2.1. The Yin-Yang Balancing Theory as an Explanation for Cultural Differences
We define the tolerance for contradiction, or preference for balance, as the tolerance for inconsistency and resolution among contrasts (Li 2012
; Fang 2012
). This paper examines the tolerance for contradiction as an essential measure of cultural difference. The tolerance for contradiction differs significantly from culture.
Although Chinese culture and logic might differ from those of other Asian countries or regions, it appears that Easterners, in general, and the Chinese in particular, have a higher tolerance for contradiction (Fang 2012
; Li 2012
). This higher tolerance for contradiction expressed by Easterners can more generally be explained by the Yin-Yang Balancing (YYB) theory. This theory offers an alternative method to interpret cultural differences/similarities to those based on Hofstede’s interpretation of culture (Fang 2005–2006
; Li 1998
) because this interpretation of culture is characterized by different flaws (McSweeney 2015
). Beyond the oversimplistic Hofstedian characterization of the collectivist vs. individualistic divide between Easterners and Westerners, Chinese culture, in particular, is holistic, duality-based, and dynamic (Peng and Nisbett 1999
), which can be explained by the Yin-Yang Balancing (YYB) theory (Li 2012
; Fang 2012
). The concept of Yin-Yang refers to an ancient Chinese philosophical principle, which holds that there are no absolute separations between opposites (Cooper 1990
; Mattsson and Tidström 2015
; Pauluzzo 2020
). The Yin-Yang principle intrinsically refers to paradox, duality, unity in diversity, harmony, and change (Chen 2002
Yin-Yang thinking bears some resemblance to the dialectical thinking in the West (Peng and Nisbett 1999
). However, the YYB is an open system “to accommodate a balance between ‘either/or’ and ‘both/and.’ It is highly distinctive from Aristotle’s formal logic, which is mechanistic and reductionist due to its absolute denial of potential contradictions with a permanent ‘either/or’ (but never ‘both/and’). It is also different from Hegel’s dialectical logic, which is ultimately mechanistic and reductionist due to its absolute need for the resolution of transitory contradictions with a temporary ‘both/and’ but ultimate ‘either/or,’ so [we] term it ‘both/or’” (Zolfani et al. 2013, p. 157
). This implies that the Chinese YYB framework, which infuses Eastern thinking, accommodates strong forms of contradiction (Nisbett 2003
; Li 2012
; Pauluzzo 2020
). In contrast, Aristotle’s formal logic and Hegel’s dialectic logic, as examples of Western thinking, are dualist and do not accommodate contradictions.
The Yin-Yang balancing follows a holistic, dynamic, and duality structure (Li 2016
), according to which the conflicting yet complementary elements/values co-exist and mutually transform into each other in an organic and unified whole (Li 1998
; Tian 2002
). This dialectical relationship with partial trade-offs and synergies between opposite elements/values is strictly related to the concept of a paradox, characterized by “the simultaneous presence of contradictory, even mutually exclusive elements” (Cameron and Quinn 1988, p. 2
). In this regard, the YYB fully embraces paradox, recognizing that individuals are both Yin and Yang (Fang 2005–2006
). In this context, the YYB, by considering opposites as partially conflicting and partially complementary (Jing and Van de Ven 2014
), implicitly adopts an ‘either/and’ approach, which contrasts both the ‘both/and’ logic that treats opposites as entirely complementary without conflict, and the ‘either/or’ system that views opposites as fully conflicting without complementarity (Li 2016
) As a matter of fact, the YYB frame of thinking has tremendous implications and applications for exploring complex phenomena (Zolfani et al. 2013
) and potentially for advertising. Table 1
explains the core arguments of the YYB theory and outlines its implications for advertising messages.
To better show how a two-sided advertising is framed by integrating YYB theory, Figure 1
and Figure 2
show the Chinese philosophy of balance, and a two-sided sample advertising from China, respectively. Figure 1
conveys the foundations of the dynamic duality-based principle that is core to YYB. Specifically, it reconciles the two opposites of the metaphysical (i.e., the heart and lofty thoughts) and the physical (i.e., feet on the ground) into a harmonious whole. In other words, instead of clashing the two opposites due to their differences, it reconciles them as complementary such that wholeness could not be achieved with either one of them missing. Figure 2
embodies the commercial exploitation of that balancing principle in advertising. The advertising suggests that beauty is not the result of product use alone (as many commercials tend to puffer), but instead it is the outcome of subtle combination of both “natural beauty” (i.e., traits, body features) and “artificial beauty” (i.e., the cosmetic) which combine holistically and synergistically to magnify beauty even more.
