The communication of corporate image in the context of cross-cultural communication

“In September 2004, the magazine International Advertising carried an advertisement in it: two pillars stand at the two sides of a classical-styled Chinese pavilion and on each pillar is encircled by a golden dragon. The dragon encircling the left pillar moves upward whereas the pillar on the right and the dragon encircling it look very bright and shiny, and the dragon cannot help falling down along the pillar’s slippery surface.”36 This is a creative advertisement of Nippon Paint, a brand of Japanese paint. The idea underlying the advertisement is that both the dragon and the pillar, once coated with the paint, become unusually slippery, and even the most powerful dragon cannot stay on such a smooth and slippery surface but has to fall down. Along the advertisement, there were several lines commenting on the creativity of the advertisement: “the advertisement presents a brilliantly creative idea, highlighting the special features of the product in a most dramatic manner.”37 Nevertheless, a large number of Chinese audiences refuse to resonate with the so-called creativity implicit in the advertisement. On the Internet, they accused that “it is a provocation to depict a dragon falling down from a slippery surface.” They insisted that “no scorn should be poured at the dragon,” “China’s national sentiments are not to be defied,” “the advertisement has an ulterior motive” and “the advertiser owes an apology to the Chinese people.” Opinions voicing strong oppositions and dissatisfactions raged on, to the complete surprise of the editors of International Advertising magazine and to the advertising agency.

Why was this same text of communication subjected to such diametrically opposite interpretations?38 Why did the advertisement deviate from the predesignated direction and incur such serious misinterpretations? Why would some advertisements fail to achieve the expected communication effects and even deteriorate into completely ineffectual communication? Those questions pertain to the issues of “encoding” and “decoding” of the signs in the context cross-cultural communication. In the mid- and late 20th century, the British scholar of cultural studies Stuart Hall proposed the “encoding and decoding” theory in which he challenged the conventional pattern of linear communication. On one hand, he acknowledged the influence that mass media could exert on the audience; on the other hand, he believed that the audience would not interpret the messages totally according to the intention of the communicator. He pointed out that “there is no need for consistency between the encoding and decoding. Although the former can attempt at some sort of ‘pre-designation,’ it cannot dictate or guarantee the latter because the latter has its own condition of existence.”39 In cross-cultural communication, the audience’s cultural backgrounds are much more complicated, and it is all the more difficult for the encoder to “dictate and guarantee” the faithful reconstruction on the part of the decoder of the original meaning of the sign. It is even likely that distorted and opposite decoding would occur. Of course, Hall also pointed out that, although absolute consistency is impossible between encoding and decoding, there are still certain boundaries as to the extent of such mismatchings; otherwise, the recipients “would simply interpret information in whatever way they like,”40 thus rendering communication absolutely impossible. In other words, although it cannot be guaranteed that the recipients would completely reconstruct the meaning of the information, they would still abide by certain norms in decoding the information rather than spin their own meanings whimsically. The norms are actually the mandatory rules imposed on the signifying relationship of signs which we have discussed above. Although those rules are heavily manipulated by the ideology of the privileged class, the absence of those rules would render it absolutely impossible for human communication, cultural dissemination and the transmission of tradition to take place. With respect to the cross-cultural communication of the corporate image, the designation of the signifying relationship is the so-called “encoding” phase, the phase of producing meaning. As to whether this meaning can be effectively communicated, it depends on whether the recipients will undertake the decoding in the expected direction and whether the duplicated text can meet the inner emotional needs and produce the “resonance” effects of communication.

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