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How Glocal is Corporate Discourse? A Case Study of a Multinationals

1. Introduction
Glocalization has been a buzzword in business for many years. The term
originates from the Japanese word dochakuka , which denotes the
principle of adapting farming techniques to local conditions. Translated
into the field of business it is a strategy by which multinationals combine
a global, standardized strategy with adaptation to and alignment with
local values and choices, at both an operational and a marketing level.
Global companies tailor their products and marketing to local situations,
in what Robertson calls a kind of micromarketing (1995: 28). However,
it is argued that corporate communication needs to be harmonized as
effectively and efficiently as possible (van Riel 1995: 26), so that a
single homogeneous image of the company is presented in both internal
and external communication. This is done through the projection of
leitmotivs, characteristic and coherent themes and style that create and
shape the corporate identity (Lwensberg 2006: 239). Companies and
products take on a brand personality (Koller 2007: 114) with which
their stakeholders can identify. A brand is founded on a set of core values
which are then related to a specific range of social practices. Since values
and social practices are culture-specific, this raises the question of
whether it is possible for a multinational to really glocalize, without
weakening its corporate brand. Machin and Thornborrow (2003: 454)
suggest a brand has a set of representations which build up a discourse
around itself in the sense proposed by Kress and van Leeuwen. They see
discourses as socially constructed knowledge of (some aspect of)
reality (2001: 4), which
Salvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 73.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
can be realized in many different ways through a combination of semiotic
modes, each one contributing and adding to the whole. However, discourses
also reflect social and cultural contexts and the interests and values of the

social actors (Kress/van Leeuwen 2001). As a fundamental channel for both

internal and external corporate communication, websites function as
important and effective vehicles for image building and brand management
(Garzone 2009, Maynard/Tian 2004). Furthermore, the global dimension of
websites provides the perfect opportunity to implement a glocalization
strategy, if the company so desires. In fact, multinationals websites are no
longer limited to a single version in English; most offer multiple versions for
different geographical locations throughout the world. The degree of
glocalization in corporate discourse can therefore be measured by
comparing the similarities and differences to be found in the different
versions. This chapter is a preliminary study as part of a wider research
project into identity and reputation management in corporate websites. It
will focus on one multinational, Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch corporation
whose brands include some of the worlds leading consumer products in
food and beverages, personal and home hygiene. The company has operating
factories on every continent and six research laboratories in England, the
US, India and China, making it a truly multinational company. It offers 92
versions of its website to countries all over the world. This study will first
identify the core themes present in the website and analyse the linguistic and
visual means the multinational uses to convey its corporate message. It will
also discuss the similarities and differences between the versions to assess to
what extent glocalization is practised.
2. Corpus and methodology The small corpus is made up of six versions of
the About Us section of the website, where general information about the
company, its approach to business, its purposes and principles are given. It is
thereSalvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 74.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
fore composed of six subcorpora representing different geographical
locations: Bangladesh (B), Caribbean (C), Middle East (ME), Nigeria (N),
the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) 1 . The choice of these
sites was in part determined by the availability of versions in English and in
part by the need to represent a broad variety of local economic, social and
political contexts, which could determine different content and approaches

in a glocalized strategy. Bangladesh Caribbean Middle East Nigeria Total

words Unique words UK 8,739 5,473 2,093 1,565 USA Whole corpus 2,059
698 Table 1. Corpus composition. 3,049 7,764 2,706 36,281 857 1,879 858
3,738 The quantitative analysis was carried out in two stages, firstly using
the ConcApp concordance and word profiler to draw up frequency lists and
concordance lines for each subcorpus and then on the corpus as a whole in
order to identify similarities and differences. WMatrix was then used to
identify the key concepts in the different subcorpora for further comparison
2 . The study has also made use of discourse analytical tools, integrated with
elements of multimodal analysis for a more complete and appropriate
analysis of this type of corporate discourse.
Salvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 75.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
3. Analysis Judith Turnbull 3.1. General observations on the data The 92
local versions of the corporate website are divided according to five broad
geographical areas, each providing a list of countries with its local version:
Africa (20 countries), Americas (22), Asia Pacific (19), Europe (25) and the
Middle East (16). They can be accessed from the companys global website.
The versions are all monolingual and often in the local language, as for
example, Russian, Thai, Chinese or Turkish. Although there would appear to
be a vast number of versions available, a closer look and comparison reveals
that often the same version is allocated to a group of countries in the same
geographical area. For example, in Africa ten different countries, including
Angola, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Rwanda, share the ESA (East and southern
Africa) version in English. A common Spanish version is available for many
countries in Central and South America, whilst an English and a French
(Maghreb) version for the Middle East covers countries like Jordan, Iran,
Saudi Arabia and Algeria, Libya, Tunisia respectively. As a consequence, the
Saudi Arabia site will be referred to as Middle East (ME) from now on. The
analysis focuses on the About us section, which is basically made up of
Introduction to Unilever , Our Vision , Purpose and principles and Our
History (though in the case of Bangladesh this is included in the
3.2. Linguistic analysis

