specialist undergraduate or generalist graduate programmes in universities and business schools where English is the main language of instruction. The bibliographies that close each chapter are tightly focused and (in general) up to date and readily accessible. The initial chapters offer a summary of current and established issues in cross-cultural analysis and "multicultural" marketing. In subsequent chapters, prominent scholars in these fields get repeat listings, thereby underpinning the thematic coherence between chapters.

Each chapter opens with a list of "learning objectives" and closes with "review questions". These support students working alone, in groups or at a distance. They also guide teachers. Some "objectives" are vaguely worded, claiming as learning outcomes improved "understanding" or "appreciation" rather than (for example) an ability to "demonstrate" or "explain". The case studies are innovative; and crucial for such a wide-ranging and multi-authored text, the index is excellent.

Despite the co-editors' avowed intent, only the vivid "vignettes" of culture-specific insights are likely to make an immediate impact on marketing practitioners, to whom I would nevertheless recommend the book as a reference.

It should also appeal to those of us fascinated by how and why we humans (aka consumers) apportion value to our behavioural choices in response to messages of sociocultural and socioeconomic persuasion.

So have a look and perhaps buy this book. Alternatively, persuade someone to buy it for you.

Keith Jackson is a tutor and researcher at CeFiMS, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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