Stereotyping and the country-of-origin effect.
When people purchase products from other countries, they will also ascribe specific characteristics, either positive or negative, to products from such countries. In other words, people may decide to purchase a particular product from a specific country if that country has a positive association with the product and/or perceived product characteristic. If a country has either a negative or neutral association, then the consumer may opt not to purchase a product from that country. This is very similar to people looking forward to establishing contact with people from a particular country versus avoiding people from another country or ethnic group that has a negative association. For example, one may not wish to eat a certain ethnic food because it is considered to be "unclean" or "too rich" while other ethnic food is deliberately selected because it is perceived to be "delicious" or "sophisticated." Thus, someone may assume that French food is delicious and sophisticated, but German food is considered to be too rich and heavy even though that may not actually be the case. This helps explain why many restaurateurs may deliberately select a French association for their food in order to benefit from the positive associations many consumers have with French food. The same is true for many other products such as perfume, clothing, wine, watches, automobiles, etc. This paper examines stereotyping and how it compares to the "country-of-origin effect" in order to derive some clues as to how a negative image associated with the products from a particular country might be overcome.
Stereotyping and the Perceptual Process
Walter Lippman first coined the term "stereotype" in 1922 (Klopf, 1998). A stereotype is generally defined as "a fixed impression of a group of people through which we then perceive specific individuals; stereotypes are often negative but may also be positive" (De Vito, 2002, p. 429). For example, Germans are aggressive, Italians are great lovers.
In stereotyping, people simplify and reduce specific information to a manageable level while often associating a particular attitude with this information (Chen & Starosta, 1998; DeVito, 2002; Gamble & Gamble, 2005; Klopf, 1998; Samovar et al, 1998). This is, of course, in line with general principles of communication; namely, the perceptual process and decoding messages which involve the following steps: Selection, organization, interpretation, and evaluation.
Humans are constantly bombarded with sensory stimuli which, if humans were consciously aware of them, can lead to information overload. Consequently, people tend to select specific information to which they are exposed at any given time. In fact, people sometimes look for specific information while ignoring other details (Adler & Rodman, 2003; Chen & Starosta, 1998; Dimbleby & Burton, 1998; Gamble & Gamble, 2005; Hybels & Weaver, 2004; Klopf, 1998). For example, when going to the library, people may only be interested in finding books on Germany and will, therefore, ignore all other unrelated books. During a subsequent visit, the same person may focus on another section of the library because the person now has another assignment.
Selection is based on differential intensity, i.e. using something that is different from the ordinary in order to catch people's attention by using, for example, bold print or underlining a specific part of the text so as to call attention to this particular passage (Klopf, 1998). If, however, it is used too much, it will negate that effect. In stereotyping, it is often one or more characteristics that are perceived to stand out which one assumes typifies a particular group of people or culture. For example, if a country was involved in many wars, it might be considered to be aggressive or warlike.
Past experience is important in making certain selections. If, for example, people are encountering a particular situation which is similar to something they have already encountered in the past, it can determine their desire to focus on it or not (Klopf, 1998). For example, if people hate fish, they may ignore fish restaurants or those sections of the menu that list fish dishes. Or if people like a particular singer, they may want to find all available information on that singer.
Motivation can also determine what people focus on. For example, if someone is very hungry, then that person will focus on finding food and ignore everything else unrelated to food. In food, culture can play a role as to what is identified as eatable and enjoyable (Klopf, 1998). Hence, a German may prefer potatoes to rice whereas a Chinese may prefer rice to potatoes.
Once the information has been selected, it is organized so that the human brain can handle the data. The selected information is organized into specific categories so that the information can be put into specific contexts. People may, for example, group the stimuli into categories that appear to be similar or close to one another (Klopf, 1998). For example, all potato dishes are grouped together, and if a new potato dish is identified while visiting another country, then that newly identified dish will also be assigned to the potato group. This pattern, though, can also lead to misunderstandings if a stimulus is mistakenly assigned to a group to which it does not belong because people may overlook important differences (Klopf, 1998). For example, a person may classify sweet potatoes (ipomoea batatas) as yams (discorea species) even though the sweet potato is not of the discoreaceae plant family (Webster's, 2001).
Closure is another pattern for organizing information. This pattern refers to the tendency to fill in the missing pieces (Klopf, 1998). For example, if people see points with numbers, they may draw lines to connect the points. This also happens in communication when people hear some information that is incomplete. They will then attempt to fill in the missing information. For example, if a person cries and does not say anything, it might be assumed that this person is sad whereas in actual fact that person may be so touched by the nice gesture of a friend as to be speechless.