3.2.1. Core topics

The first step in identifying the core topics in the corporate message was to
draw up word lists using ConcApp for the six sub-corpora and consider the
ten most-frequent content words.
Salvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 76.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
Bangladesh Unilever business brands Bangladesh new 1.31 0.64 0.49 0.45
0.45 Caribbean 1.35 0.73 0.60 0.60 0.43 Middle East 1.11 1.06 0.98 0.72
0.67 Nigeria 0.63 Unilever 1.47 0.58 business 0.85 0.53 employees 0.81
0.43 principles 0.70 0.43 code people 1.34 good 1.11 products 0.68 brands
0.62 company 0.55 UK 1.19 0.62 0.56 0.54 0.43 US people 0.43 Unilever
0.38 Business 0.55 Unilever 0.43 Unilever products 0.42 brands 0.36
Unilever 0.52 business 0.35 business company 0.34 business 0.36 people
0.52 new 0.34 products care 0.33 products 0.34 brands 0.49 brands 0.34
brands margarine 0.32 people care company principles employees health
0.34 Vitality life Egypt good products Arabia 0.45 people products company
margarine world Vitality 0.33 people companies world corporate good life
0.62 0.55 0.55 0.48 0.48 0.40 Table 2. Comparison of the most frequently
occurring content words as a % of total words.
Clearly the main topic of the website centres on the company itself, with
Unilever , business , brands and products appearing in the lists, as would be
expected in a corporate website. The list does not include the self-referential
we and our as they are not strictly content words; however, their very high
frequency levels would place our at the top and we in either second or third
place of all lists, thus reinforcing the central topic of the website. A selection
of concordance lines for we (from the whole corpus) illustrates the
companys dynamic and active attitude toward business expressed through
verbs of action and volition: (1) the long term direction for the company
where we want to go and how we are going to get there: We [] can add up
to a big difference for the world. We will develop new ways of doing
business with the [] to life. Using our strong roots in science, we will
focus our brands on meeting your growing need [] that are good for them
and good for others. We will inspire people to take small everyday
actions[] and for brand(s) the respect and status achieved by the company:

(2) any peoples lives in so many different ways. Our brand portfolio has
made us leaders in every field in []
Salvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 77.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
brands. Its a privilege we do not take lightly. Brands trusted across the globe
with 400 brands spanning [] contains information on some of our bestloved brands, the company structure and corporate social [] impact. Weve
always believed in the power of our brands to improve the quality of
peoples lives and [] Another theme that can be detected is the importance
the company places on social relationships with its stakeholders through the
presence of people in all lists. The following are examples of its use: (3) (4)
(5) life may be more enjoyable and rewarding for the people who use our
products, (in the B, C, ME, UK, US versions) (6) household chores,
improving nutrition, enabling people to enjoy food and take care of their
homes, their [ ] (B, C, UK, US) Our Vision is to help people feel good,
look good and get more out of life with brands and services that are good for
them and good for others. (ME) Unilever products touch the lives of over 2
billion people every day whether thats through feeling great... (B, C, N,
UK, US) The company does not view its customers simply as partners in a
cash nexus, but as individuals with personal needs and wants and the
companys task is to improve their quality of life. The verb touch in (6) is
particularly significant, as it suggests a soft and respectful, rather than an
aggressive, hard-selling approach on the part of the company towards its
customers. A frequent collocate of people is, in fact, help(ing) , once again
reflecting Unilevers caring and thoughtful approach to business. (7) (8)
At Unilever we aim to help people in their daily lives. (B, N, UK) And
throughout weve created products that help people get more out of life
cutting the time spent on household chores, improving nutrition, enabling
people to enjoy food and take care of their homes, their clothes and
themselves. (B, C, UK, US)
Salvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 78.

Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.

(9) By helping improve people s diets and daily lives, we can help them
keep healthier for longer, look good and give their children the best start in
life. (C, ME, US) However, people is also used to refer to employees of the
company in the expression our people , which distinguishes them from
people in general, but at the same time still maintains a link with them: (10)
(11) Focusing on performance and productivity, we encourage our people to
develop new ideas and put fresh approaches into practice. (B, N, UK, US)
Vitality is at the heart of everything we do. Its in our brands, our people and
our values. (ME)
3.2.2. Core themes/concepts Moving on now from individual words to the
identification of the key concepts in the subcorpora, each subcorpus was run
through WMatrix and the following were identified as the six statistically
most significant semantic domains in each one: Bangladesh Caribbean
Business Business Food Cleaning, personal care Selling Alive Proper names
Selling Middle East Nigeria UK US Alive Business Business Business
Business General ethFood Alive ics Food Green issues Proper names Proper
names People Employment Cleaning, Selling personal care Alive Selling
The Universe Cleaning, personal care Alive Food Health and Disease Table
3. Key concepts. Interested/ excited/ energetic Evaluation: good Helping
Alive Evaluation: good/bad The findings seem to coincide with those of the
word lists in Table 2 compiled using ConcApp which showed a similarity
between all the subcorpora with the exception of Nigeria and its focus on
ethics, the environment and employment. We will return to this point later.
The leading domains, Business: generally, Food, Cleaning and perSalvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 79.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
sonal care and Proper names correspond to company , business , brands
and products . Once the domains have been identified, the word lists for each
one can be viewed. The frequency profile for the Business: Selling domain,
which is common to Bangladesh, Caribbean, UK and US, revealed an
interesting use of consumer(s) for a total of 121 occurrences as opposed to
the eleven occurrences for customer(s) . This use can perhaps be seen as part
of the strategy of the company to treat those who buy its products not as the

other end of the cash nexus, but as people with real needs who want to draw
pleasure from the use of their brands. Another interesting frequency profile
emerged for the Alive domain which ranked among the first six in all the
subcorpora. It lists life , lives , alive and live , which appear in expressions
like the following: (12) (13) (14) We help people feel good, look good and
get more out of life with brands and services that are good for them and
good for others. (B, C, N, UK, US) (15) We share the same commitment as
the entire Unilever organisation to add Vitality to life , with brands and
products that help people to look good, [] (UK) (16) [] of our brands to
improve the quality of peoples lives and in doing the right thing. (B, C, N,
UK, US) [] others view it more broadly as a healthy state of body and
mind of feeling alive . (ME) [] are the homes where our consumers and
employees live and thrive. (UK) The company places life/lives as a core
theme, to be understood in terms of health, quality of life, well-being and
happiness. As early as 1998 Esrock and Leichty (cited in Maynard / Tian
2004: 286) showed that most corporate websites expressed concerns about
questions of social responsibility. But Unilever seems to have gone one step
further, as the pages about the companys history in the Bangladesh and UK
versions say:
Salvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 80.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
(17) With consumers becoming more socially, environmentally and civically
motivated, we are increasingly embedding sustainable thinking into our dayto-day activities. (B, UK) Sustainable thinking is not only embedded in the
companys activities, but is also deeply embedded in its corporate discourse.
Sustainability and broader issues of Corporate Social Responsibility are not
just themes to be discussed. They are integrated into the discourse in such a
way that customer satisfaction becomes a very broad concept which includes
the impact that the companys products will have on the lives of people, their
quality of life, physical health and ultimately their happiness. This is
captured in the following expression using alliteration to make it playful and
catchy: (18) From sumptuous soups and sensuous soaps that make you feel
fabulous, our products all have one thing in common. They help you get
more out of life. (C, ME, UK, US) The companys mission statement about
how brands add Vitality to life is grafted onto the question of the

environment and sustainability, inferring a symbiosis between the two. (19)