Consequently, in contrast to Westerners, Easterners may accommodate relatively well counter-intuitive messages such as two-sided messages. In fact, because of their higher tolerance for contradiction, Easterners may tend to avoid extremes that are typically salient in advertising; they refrain from making black or white evaluations of objects, such as products in an advertisement. They can also be described as wanting to maintain harmony in all aspects of their lives. Yet, one-sided advertising elicits the positive about an object while deliberately disregarding the negative, thus not providing a comprehensive evaluation of the object. This approach is close to puffery (Kamins and Marks 1987
). One-sided advertising may trigger higher counter-argumentation and derogation due to the restrictive perspective that it entails (Kamins and Assael 1987
). Overall, two-sided messages may be more effective for Easterners who have a higher tolerance for ambiguity due to their higher tolerance for contradiction. In contrast, this effect will be less significant for Westerners.
2.2. Hypothesis Development
This paper examines the effectiveness of two-sided advertising messages cross-culturally. We propose that Easterners’ and Westerners’ differentiated worldview due to their respective frames of thinking and philosophical discourses (Fang 2012
; Li 2012
) might impact their response to two-sided messages.
Therefore, this study uses the YYB theoretical framework and the construct of tolerance, encapsulated in tolerance for contradiction as a key constitutive factor of that theory (Chen 2002
; Li 1998
), as the theoretical framework of this study. This theory has already been adopted and adapted in the context of academic research (e.g., Zolfani et al. 2013
)—albeit in other domains—and therefore, it is highly relevant and justified to use that framework in the current study. More specifically, while we posit a difference in tolerance for the contradiction between Chinese and Americans, we further posit that those differentiated levels of tolerance for contradiction reverberate throughout other key constructs that have been shown to predict purchase intentions, such as credibility and attitude. The following paragraphs explain in more detail the theoretical foundations underlying the study.
First, we suggest that, under the influence of the duality-based thinking induced by the YYB cognitive frame (Peng 1997
), Eastern consumers tend to avoid extremes; they refrain from making black or white evaluations of people, objects, and events (Peng and Nisbett 1999
). Instead, they have a higher level of acknowledgment and acceptance for paradox, change, duality, unity in diversity, and harmony, offering a more holistic approach to problem solving by acknowledging multiple views and perspectives (Chen 2002
). This duality-based thinking is a balancing process consisting of mutually embracing opposite elements because they are considered complementary, compatible, and relative, instead of separate, incompatible, and absolute (Fang 2012
; Li 2012
; Zolfani et al. 2013
). The notion of duality and balance derives from YYB theory, a unique cognitive frame in East Asia that originated in China (Chen 2002
; Li 1998
) and has thus influenced Chinese thinking style and culture. It is different from Aristotle’s formal logic or Hegel’s dialectal logic, which rejects the coexistence of contradiction (Li 2012
). While YYB prevails in East Asia, formal logic is tantamount to the Western thinking style and should decrease Westerners’ tendency to balance contradiction, duality, and paradox (Zolfani et al. 2013
). We expect the following:
Eastern consumers have a higher tolerance for contradiction than Western consumers.
Past research proposed that the persuasiveness of two-sided messages is essentially driven by increased source credibility (Kamins et al. 1989
; Smith and Hunt 1978
; Swinyard 1981
; Uribe et al. 2016
). Moreover, two-sided ads are typically paradoxical because they involve “contradictory yet interrelated elements—elements that seem logical in isolation but absurd and irrational when appearing simultaneously” (Lewis 2000, p. 760
). It may appear logical to see promotion and puffery in an ad (e.g., Kamins and Marks 1987
). In contrast, criticism is more likely to be found in a consumer association report or a scientific journal article. Hence, the paradox. Yet, calling this a paradox is a question of perspective. From a linear logic paradigm, as characterizes the Western world, paradoxes carry negative connotations and will be disliked by the Western mind (Fang 2012
). Even though the Western world may also have developed a form of dialectal logic (e.g., Hegel, Marx), resulting in such concepts as coopetition, or glocalization (Li 2012
), the “Western dialectal logic fails to truly transcend the ‘either/or’ thinking because it still regards paradox as a problem to be solved” (Li 2008, p. 416
). However, the source of a two-sided ad might become more believable (Etgar and Goodwin 1982. The level of enhanced source believability will remain lower than Easterners’ due to Westerners’ lower tolerance for contradiction. This lower tolerance for contradiction will not compensate for the higher perception of confusion associated with the ad source. The source may be perceived as manipulative, lacking clarity, and ultimately credibility. Therefore, the lower level of tolerance for contradiction for Westerners’ balance will negatively impact their perception of source credibility.
Conversely, the YYB induces paradoxical thinking as a fundamental philosophical principle (Peng and Nisbett 1999
). Henceforth, people who are influenced by the YYB frame of thought, i.e., Eastern consumers, might find an advertisement characterized by mutual interdependence and contradictions (e.g., two sides of the same coin) more believable and credible because it is in tune with one’s worldview and frame of thinking (Zolfani et al. 2013
). We, therefore, suggest that:
Tolerance for contradiction is positively related to the perceived credibility of the advertisement.