Once the information has been organized, it is often interpreted (Klopf, 1998), i.e. what people think they have seen or heard. Seeing Germans drink beer, one could assume that all Germans drink beer. Interpretation is based on past experiences, needs, beliefs, values, the physical and emotional states as well as expectations. All of these, and other, factors influence the interpretation of what was selected. And different individuals exposed to the same situation can interpret the same stimuli differently (Klopf, 1998). For example, two guests at a B-B-Q happen to see a group of people dressed casually while one individual is dressed in a suit and tie. One guest may assume that the person in the suit and tie is the host whereas the other guest may assume that this particular individual overdressed for the B-B-Q.
And finally, the interpreted information is evaluated. Here again, previous experiences and current emotional states, among other factors, can determine whether people consider the interpreted information to be positive, neutral, or negative, and everything in between (Gudykunst & Kim, 1997). So if American visitors were to come to a German office, they would see that all of the office doors are closed. In the USA, an office door is closed, for example, if a conversation is not to be overheard. In Germany, though, office doors are always closed without signifying anything. Seeing the closed doors, the Americans may assume the same phenomenon is true in Germany as well and decide that they do not like it - especially if they are coming to the German office for tenacious negotiations. One can well image what impact such a predisposition will have on the negotiations.
People often tend to expect certain things to happen in certain ways (Klopf, 1998). So if one were to take a multiple choice test, one would assume that all one needs to do is circle the most appropriate answer(s). But this may not always be the case as the following example illustrates. A few years ago, the Technical University Bergakademie Freiberg in Germany instituted a summer school on sustainable energy for engineering students from North American partner universities. All of the courses were taught in English by the German professors. At the end of the summer school, the students were given a multiple choice test in English. The North American students assumed that the test was like the multiple choice exams back home, i.e. past experience. They were a bit confused, though, because it seemed as if more than one answer were possible for the questions. While they were annoyed at the vagueness of the German professors (interpretation and evaluation), in the end, they selected the one answer that seemed to be the most likely choice to each question. When the German professors corrected the exams, they applied the German standard for multiple choice tests which typically permits multiple answers to a single question. This is actually the German definition of a multiple choice test. When the exams were corrected, it was, therefore, not surprising that the North American students had missed many answers to the questions because they had always selected just one answer and, therefore, lost many points. The German professors did not wonder why the North American students had always only selected a single answer to each and every question. The professors did, however, conclude that their expectations had been confirmed because the apparently objective test had proven that the North American students were - collectively - much worse than the average group of German engineering students. These professors had always assumed that this was true, and now they had the "proof" (closure). This episode clearly demonstrates how different people make different assumptions about the same object or phenomenon without being aware that they have done so. It also demonstrates that people will assume everyone else has the same assumption or perception they have. But this, obviously, is not the case as the example aptly demonstrates.
When people hear something about a particular country, they tend to associate certain characteristics with that country because it is often difficult to retain detailed information on all countries. Hence, national stereotypes are created. Stereotypes are products of faulty thought processes due to overgeneralizations that lead to largely incorrect judgments (Chen & Starosta, 1998; De Vito, 2002; Klopf, 1998; Samovar et al, 1998). Thus, most humans stereotype at some time or other. This permits people to organize information and experiences in such manner as to bring meaning to that information and those experiences. This allows people to predict how a particular person may behave (De Vito, 2002; Klopf, 1998; Samovar et al, 1998). In other words, people isolate specific information, categorize that information, and then respond to that category in order to avoid information overload. Grouping a person into a particular category containing similar stimuli helps reduce information overload. By categorizing similar stimuli together, people treat the components of a particular category/group as being functionally equivalent. Grouping into categories reduces information which means a loss of information, but also helps one gain information in that specific characteristics are ascribed to an individual. So that once a person has been identified as belonging to a particular group, it is assumed that this person has the features characteristic of other members of that group, even though there is no proof for one's assumptions (De Vito, 2002; Klopf, 1998; Samovar et al, 1998).
Stereotypes can accentuate differences in that they highlight all that is different between "them" and "us" (Klopf, 1998); for example, all Germans drink lots of beer and are loud (while we are not). Stereotypes can also underestimate differences within a group so that all group members are considered to be the same (Klopf, 1998). For example, all Germans drink lots of beer even though there may be some who hate beer. And finally, selective perception can play a decisive role in stereotyping because people look for and select the information they expect to find in association with their preconceived assumptions and predictions (Klopf, 1998). So when visiting Germany, a person may only look to find evidence of Germans drinking beer to confirm the stereotype of all Germans loving beer.