Vitality in the future In the future, our brands will do even more to add
vitality to life []. We are also committed to the vitality of the environment
and the communities in which we operate. The environment provides us
with our raw materials and the ingredients we need to make our products and
our communities are the homes where our consumers and employees live
and thrive. (UK) 3.2.3. Global v. local orientation At this point in the
linguistic analysis, it remains to be seen how much the focus of the discourse
differs across the versions, especially in view of the great diversity in the
social and economic contexts of the six locations and the companys
declared interest in sustainability and social responsibility. Although some of
the pages in the website remain exactly the same in all versions, such as Our
vision and Purpose and principles , some localised information about the
history of the company and its
Salvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 81.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
3.3. Multimodal analysis An analysis of a website would not be complete
without a multimodal approach, since its message will be communicated
through the exploitation of several semiotic modes, written text, but also
images, colours, layout, sound and animation. These, or some of these, are
combined to create meaning and can either reinforce each other, fulfil
complementary roles or be hierarchically ordered (Kress/van Leeuwen 2001:
20). Lemke refers to the interaction between word, image and sound-based
meaning as hypermodal, which is not just a juxtapositioning of semiotic
modes in a text, but a multiplying of their explicit and potential
interconnections (2002: 300). Together they contribute to and reinforce the
corporate message and help create the discourse (Kress/van Leeuwen
2001). With the sole exception of the French version, which presents a
totally different layout and use of colours, all the local versions of the
website rely on the same visual format. The companys logo appears on its
own against a patterned background in the top left-hand corner, the starting
point of a reading path (Koller 2007: 121). A logo is usually a simple, but
visually striking symbol for the immediate recognition and identification of
a company or institution. In the case of Unilever, the apparent simplicity of
the logo in the shape of a U and royal blue colour is belying. The letter is

composed of numerous icons, forming a paisley-like design, each icon, as

the website itself says, representing an aspect of the business. A detailed
explanation of the icons is given in the About Us section, because they are
not self explanatory and the flash presentation enhances the significance of
the logo. In fact, Unilever uses the icons to create a strange mixture and
association of ideas ranging from obvious and practical aspects concerning
the qualities and characteristics of the companys products, such as the sun
representing primary natural resources and the double helix representing bioscience to more abstract representations of ideals, as for example paradise
through the symbol of a palm tree, freshness and vigour through a wave and
freedom through a bird. The overall effect is to convey the composite nature
of the Unilever brand, with its core values that transcend the business and its
products and projects
Salvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 85.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
the consumer into an ideal world created, in part at least, by the company
and its products, based on archetypes common to all cultures. The opening
page of the About Us section of each local version is dominated by a closeup picture of people which fills a full, slanted U, reminding us of the
companys logo. Each version presents a different image relevant to the
location. The happy and cheerful expressions on the peoples faces seem to
confirm the statement accompanying the picture: Creating a better future
every day or Adding vitality to life . The menu bar offers four options, About
Us , Brands , Sustainability and Innovation in blue, which turn to pink when
the cursor passes over them. Underneath there are some basic global facts
about the company in Unilever at a glance , such as the number of
employees, the number of nationalities among top tier managers, how much
is spent on R&D, the number of countries where products are sold,
contributions to community programmes and the number of years it is sector
leader in environmental issues. Only the Nigerian website gives localised
facts about Unilever Nigeria with the numbers of employees, distributors,
people reached by CSR efforts in Nigeria and its turnover. Apart from the
opening page, the About us section has a very simple, classical triptych
structure, with the left side column offering an index of the section and the
right-side links to other pages or documents in the site. Whilst the blue of the

