Let us begin by defining advertising. Advertising is commonly defined as the paid-for promotion of goods, services and companies by an identified sponsor in the mass media (such as television, radio, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, etc.). In this instance, your company is the ‘identified sponsor’ – you will be paying for the advert that will be placed in your choice of mass media to promote your export products.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of advertising as we encounter it everywhere we go; whether on TV, on radio, in newspapers, in magazines, on the Internet, or on billboards, advertising is the most common form of marketing communications one will encounter in business. International advertising, however, faces more problems than any other aspect of international communications because of the differences between nations in the areas of culture, language, government restrictions, tastes and attitudes of the local population, agency availability, and the availability of certain media, such as television or the Internet.

What advertising media are there?

The most common categories of advertising media are outlined in the table below. We have also provided some comments on the suitability of each medium for use by exporters.


Broadcast media

Television advertising
  • Very expensive
  • Better for mass consumer goods
  • Very visual and impactful medium
  • Not really feasible for smaller exporters
  • Highly specialised/targeted shows might be a possible consideration
Radio advertising
  • Also quite expensive
  • Better for mass consumer goods
  • Listeners don’t see the product/service; they have to imagine it
  • Unlikely to be used by smaller exporters
  • Highly specialised/targeted radio shows might be a possible consideration
  • Some radio stations have a regional or city focus which may be worth considering if appropriate

Print media

  • Newspaper advertising is quite expensive
  • Short lifespan and limited space
  • Can choose between national and city papers to control reach
  • Can be expensive; but is generally within the reach of smaller exporters
  • Although there are national magazines (which are very expensive), there are also very focused sectoral and industry-related magazines which tend to be more affordable
  • Targeted magazine advertising is a realistic option for most exporters
  • You need to consider the audience and readership of the magazine to decide if it is suitable for you
  • Generally has a slightly longer life than newspaper advertising – reders may come back to the magazine several times and it may be read by several different people
Directory advertising
  • Most countries have many different directories (such as the Yellow Pages and Brabys in SA)
  • As many consumers and businesses make use of directories to find suppliers, it may be worthwhile to submit your company details for inclusion in a directory so that you will come into consideration when they are looking for suppliers.
  • Usually not very expensive, but is unlikely to attract many customers
  • Some marketers consider directory advertising a waste of money, as the return is too little
  • You may want to take additional advertising in the directory (e.g. a full page ad in the section that applies to your firm’s activities), but this can be very expensive

Outdoor advertising

Billboard advertising
  • Usually quite expensive
  • Very shotgun approach, but longish life
  • Not likely to be used by smaller exporters
  • Fine for building brand awareness for larger firms
  • Not much space to carry accross your message
Flyer handouts
  • Not very expensive, but too narrow in its impact for exporters who need to reach a wider audience
  • Only really suitable for consumer goods (not used for industrial products)
  • Little control over the delivery of the flyers
  • Comes across as somewhat ‘cheap’
Bus and car (transit) advertising
  • Similar to billboard advertising
  • On the expensive side
  • Suited to consumer, rather than
  • Limited message
  • More mobile
  • Best used for brand-building
  • Not likely to be used by smaller exporters
  • Similar in some respects to billboards, transit advertising and flyers (just smaller)
  • Much cheaper and therefore more affordable
  • Probably better for consumer than industrial goods
  • Often used in support of sales promotion activities such as trade fairs and in-store promotions
  • Not a very big reach – limied readership
  • May be used to a limited extent by exporters
  • Expensive
  • Very short life
  • Has to be used in conjunction with a major event such as World Cup event
  • Not likely to be used by exporters

Other advertising media

In-store advertising
  • Obviously aimed at retailers and consumers and not the industrial market
  • Might be worth considering if you are trying to break into retail outlets
  • Would need to negotiate with retailer regarding cost
  • Retailer may be reluctant to give away advertising sapce for a relatively unknown product
  • Limited use for exporters aiming at the reatil market
Promotional gifts
  • Not very expensive
  • Limited imact
  • Fine to backup your sales promotion or personal selling efforts
  • A good promotional gift has a long ‘in mind’ life
  • Limited reach – very personal
  • Can be used by exporters to promote themselves to selected buyers
  • Gift should not be construed as a bribe
Movie advertising
  • Very expensive to produce advert
  • More popular amongst younger generation
  • Aimed at consumer goods, not industrial/business products
  • Unlikely to be used by exporters much
  • Good for brand buidling of selected products
Product placements
  • This is when you negotiate to have your product used in a move or television programme
  • High cost
  • Your product would need to be unique for it to be considered (e.g. iPod music, Masserati car, Apple computer, etc.)
  • Unlikely to be a viable channel for most export products
In-flight advertising
  • Might be used onboard aricraft (e.g. the inflight magazine) or at airports (much like billboards)
  • Quite expensive
  • Captured audience – likely to spend time reading your ad if it is relevant to them
  • More suitable for consumer than industrial products
  • Worth considering, depending on your target audience
Internet advertising
  • Affordable and within reach of most exporters
  • Similar in nature to a magazine advertising
  • Can carry across more information than in a magazine and more visual information
  • Can be made interactive
  • Advertising can be very targeted reach specific users
  • Company website an absolute must
  • Internet advertising must be considered by all exporters (even if they later choose not to use it)
  • Discussed in more depth under Internet marketing


Which advertising media should I use?