Stereotypes influence how people think and/or feel about a particular country and influence, thus, also the interaction and relationship with those inhabitants (Klopf, 1998). A person from a particular county is, therefore, considered to be a member of that entity or group, e.g. a person from Germany is considered to be part of the group/entity "Germans." That group is distinguished from other groups, e.g. "French," or "Italians." And often these groups are associated with certain characteristics that are then also evaluated by others as being either positive or negative characteristics, e.g. Germans are aggressive, Italians great lovers.
When does such grouping and categorizing begin? Research indicates that people begin to categorize quite early. Children at seven months categorize male and female voices, and by nine months they can respond categorically to male and female faces. During middle childhood, children can categorize by ethnicity and classify by nationality and religion (Klopf, 1998). Categorizing does not automatically lead to stereotyping. Stereotypes only evolve when the perceiver acquires knowledge and develops beliefs and assumptions about a group. Once stereotypes are formed, they are highly resistant to change because selective perception can reinforce stereotypes. It is difficult to "unlearn" specific associations, only extended exposure and conscious awareness to information that is quite different from the internalized information will help overcome stereotypes (Klopf, 1998). For example, only extensive contact with Germans who hate beer may begin to alter one's assumption that all Germans drink beer. This takes considerable time and effort.
How then, may stereotypes be overcome? In a study carried in post-World War II Germany, Allport (1958) discovered that negative opinions and attitudes could be altered through direct contact with members of the group one views negatively. The study looked at the likelihood of U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany changing their initially negative opinion of Germans to a more favorable one. Allport's study revealed that the longer U.S. soldiers had personal contact with Germans, the more likely it was for them to change their opinion of Germans. The study revealed that 76% of the soldiers who had five or more hours of direct personal contact with German civilians ended up with a more favorable opinion of Germans whereas 57% changed their opinion after they had less than two hours of personal contact. And only 49% of the soldiers changed their opinion when they had no personal contact with German civilians. Allport's study clearly revealed that negative stereotypes can be changed through direct personal contact.
Sometimes, these changes can occur very quickly as Brown (1986) notes by pointing to a study conducted at Patna University in India in 1959. In February 1959, the Indian students had a very favorable opinion of the Chinese who were perceived as being "artistic, religious, industrious, friendly, and progressive" (Brown, 1986, p. 596). However, when the study was repeated in December 1959, the Chinese were now perceived as "aggressive, threatening, cheating, selfish war-mongers" (Brown, 1986, p. 596). The change in opinion was due to the border dispute between China and India which had occurred between February and December 1959. In other words, the changed political climate had a tremendous impact on the stereotypes and produced a rapid change (Brown, 1986).
A similar phenomenon was observed with American stereotypes of Russians which changed several times over the past sixty years depending on the actual political climate of the times (adapted from Klopf, 1998):
During World Cold War Years Post Cold War War II (early 1990s) Hardworking Cruel Serious Brave Hardworking Hardworking Radical Domineering Firm Ordinary Backward Intelligent Progressive Progressive Thrifty
Interestingly, Lauff (1996) cites a study he carried out during a summer camp with German and French children in 19665. The study first determined which stereotypes each group of children had of the other. The German children were perceived to be harder, more active, more stupid, and taller than the French. In contrast, the French children were perceived as being happier, less clean, lazier, and smaller than the Germans. At the end of the summer camp, the core assumptions and stereotypes had not changed. In fact, the intensity of the stereotypes had increased. The Germans were now perceived as being taller than before, and the French as happier. In fact, the distance between the positive self-perception and the negative perception of the others had actually expanded in both directions. While the idea was to reduce national stereotypes, the summer camp had actually achieved the opposite. Analysis of the situation uncovered that the individual participants had been under very strong group influence and pressure. It was the group which had become the guardian of conformity and anyone who did not adhere to the group's beliefs was ostracized by the group (Lauff, 1996). But Lauff (1996) also goes on to note that stereotypes were reduced when the personal contact did not occur in a group; for example, when individual children stayed with a host family where group pressure to conform did not exist. Lauff (1996), therefore, concludes that group encounters reduce stereotypes only if and when peer group pressure is reduced or eliminated entirely. Or conversely, one might argue if the attitude of the group changes, this could also produce a rapid change of the individual's stereotypes as indicated by Brown (1986).