logo is also present in some of the subsection titles, the heading of each
webpage is highlighted in orange. The background is white, giving a light
and airy appearance to the website. This could suggest a predominantly
feminine audience 3 or a preference on the part of the multinational to
remain neutral towards colour which is culturally loaded. All in all, the
multimodal potential of the website is only minimally exploited. Animation
is limited to the logo (in some versions only) where each icon lights up in
turn and is enlarged as the explanation of its significance appears. Two
options of photographs are offered on the opening page of the section by
clicking on arrows to the left or right of the visible photo. Nevertheless,
there is a surprisingly limited number of images in the website; in fact, some
pages do not 3 Koller (2007:120) points out the social significance of colour,
whereby a dark colour range is typical of the packaging of products aimed at
male target groups.
Salvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 86.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
have any at all. Almost all of the images are close-ups of ordinary people,
children or adults, alone or in groups. As in the opening page, they are
usually smiling and enjoying themselves, reflecting the declared interest of
the company in people and its aim to satisfy their needs, whether they be
consumers, employees or members of communities. Although some pictures
represent the ethnic groups living in the specific locations, some pages have
the same standardized images appearing regardless of the geographical
site. Furthermore, the people in these images appear in abstract settings that
cannot be easily identified. The absence of setting makes them more
idealized (Machin/Thornborrow 2003:459), thus focusing attention on the
state of general well-being and happiness conveyed through the universal
meaning of their smiles. As a result of this limited use of semiotic modes,
the website relies heavily on the written text rather than images, as the
linguistic analysis has shown. 4. Discussion The presence of 92 versions of a
corporate website would seem to suggest an interest in diversifying and
tailoring the image and message to local contexts. However, both the
linguistic and visual analyses have shown a tendency to project a single
identity of the corporation throughout the globe. One way in which a
monolithic corporate image can perhaps be successfully and effectively

projected to all corners of the world is through the use of abstract concepts
which can seem convincing, but remain vague. A message expressed through
catchphrases in the website, Adding vitality to life , Creating a better future
every day, can be universal and fit all contexts, as it will be differentially
received and interpreted at a local level (Robertson 1995: 38). The word
Vitality can mean many things (energy, power to live, vital force,
enthusiastic vivacity) and consequently each visitor to the website can give
his own readSalvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 87.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
ing of it. We also have different expectations, hopes and ambitions,
depending on our station in life, but we can all agree with the objective of
the catchphrase Creating a better future , though what it actually means will
depend on an individuals personal situation and attitude. Where differences
do emerge, the question arises as to why local aspects are introduced. For
example, the Code of business principles is mentioned in the Purpose and
principles subsection in all versions, but only in the Nigerian one is the Code
of Business principles presented in full (though there is a link to the Code in
the Caribbean version). Many of the paragraphs begin with the expression
Unilever is committed to [...], Unilever strives [...], Unilever believes [...],
Unilever companies are encouraged to [...], All Unilever employees are
expected to [...], expressing a certain urgency on the part of the company to
convey its total commitment to ethical practices. Information about Unilever
Nigeria Plc also specifies how much Nigerians possess of its equity
holdings. The Nigerian website is, in fact, the most localised of the six, with
phrases referring directly to Nigeria even when in other versions they are
given as global: (24) (25) Every day, across the country, people reach for
Unilever products. (N) Every day, around the world, people reach for
Unilever products. (B, UK) To understand exactly why the Nigerian version
has such significant differences in its focus, both in terms of content and
self-reference, would require a deeper investigation into the situation of
Unilever in Nigeria and perhaps also the particular political and cultural
context and this is clearly beyond the scope of this chapter. But it may in
part be explained by the fact that what is referred to as local is often already
included in the global (Robertson 1995: 35). Certain aspects or topics may
simply be given greater emphasis and weight in one version, but

nevertheless be common to all. The Bangladesh website also has a page

which is exclusive to that version called Impact, which discusses the positive
contribution made by the company to society. It congratulates itself on
having reSalvi, Rita (Editor); Tanaka, Hiromasa (Editor). Linguistic Insights, Volume
146 : Intercultural Interactions in Business and Management.
Bern, CHE: Peter Lang AG, 2011. p 88.
Copyright 2011. Peter Lang AG. All rights reserved.
sponded to the aspirations of millions of people living with less than a
dollar a day when Unilever Bangladesh introduced sachets and mini packs
for very low income households. It also has a page entitled Our people ,
which is very similar to one in the Middle East, focusing on the relationship
between company and employees. In other words, highly sensitive
questions, such as corruption, inequality, exploitation of workers, which
often lead to serious and damaging accusations against multinationals are
being tackled here directly and openly. But who are these messages
addressed to? The Bangladeshi or the Nigerians themselves? Or is it more to
do with the global image of the company and hence a global audience
composed of investors, consumers and other stakeholders anywhere in the
world? The results of this analysis would seem to confirm that glocalization
amounts to just window-dressing (Wakefield 2009, digital version), not
only to boost sales, but also the companys reputation at a global level.
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