The positive relationship between the tolerance for contradiction and credibility is stronger for Eastern consumers than Western consumers.
In line with past research (Spears and Singh 2004
), we distinguish between attitude towards the advertising vs. the brand and consider both mediators of the tolerance for contradiction–purchase intention relationship. Past studies demonstrated that attitude to-wards the advertising is an antecedent to attitude towards the brand (Eisend 2007
). Furthermore, the tolerance for contradiction contributes to positive attitudes towards advertising through enhanced credibility (Kamins et al. 1989
). In line with our previous developments about YYB, the YYB framework as a Chinese duality thinking frame induces a higher tolerance for contradiction. Increased tolerance for contradiction leads to considering paradoxes as interdependent opposites rather than exclusive opposites (Chen 2002
). Therefore, advertisements and brands bearing similarities with duality thinking by combining opposites, as two-sided advertisement, will foster favorable attitudes among individuals with higher needs for balance. With YYB being a unique Chinese reasoning style, this effect will be stronger for Easterners than for Westerners. Thus:
The tolerance for contradiction is positively related to attitude towards advertising.
The tolerance for contradiction is positively related to attitude towards the brand.
The positive relationship between tolerance for contradiction and attitude toward the advertising and the brand is stronger for Eastern than for Western consumers.
We assess message effectiveness by purchase intentions since purchase is the ultimate goal of a marketer through advertising. Extant literature further emphasizes the link between attitudes towards the ad and purchase intentions and attitudes towards the brand and purchase intentions (Moon and Sprott 2016
). As mentioned above, the persuasiveness of two-sided messages is essentially driven by an increase in source credibility. Enhanced credibility contributes to more positive attitudes towards the advertising and the brand (Chebat et al. 2001
). Furthermore, an essential outcome of enhanced credibility is that it creates higher purchase intentions (Uribe et al. 2016
). Collectively, these past studies suggest that enhanced credibility will positively affect both attitudes towards the advertising and the brand being advertised and purchase intentions.
In line with the YYB framework, this effect will be much stronger for Easterners than for Westerners. As duality-based thinkers with a higher tolerance for ambivalence and ambiguity (Peng and Nisbett 1999
), Easterners perceive a source using paradoxical statements as more credible. This enhanced credibility of the source will further strengthen the empirically verified impact of source credibility on attitudes (Chebat et al. 2001
) and purchase intentions (Uribe et al. 2016
). We thus hypothesize:
Credibility is positively related to the advertising.
Credibility is positively related to attitude towards the brand.
The positive relationship between credibility and attitude towards the advertising and the brand is more substantial for Eastern consumers than for Western consumers.
Credibility is positively related to purchase intention.
The relationship between credibility and purchase intention is stronger for Eastern consumers than for Western consumers.
Attitude toward the ad is a mediator of consumer choice (Shimp 1981
), but more significantly, it predisposes attitude toward the brand (Gardner 1985
; Mittal 1990
). Therefore, we posit the following:
Attitude toward the ad is positively related to attitude toward the brand.
The positive relationship between attitude towards the advertising and attitude toward the brand is stronger for Eastern consumers than Western consumers.
Furthermore, in line with the theory of reasoned action (Hale et al. 2002
) and the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen 1991
), attitude is a strong predictor of behavioral intentions, and therefore:
Attitude toward the ad is positively related to intentions.
The positive relationship between attitude toward the ad and intentions is stronger for Eastern consumers than Western consumers.
Attitude toward the brand is positively related to intentions.
The positive relationship between attitude toward the brand and intentions is stronger for Eastern consumers than Western consumers.
Finally, we propose that balance is related to purchase intentions through a mediational model involving credibility and attitude towards the ad and the brand as mediators. While we explained how the tolerance for contradiction is related to source credibility and attitudes, both attitudes (Ajzen 1991
) and source credibility (Chebat et al. 2001
) are related to purchase intentions. Given the empirical support for significant relationships between the constructs mentioned above in the abovementioned hierarchy of effects, we posit that the tolerance for contradiction may exert an indirect (i.e., mediation) impact on purchase intentions through an intrapsychic process. In line with YYB theory, the relationships between the antecedents will be stronger because of the initially higher tolerance for contradiction (Chen 2002
; Li 2012
; Fang 2012
). The stronger acceptance of unequivocal messages, such as two-sided advertising, typically yielded by YYB duality-based thinking (Peng and Nisbett 1999
), will ultimately reverberate on subsequent mediational constructs affecting more positively purchase intentions. Therefore, the process differs between Eastern and Western consumers since we expect stronger mediational effects of tolerance for contradiction on intentions to buy for Eastern consumers than Western ones.
The relationship between the tolerance for contradiction and purchase intentions is fully mediated by credibility, attitude towards the advertising, and attitude towards the brand.
The indirect effect of the tolerance for contradiction on purchase intentions is stronger for Eastern consumers than for Western consumers.
The conceptual model is shown in Figure 3