Lauff (1996) also identified three phases of group encounters and interaction. The first phase is marked by curiosity; the second phase by disappointment. Everything is new and exciting in the first phase while in the second phase the participants see that strangeness can also be stressful. That is why the third phase is marked by disinterest. Wahl (2000) observed that an encounter can be perceived as unpleasant if the expected pattern of behavior is not as expected. Such disappointment could then reinforce existing stereotypes and prejudices.
It is interesting to note that the above examples coincide with Fishbein's Expectancy-Value Theory and his Theory of Reasoned Action (Littlejohn, 2002). While Fishbein's theories focus on attitudes, (1) one could argue that stereotypes are a type of attitude people have towards other groups and/or individuals because both involve a specific opinion people have that may be based on fact or assumption. According to Fishbein's Expectancy-Value Theory, attitudes can be influenced and changed through information. First, information can change the weight, or believability, of particular beliefs or assumptions. Second, information can change the valence of beliefs. And third, information can add new beliefs to the attitude structure. In other words, information seems to affect people's cognitive system in some manner--either positively or negatively (Littlejohn, 2002). This would confirm the results of Allport's study, and it would also confirm Lauff's observation that individual children living with a host family can change the children's attitudes associated with national stereotypes, but exposure to group pressure would not. According to Fishbein's Theory of Reasoned Action, people's intentions to behave in a specific manner is determined by the attitude they have toward the behavior, the subjective norm, i.e. the opinion of others, the weight of the attitude, and the weight of the subjective norm, i.e. group pressure (Littlejohn, 2002). In other words, if the opinion of the group is very important to a person and that opinion happens to also coincide with a very strong personal attitude, then that person is more likely to maintain, or change the behavioral intention depending on the direction of the group opinion and attitude (Littlejohn, 2002). This coincides with Lauff's observation that the influence of peer group pressure can not only maintain but actually strengthen national stereotypes despite the fact that the observed children had direct contact with members from the other nation.
These observations also helps clarify Allport's observations because his study focused on the personal contact of individual US soldiers with German civilians; thus, corroborating Lauff's observations of individual vs. group interaction. Fishbein's theories also indicate that the degree of the attitude, namely how strong or weak a stereotype is, determines, in part, how likely an individual is going to change his or her attitude. Hence, the degree of the attitude as well as the relevance of groupthink need to be considered in devising a method to overcome a particular stereotype.
In this context, one could also consider Berger's Uncertainty Reduction Theory (Littlejohn, 2002) which states that people have a tendency to reduce uncertainty in communication. (2) Berger describes three stages; namely, people first observe the subject in question from a safe distance, then they seek information on the subject from other people before they finally interact with the subject. At a very abstract level, Berger's theory parallels Fishbein's theories in that both consider information gathering and the role of others in determining the subsequent action and/or interaction. And if one adds the specific observations of Allport, Brown, and Lauff, then it would seem that information gathering or the provision of information can only be a first, tentative step in overcoming stereotypes. Personal contact and interaction seems be most effective in overcoming stereotypes, but such activity could fail against the backdrop of group pressure and groupthink. In this context, public opinion disseminated in mass media can also function as group pressure. So if certain political events are portrayed negatively in mass media, it can result in a rapid change of perception, attitudes, and stereotypes as Brown pointed out. Consequently, these aspects need to be considered when launching campaigns to overcome stereotypes.
The Country-of-origin Effect
While stereotyping usually refers to the associations people have of persons from particular countries, the same is also the case with certain products coming from particular countries. For example, French food is said to be delicious and German cars well engineered. Conversely, German food is rustic and rich while French cars look nice but are prone to breakdowns. This type of product related stereotyping is called the country-of-origin effect. Studies have shown that consumers often base their purchasing decision on where a particular type of product is made (Han, 1989; Johansson, 1989; Johansson et al, 1985; Samiee, 1994). In fact, some consumers look specifically for particular products from a specific country; for example, perfume from France. So consumers buy a product not only because of price, brand name, warranty, or store, but also because of its place of origin--or perceived origin (Keegan and Schlegelmilch, 2001). It should be noted that in some cases, particular designer labels include products, such as clothing, which are actually manufactured in other, less glamorous countries, e.g. a French designer label may produce its clothes in Bangladesh. Yet purchasers often ignore this fact; instead, they select the product as a result of differential intensity (Johansson et al, 1985; Samiee, 1994). In other words, they see the famous designer label which is often displayed externally as a logo while they ignore the "produced in" label sewn into the garment as a hanger loop.
