Working Papers

Does Country-of-Origin Matter? Some Findings from a Cross-Cultural Study of Consumer Views About Foreign Products

Jan 1, 1987

Consumer perceptions of foreign consumer goods.

Presentation of conceptual model; analysis of multinational consumer survey data.

To explore the key dimensions of the country-of-origin issue, including the potential differences between the affective, cognitive, and behavioral components of attitudes toward foreign products.

Introduces the “Made in” concept; reviews the existing literature; proposes a conceptual model relating the “Made in” image to the total product image at the moment of consumer decision-making; describes development of a multiple-scale questionnaire and the data-gathering process for the transnational survey; analyzes the results and identifies implications for marketers.

Consumer goods marketers in national and international markets; researchers interested in theories of entry and international marketing issues.

Main Findings
Consumers in different countries respond differently to country-of-origin cues. For example, French consumers seem to be more responsive to these cues overall. Other consumers, notably the British, are less responsive to them.

There is considerable variation, country to country, in how consumers rate domestic goods. There appears to be more “nationalistic approval” for domestic goods in some countries than in others.

Consumers also vary in how they rate goods from countries other than their own. They may rate them according to their perceptions, not of the goods themselves, but of the countries from which they come.
Among the countries and consumer groups specifically included in this study, it appears that, among other things:

  • Japanese goods are rated favorably by consumers in all countries.
  • American goods are most highly regarded in Canada and France; British evaluations of American goods are somewhat lower.
  • Swedish goods receive relatively low scores among all groups. These goods are considered luxury items that are difficult to find.
  • Canadian goods, although often thought comparable to American goods on performance characteristics, are considered technologically imitative.
  • British goods are considered poor in terms of their reliability, workmanship, and overall quality.

There are six main implications for marketers:

  • First, marketers need to be aware that clear distinctions seem to be emerging among the affective, cognitive, and behavioral components of attitude, as evidenced by consumer judging of foreign products. A country’s products may enjoy favorable ratings on one component but receive less-satisfactory ratings on another.
  • Second, ease-of-entry into a country may be affected by how concerned that country’s consumers are about product origins. There appears to be some variation, country to country, in this area
  • Third, marketers cannot automatically assume that consumers in a particular country hold their own country’s products in a favorable light. The research challenges the assumption that consumers see their domestic products as “best” across various evaluative scales.
  • Fourth, marketing strategies that stress the “Made in” concept may meet with varying levels of success in different countries. In this research, most consumer views about a given foreign product origin varied by country.
  • Fifth, marketers may choose to question some widely held beliefs about foreign product stereotypes. The research led to results that ran counter to the conventional wisdom.
  • Sixth, it may be difficult for new traders to increase their presence internationally, given the present dominance of foreign markets by a handful of major exporters.

Researcher Comments
The authors suggest

“The increased emphasis in recent years on lowering international trade barriers and on seeking foreign markets draws dramatic attention to the importance of this type of international marketing research. This project was of tremendous complexity because its goal was to allow comparisons of attitudes of ‘real customers’ in many different countries. It also attempted to deal with the fact that, over time, consumers can and do change their views.

“In many countries, markets for imported goods are rapidly expanding, but the sensitive marketer must be attuned to how goods from the source country are viewed. Consumers have ‘mind-sets’ which can be modified, if only gradually, over time. Japanese marketers, who have adopted a long-term view, have been remarkably successful in obtaining a homogeneity of image for their products. Over the last 20 years, they have substituted a ‘high quality’ image for the ‘cheap’ image generally held in the 1950s and 1960s. In contrast, other countries possess deteriorating images that do not bode well for their future export success.

“Our future work will subject the data base to much more rigorous multivariate analysis and will be expanded by the addition of data from five other countries.”

About the Authors
N. G. Papadopoulos and L. A. Heslop are both Associate Professors at Carleton University, Canada. F. Graby is Maitre de Conference, Universite de Paris IX a Dauphine, France. G. Avlonitis is Associate Professor, Athens School of Economics and Business Science, Greece.

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