By: Themba Nyovane- 26 May 2023

Prof Ronnie Gao- Associate Professor of Consumer Marketing at Trinity Western University in Canada

The department of Marketing, Retail Business & Sport Management at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) recently hosted a Public Lecture addressed by Prof Ronnie Gao, a tenured Associate Professor of Consumer Marketing who is based at the Trinity Western University (TWU) in Vancouver, Canada.

Commencing with a thought-provoking presentation entitled: “Majority and Minority in Society: A Consumer-centric Perspective”, the lecture dissected the complex experiences and responses of majority and minority consumer groups towards advertising and marketing stimuli. The lecture was attended by various stakeholders including VUT staff, students, and distinguished guests from sister-institutions, who were warmly welcomed by Dr Speech Nelana, the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation, Commercialisation, and Internationalisation (RICI) at the Vaal University of Technology. From the onset of his presentation, Prof Gao mentioned that “it is a reality that we live in a multicultural society, with diverse ethnic groups which are shaped by different beliefs and practices of culture”. In return, the background of each consumer will shape when and how they consume marketing content, products, and services. Prof Gao mentioned that the role of a marketer is to consider traditions, languages, customs, beliefs, and experiences when crafting messages. Prof Gao emphasised the need for marketers to diffuse any elements of stereotyping and discrimination when attempting to reach various consumer cohorts. This can be done by applying a multi-ethnic approach – that is underpinned by tolerance and respect of both majority and minority groups within any society.

Prof Gao shed the spotlight on the need for marketers to be observant and responsive towards multi-culturalism in global society and make efforts to identify vital touchpoints to communicate consumer products and brands that embrace multiculturalism. While using a rich mix of global advertisements, Prof Gao was able to demonstrate various examples showing the impact of customer resistance towards multiculturalism. In doing this, the guest lecture presented empirical evidence of how marketing organisations can utilise target advertisements as a self-reference point to enable inclusivity of both majority and minority groups. In other words, the marketing communication messages should be designed in such a way that consumers do not feel detached by culturally incongruent content that does not resonate with their ethnic backgrounds. Prof Gao further presented empirical results from seven studies where experimental design methodology was applied to investigate a series of moderators and mediation relationships. The key findings from the research by Prof Gao pointed out that multiple situational factors seem to have moderating effects on the responses by majority and minority groups, including among others the product/service’ country of origin, product/service characteristics as well as the congruence between these two variables.

Two disciplinary experts, Professors Therese Roux from Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and IIse Struwig from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) were provided an opportunity to provide a formal response to the lecture by Prof Gao. The academicians presented the scenario of South Africa as a rainbow nation, characterised by different demographic layers. The Professors outlined that it was their view that South African marketers could implement different approaches including tapping into indigenous marketing innovations by building solutions using traditional-knowledge practices, beliefs, and experiences.

Prof Nobukhosi Dlodlo, the Head of Marketing, Retail Business and Sport Management Department provided an evaluation of the apparent contribution of research around majority and minority consumers by highlighting that “consumers should not be regarded as numbers and objects but people with unique psychological identifying markers, hence the need to embrace multi-culturalism.” In essence, she said the public lecture presented VUT academics with fertile opportunities for research directed towards the implementation of inclusive marketing approaches. For practice, Prof Dlodlo further alluded to the need to ensure that there is adequate representation of the numeric majority graduates (who are currently, the economic minorities) in the South African advertising space as that will ensure that the narrative in the advertising space is congruent with their ethnic and background/s.

More about Prof Gao

Prof Gao earned his M.B.A. from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2004. He obtained a PhD in Business Administration (Consumer Behaviour specialisation) from Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A in 2014. Prof Gao joined Trinity Western University as an Associate Professor of Marketing in 2014, after which he successfully received his tenure status. Prof Gao has publications in high-impact factor journals, ranked in tier-one and tier-two including the Journal of Business Research, Journal of International Consumer Marketing, the Journal of Marketing and the Christian Business Review. In addition, Prof Gao has made several conference presentations at leading academic conferences within the Marketing discipline, including the renowned American Marketing Academic conference, where he drew inspiration for his key research on consumer culture. Prof Gao has taught 12 undergraduate and MBA marketing and business courses, while also working on various research projects with a team of research assistants.