Stimulus response model of buyer behavior
Consumers make a number of decisions prior to purchasing a particular product. According to Kotler and Armstrong (2001), the consumption process is explained by the stimulus response model of buyer behavior. According to this model, stimuli enter the "black box" of a consumer which, in turn, produces certain responses. Marketing stimuli are the 4 P's, i.e. product, price, place, and promotion. The other stimuli include the buyer's environment such as economic, technological, political, and cultural stimuli. These stimuli enter the "black box" in which the purchasing decision are made and then transformed into a set of observable responses. Consumer responses include, for example, brand choice, dealer choice, purchase timing and amount. The "black box" refers to all the characteristics that influence the perception of and reaction to stimuli as well as the decision making process of a consumer (Kotler and Armstrong, 2001). While this "black box" sounds a bit vague, it is very reminiscent of the perceptual process outlined above.
According to Solomon et al (1999), consumer behavior refers to "the processes involved when individuals or groups select, purchase, use or dispose of products, services, ideas, or experiences to satisfy needs and desires" (p. 8). Sometimes, a person's profession can determine to some extend the purchasing decision. If, for example, a white collar employee needs to buy work clothes, that employee will probably focus on suits whereas a blue collar construction worker will focus more on rugged work clothes.
Purchasing decisions are also influenced by the attitude a consumer has to a particular product (Kotler & Armstrong, 2001). Attitudes are often based on core beliefs which are often formed early in life. A belief is a descriptive thought that an individual holds about something and can vary from culture to culture (Samovar et al, 1998). Beliefs can be based on real knowledge, faith, or opinion and may carry an emotional charge. Consumer beliefs result from cognitive learning. Beliefs represent the knowledge and inferences that a buyer has of products, their perceived attributes and benefits (Mowen & Minor, 2001). However, a consumer's beliefs of a product's attributes may not correspond to reality. For example, so-called halo effects occur when buyers assume that a specific product is good because other products from that manufacturer are also good when in actual fact they are not (Kotler & Armstrong, 2001).
Attitudes, as seen above, are general evaluations of people, objects, and issues. Attitudes make people like or dislike things; and attitudes are relatively difficult to change because a change would require difficult adjustments in many patterns of human behavior (De Vito, 2002; Gamble & Gamble, 2005; Kotler & Armstrong, 2001; Solomon et al, 1999). Two people can each have different attitudes to the same product; or they may even have the same attitude to the same product, but for different reasons. Thus, one person may like a product because of the product's price while another person may like the product because of its style. So both end up purchasing the product, but for different reasons (Kotler & Armstrong, 2001, Solomon et al, 1999).
Buying decision process
According to Kotler and Armstrong (2001), the buying decision process consists of five stages:
1. Need recognition
2. Information search
3. Evaluation of alternatives
4. Purchase decision
5. Post-purchase behavior
Kotler and Armstrong (2001) point out that in more habitual and routine purchase situations, buyers often skip or reverse some of these stages, for example, when buying milk. In need recognition, the buyer becomes aware of a need when he or she senses a difference between his or her actual state and desired state. Information search involves exposure to and perception of information as well as its retention in memory. When a buyer recognizes a need, he or she is more likely to search for and process relevant information on that need. For example, when wanting to buy a car, people will be more likely to notice stimuli related to cars such as car ads, comments from friends on cars, or cars in the street (Kotler & Armstrong, 2001), i.e. selective attention as noted above.
Once the information has been selected, it is evaluated in a comparison of alternatives. In this, the buyer compares several options that are identified as potentially capable of satisfying the need that initiated the decision process. When options are compared, the buyers form beliefs, intentions, and attitudes about the alternatives available (Mowen & Minor, 2001). Several evaluation processes occur in making a buying decision. How individual consumers evaluate the options depends on the consumer and the buying situation. Once a decision has been reached, the consumer will buy the preferred product. Here, though, some factors can influence the final decision such as the attitudes of friends or members of the family (i.e. Fishbein's theories as noted above), or the actual store price of the product and the available funding. So sometimes, the decision and intention to purchase a particular product may not always result in the actual purchase of that product (Kotler & Armstrong, 2001).
In the last stage, after the purchase, the buyer may be satisfied or dissatisfied with the product which will have an impact on the subsequent purchasing behavior of that person. The degree of satisfaction and dissatisfaction is based on the relationship between the consumer's expectations and the product's perceived performance, i.e. confirmed or disconfirmed expectations. If the product does not show the expected characteristics, then the consumer will be disappointed. Such disconfirmed expectations may lead to negative brand attitudes, and the consumer will probably not buy the same brand again (Kotler and Armstrong, 2001).