This is not a question that one can answer will universal clarity; the answer will vary from country to country and will depend on your firm and the products your are promoting. In making your decision, you should bear the following in mind:

  • Because advertising involves mass media, the impact of advertising has more of a “shot-gun” (i.e. broad) than a “rifle” (i.e. narrow) effect. However, some advertising media (such as trade, industry or specialist magazines and certain types of Internet advertising) are more focused than others and are worth considering to reach specific target audiences.
  • Certain types of mass media (such as television and radio) are better suited to promoting consumer products, while others (such as trade magazines) are better suited to promoting industrial or business products.
  • Generally speaking advertising is relatively expensive and is too broad in its impact to be suitable for most smaller exporters. For this reason, advertising is not a popular means of promoting products in foreign markets.
  • In some cases – such as with industry or specialist magazines, certain types of Internet advertising and in the case of very focused/specialised television or radio shows – advertising may be worth considering because it reaches the target audience you are after.
  • Putting together an appropriate advertising message that has meaning within the culture and language of the target country is often very difficult and can seldom be undertaken from the home base. It is generally the case that you will have to make use of a local (and often expensive) advertising agency in the target country to run with the advertisement. Working with foreign advertising agencies to ensure that they carry across the message properly, is not easy and is fraught with problems.
  • There may be various regulations that restriction on the type and nature of the advertising that you are allowed to do. You need to make sure that you keep within the law.
  • There are many examples of how adverts translate badly when used in other languages. Make sure you get real and confirmed feedback from the marketplace that your ad works.

The advertising message

Legal restrictions and social constraints that vary from country to country quite often hamper freedom concerning the advertising message.In the case of the local export community, standardised advertising copy is commonly generated in South Africa and then translated for use in other countries, a practice that, if incorrectly handled, can negate the entire value of an advertising campaign. An apparently correctly translated message may become either incomprehensible or, at worst, make both the manufacturer and the product look ridiculous. A classic example of such an error was the translation of the English proverb, “Out of sight, out of mind” which, when translated into a foreign language, read “Invisible things are insane!”

To avoid the pitfalls of incorrect translation, the following rules should be adhered to:

  • Translate thoughts and ideas, do not provide a literal translation of words
  • Copy should be designed and written with translation in mind.
  • Unusual idiomatic expressions and slang should be avoided.
  • A native, professional should be used
  • The same language spoken in a number of different countries may have differences in its use – Spanish spoken in Colombia, for example, differs from Spanish spoken in neighbouring Venezuela
  • Local nationals who have experience in the relevant product area, e.g. agents or distributors, should always check the translation
  • The final proof should be re-checked by both the translator and the agents/distributors

Advertising media

Most advertising in the world is done through national media. However, where standardised advertising is planned, the exporter may choose to use international media. i.e. publications which receive coverage in a number of different countries, e.g. consumer magazines such as Reader’s Digest, Time or Business Week, or various trade and technical magazines. Ultimately, the exporter must select the media which are most likely to reach the target market cost-effectively. In achieving this objective, the following would normally be considered:

Suitable media may either be restricted in use or unavailable in the target market. Television advertising is often state-controlled and advertising time is strictly limited both in terms of the number of minutes and in terms of the number of minutes per product per annum.

  • The advertising of certain products, such as tobacco products or alcoholic beverages may be forbidden or restricted in terms of the law.
  • In many developing countries, it is difficult to acquire information on the circulation of publications or the type of people that they attract.
  • Where literacy levels are low, radio advertising, for example, may be more appropriate than press advertising.
  • Many countries tax advertising while other countries charge a special tax on imported advertising material. The effect this is likely to have on the marketing budget should be borne in mind.
  • Where the target country is multilingual, such as in Switzerland, regional media which specialise in the language spoken in that region, should be considered.
  • The quality of reproduction provided by some media may be unacceptable and this aspect should be investigated prior to a final choice being made.

Advertising agencies

In choosing a suitable advertising agency, the following should be taken into account:

  • The extent of market coverage of the agency. Not all markets that you may be interested in may be covered by the agency in question.
  • The quality of service offered. This differs from market to market and may even differ between branches of the same agency.
  • The extent, in financial terms, of the business offered to the agency. Major international agencies and certain foreign agencies may not handle small advertising campaigns
  • The need for international co-ordination. Where the advertising budget is considerable and a standardised campaign is planned, good co-ordination and control, usually achieved through a single international agency, may be required.
  • Larger concerns with operating bases in other countries may prefer to leave agency selection to a local subsidiary. This could also be the case in respect of joint venture arrangements or where advertising is done in conjunction with a local distributor.