The Impact of the Country-of-origin Effect on Purchasing Decisions
The country-of-origin is often used by consumers as a symbol that stands for certain perceived qualities associated with a country and products from that country. Consumers associate, for example, beauty and fashion with France, engineering quality and robustness with Germany. It is also possible to extend these associations to specific products from particular countries, for example, Chinese silk, Swiss watches, etc. All of these associations are stereotypes of countries and products that consumers formulate in their minds through experience, hearsay, and myth. This kind of stereotyping is typically product specific and may not reach other categories of products from these countries (Keegan & Schlegelmilch, 2001).
The categorization of a product based on the country of origin results in a country-stereotyping effect. The country of origin is often used by consumers to create, reinforce, and bias initial product perceptions and to make the desired evaluation. Characteristics like high quality, attractive design, a reasonable price, good value, and special appeal are often caused by the product's country of origin. "High quality" is often associated with such countries as Germany and Japan, "attractive design" with Italy, "good value" with South Korea, and "special appeal" with Sweden (Keegan & Schlegelmilch, 2001).
Ethnocentrism, i.e. considering one's own country to be the best in the world (Chen & Starosta, 1998), can also have important impact on the country-of-origin effect. Consumers may consider the purchase of foreign products as wrong and immoral. In the mind of the consumers, it hurts the national economy, leads to job losses, and is unpatriotic (Usunier, 1996). According to a study conducted by Shimp and Sharma in 1987, the level of ethnocentrism is affected by the level of foreign competition. A questionnaire was administered to households in Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles, North and South Carolina. The results showed that if the quality of life and economic livelihood of many consumers was threatened by foreign competition, then consumer ethnocentrism was much stronger. For example, unemployment in the auto industry in Detroit resulted in adverse evaluation of Japanese and Korean cars. This coincides to some degree with the study of Indians' perception of Chinese as described by Brown (1986) and the change in the attitude of Americans towards Russians as mentioned by Klopf (1998). In other words, the generally perceived public opinion influences stereotypes.
A study by Watson and Wright (2000) indicates that consumer ethnocentrism also influences the purchasing decision if the country of origin is perceived to be culturally similar or dissimilar. Their study showed that if the culture is perceived to be similar, consumers will be more inclined to buy products from such countries than those that are perceived to be dissimilar. For example, the study questioned consumers in New Zealand and discovered that products from the USA and the UK, culturally similar to New Zealand, were the preferred choice while products from Singapore and Italy, culturally different to New Zealand, were not evaluated favorably (Watson % Wright, 2000). This observation coincides with the insights gained in stereotyping because culturally similar countries are considered to be part of the same peer group, i.e. the same in-group, whereas the other countries are perceived as out-groups and, thus, being in line with Lauff's observations of the summer camp.
Furthermore, a study by Han (1988) revealed that consumer patriotism has a strong influence on the choice of domestic versus foreign products; but Han also discovered that consumer patriotism has contrasting effects on different products. For example, consumer patriotism had significant influence on the quality perception of cars, but little or no significance on the quality perception of vehicle maintenance and repair. And while consumer patriotism had a significant influence on the buying decision in the perception of cars, it did not have any significance among the same consumers when deciding to purchase a TV. The study also revealed that age, occupation, and other microcultural factors tend to play a role in consumer buying behavior as well. Patriotic consumers tend to be older, white, and blue collar workers (Han, 1988). This observation is probably due to the fact that car advertising often plays the patriotic card while car repairs do not focus on this issue at all since repairs are carried out at home. It seems almost as if cars become the most visible cultural icons in countries that have a tradition of car building. In Germany, for example, the majority of registered cars are German whereas Austria and Switzerland have a greater mix of different national car brands (Autokiste, 2008); even though these two countries are culturally and linguistically quite similar to Germany. While a number of famous German car brands are manufactured in Germany, Austria and Switzerland do not any well known national car brands anymore. (3)
People use cues when they form beliefs about products. These cues influence people's behavior with respect to those products. A cue can be defined as an external characteristic or dimension that can be encoded and used to categorize a certain stimulus object (Eroglu & Machleit, 1989). The country of origin is one such attribute among many other attributes that describe the character of a product similar to brand name. Country of origin is an intangible product attribute which results in an extrinsic cue as opposed to such tangibles as size, weight, design, color which are intrinsic product cues. The label "made in..." can be removed without changing the product's physical composition. Extrinsic cues are used more often in consumer product evaluation when intrinsic cues are not available. Consumers use country-of-origin information to evaluate products. It seems that the country of origin plays a greater role if the consumer is unfamiliar with a specific product category and often facilitates the evaluation when other criteria are not available. According to Maheswaran (1994), novices used country-of-origin stereotypes in their evaluations regardless of whether the attributes were ambiguous or not. Country of origin was used as a frame of reference to interpret attribute information. Experts used country of origin only when processing ambiguous information. Negative country-of-origin associations had more relevance among novices while it did not have such relevance among experts. A similar phenomenon is also exhibited in general stereotyping among people with little intercultural contact and those who have more (Maheswaran, 1994).
Country of origin and product types
Several studies have indicated a link between the country of origin and product types. Certain products are considered to be more typical and more "ethnic" of specific countries. Thus, consumers tend to associate France with perfume, Italy with pizza, Germany with machine tools. This direct association can be an advantage (Keegan & Schlegelmilch, 2001; Samli, 1995). If, for example, a German perfume company and a French producer of perfume were to enter the U.S. market, then it would probably be much easier for the French manufacturer to convince American consumers to buy its perfume than it would be for the German company. As noted above, a generally positive association towards certain products is a first step in the right direction; namely, towards a positive purchasing decision (Kotler and Armstrong, 2001). Conversely, it would take much more effort to convince American consumers to purchase German perfume for which no or possibly negative associations exist in the mind of American consumers.
When purchasing products, evidence suggests that the more standardized and homogeneous products are in a product category such as heating oil, propane gas, electricity, the country of origin does not seem to play any role in the overall product image. Conversely, though, the greater the differentiation level in a product category, the more demand is effected by the perceived product image (Lampert & Jaffe, 1998). A study by Piron (2000) indicates that the country-of-origin effect on luxury and necessity products varies. In the case of luxury products, the introduction of the country-of-origin cue as an extra piece of information significantly changed the ranking of all attributes for a sports car, for example. For necessity products, Piron used toothpaste, the effect on the significant attribute ranking differences was less. This study seems to suggest that the county-of-origin effect is stronger when considering luxury products.
Purchasing decisions are also based on high and low involvement decisions. Well known brands and/or high price products are typically classified in high involvement categories whereas low price products are usually classified in low involvement categories (Schiffman & Kanuk, 1997). It is often the case that well known brand names and their country of origin tend to form automatic associations; for example, cars. Thus, driving a BMW, regardless of where it is actually assembled, is linked to Germany. Although the brand name plays an important role, consumers tend to choose their automobile because of the good reputation of the country of origin (Samiee, 1994). The same seems to be true for clothing, e.g. Versace, Armani, and luggage, e.g. Louis Vuitton, Samsonite.
Studies carried out in Uzbekistan (Zain & Yasin, 1997), and the Gulf States (Badri et al, 1995) indicate that county-of-origin information cues are important in the evaluation of perceived product quality and risk. Moreover, products labeled as made in less developed countries were seen as more risky and of lower quality than products having either no country of origin or labels of developed countries. In developing countries, consumers seem to prefer imported goods to domestic goods while in developed countries, consumers generally evaluate domestic products more favorably than foreign-made products (Usunier, 1996).
As noted above, brand names and country of origin play an important role in international marketing. The branded products serve the purpose of distinguishing them from other products, i.e. accentuating differences. A branded product is characterized by a unique name, symbol, or sign. Consumers have certain impressions of a brand. The sum of these impressions is called the brand image and can influence the consumer's behavior with regard to the brand in question (Kotler & Armstrong, 2001). For example, a brand image of luxury and exclusiveness can appeal to customers who want to distinguish themselves from other people. Part of the brand includes all the attributes and the qualities associated with the brand. Examples of brand names are Coca-Cola, Mercedes, Chanel; all of these brands exude certain characteristic and qualities that justify a higher price than generic products of the same category. Some brands have a clear country of origin association, for example, McDonald's, Ferrari, while other's do not, for example, Bayer, Shell, Singer (Samiee, 1994).
It was pointed out above that certain products have a positive association with specific countries, e.g. pizza with Italy. Consequently, any product that has a positive association with a particular product will attempt to benefit from that halo effect (Kotler & Armstrong, 2001). For example, a German frozen pizza manufacturer sells its pizzas under the brand name Alberto. The "made in Germany" product information is kept very small while an Italian manufacturer of pizza would most likely place the "made in Italy" in a very prominent location to reinforce the positive association with its pizzas.
A negative country of origin image can affect the perception of purchasers toward products made in a given country for at least some segments of potential buyers (Nes & Bilkey, 1982; Zain & Yasin, 1997). However, it is not always the level of development that influences such perceptions. Perceptions of consumers' attitudes toward foreign products are often caused by differences in cultural and political ideology, history, military action, and many other factors (Samiee, 1994). Since political, social, cultural, and economic conditions change over time, it is possible that the relative influence of the country of origin is also likely to change as Brown (1986) indicates. Consumer preferences for products from Iran or Russia changed with the political climate in these countries because public opinion towards these countries changed much in the recent past (Samiee, 1994).
This is also demonstrated by the changed attitudes towards Japanese products. In a study conducted among Finnish consumers, Japanese products were thought to be of dubious quality, have restricted guarantees, and poor after-sales services at the beginning of the 1970s. As a consequence, Japanese manufacturers were advised to provide extensive guarantees based on a network of approved retailers (Darling & Kraft, 1977). By the early 1990s, these changes had resulted in a transformation. Japan was now seen by the Finns as a sophisticated, high technology producer of durable, complex, and high value products (Heslop & Papadopoulos, 1993). This example clearly demonstrates, as noted above, that information - either gathered or provided--is quite relevant in changing people's attitudes. However, this information has to coincide with changing the groupthink as well.
Overcoming a Negative Country-of-origin Effect
These findings clearly indicate the dynamic nature of product attributes and country of origin, but they also indicate that these transformations can take time unless general public opinion changes rapidly due to, for example, changes in the political climate. And in this, the change in consumer attitude is similar to changes in stereotypes. But then again, consumers are human beings and, therefore, the same perceptual principles are at work as well. That is why similar efforts have to be undertaken to overcome negative country-of-origin attitudes as is the case in overcoming negative stereotypes. And just as changes in the perceived political climate can have a rapid influence on existing stereotypes, the same phenomenon is observed with the country-of-origin effect. Consequently, the results of the studies on stereotyping conducted by Allport and Lauff along with the theories of Fishbein ought to be taken into consideration when seeking to change a negative country-of-origin effect because they identify what factors are involved in attitudes and how such attitudes may be changed.
If, therefore, a certain product category has a positive association with a specific country of origin, then it also possible for other goods from the same product category to benefit as well from this positive country-of-origin effect due to the halo effect. It is, thus, only necessary for the manufacturer to emphasize the country of origin in the ad campaign. If, however, a producer of the same product category comes from a country that does not have this positive association, or no association, then it might be advisable to benefit from the halo effect by implying that it is a product which also seems to come from the country that has a positive association in that product category, e.g. the German pizza manufacturer who uses an Italian brand name for its frozen pizzas while deemphasizing its German origins.
If a product has a well established brand name and a very positive brand image, then the actual production and/or assembly site is generally irrelevant. Thus, consumers will also purchase an Audi assembled in Hungary because consumers associate the brand name Audi with Germany which has a positive association with automobiles. The attitude of consumers might be very different if the same auto plant that assembles Audis were to market a Hungarian car brand.
It was also seen that luxury items tend to have direct associations between various product categories and the country of origin, e.g. fashion, perfume, watches from Italy, France, or Switzerland. Conversely, with homogenous, standardized bulk products such as electricity or toothpaste, the country of origin does not seem to play a significant role. So if a company produces such bulk products, then it is not necessary to make any reference to the country of origin at all because such reference has no relevance.
But it was also seen that products from developed countries were preferred to similar products from developing countries when it comes overall product quality and risk. Here, consumers in developed and developing countries preferred products from developed countries. In this context, though, one needs to keep in mind that production in developing countries does not seem to play a significant role if that product carries a well known brand name--unless, of course, the groupthink is such that it would take precedent to the brand name.
So manufacturers ought to heed these insights when marketing their products around the globe because their potential customers are people, and people are influenced by their attitudes--attitudes, or stereotypes, that might be overcome only with some difficulty if the wrong marketing strategy is pursued.
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(1) Attitude is a "predisposition to respond for or against an object, person, or position" (De Vito, 2002, p. 413).
(2) While Berger's theory refers to interpersonal communication, it can also be applied to stereotyping since stereotypes involve communication.
(3) However, cars are manufactured in both Austria and Switzerland; but they are either niche products or brands from other countries.
Prof. Dr. Michael B. Hinner
Fakultat fur Wirtschaftswissenschaften
TU Bergakademie Freiberg
D-09596 Freiberg/Sa., Germany
Michael B. Hinner
TU Bergakademie Freiberg
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|Author:||Hinner, Michael B.|
|Publication:||China Media Research|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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