יום ראשון, 17 בנובמבר 2019


Rubén Weinsteiner

The concept of country-of-origin is attributed to Robert Schooler (1965), who conduc-ted a study among Guatemalan students. When presented with a cloth product whose label identified the country that the product came from (either Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador or Guatemala), Schooler found that the Guatemalan respondents preferred products from Mexico and Guatemala to those from Costa Rica and El Salvador, thus showing that a hie-rarchy of product preferences exists based on country of origin. In reality, all four products had been produced in Guatemala. The study, though groundbreaking, has been deemed simplistic, since the study does not examine to what extent the country-of-origin effect influences consumers’ decisions.

In a subsequent study, Schooler (1971) studied foreign products in the United States. He found there were significant biases towards and against goods from foreign countries, and that the biases varied when stratified. For example, he found that consumers, depending on their level of education, were more or less accepting of foreign products. The higher the level of education, the more positively consumers valued the products. This conclusion has been confirmed by various other studies (Anderson and Cunningham1972; Dornoff et al. 1974; Heslop and Wall 1985). Gender also played a role in the country-of-origin effect: women were more likely to positively evaluate foreign products than men. Another finding in Schooler’s study was that age also made a difference, as younger consumers were more open to foreign products than older consumers. Country-of-origin perceptions have been shown to change over time.

A study evalua-ting the attitudes of Japanese businessmen regarding products from five countries in 1967 and subsequently in 1975 concluded that over the eight-year period, the businessmen’s opinions of the products were modified (Nagashima 1977). This study gives basis for the field of country image management, which aims to create positive attitudes or re-shape prior country images that, in turn, stimulate tourism, exports, and FDI. This study was the first to use a seven-point semantic differential scale, hailing results that more concisely represent the participant’s attitudes.

By compiling a literature review of country-of-origin studies to date, it facilitates out-lining the findings and shortfalls of these works to encourage further study of the field (Bilkey and Nes1982). In summarizing remaining issues such as what influences country-of-origin biases and whether these biases are superficial or rooted in a society, Bilkey and Nes encourage product-country image to become a growth industry and not a stagnant field of research. Through reviewing previous studies, the authors confirmed that COO influences consumer perceptions of the products, but could not determine how much of an influence this cue accounts for. This study also raises the question of whether the COO bias stems from the foreign country’s political, social, and economic development, or if the COO bias resides within the consumer and is influenced by attitudes towards nationalism, ethnocentrism, and previous experiences with imports. The latter part of this issue will be explored in the second part of this literature review.

The influence of the COO effect on consumers was challenged by the results of several studies. In one study, subjects were asked to assess Japanese, American, and German made cars based on thirteen features: price, handling, horsepower, acceleration, gas mileage, safety, driving comfort, passenger comfort, reliability, durability, workmanship, styling and color selection (Johanssonet al. 1985). This study was the first to use the multi-cue approach; by adding cues other than COO, the study attempts to simulate a real-life con-sumer situation.
The study found that country-of-origin effects were less significant than had previously been accepted and that other contributing factors influence the consumer’s decision-making process. One source of criticism of this study, however, is that respon-dents are asked to rate the product attributes in an artificial environment - they are not actually interested consumers making informed decisions about buying a car, rather are only deciding based on verbal cues rather than a tangible product (Bilkey and Nes 1982). A subsequent study distinguished between country of design (COD) and country of ma-nufacture (COM). With cars, it was found that COD was a significant indicator in percei-ved quality (Hamzaoui and Merunka 2006).

The halo effect and the summary concept are terms from other fields of research applied to the COO effect to describe the relationship between product and country, described in a study comparing American, Japanese and South Korean-made televisions and cars (Han 1989). The products were rated on a seven-point scale. The results of this study revealed that consumers employ either a halo effect or a summary construct when making decisions about products. The halo effect occurs when consumers use general information they know about a country to evaluate products that they have little knowledge about. Consumers use the summary construct when they are familiar with a country’s products and in turn deve-lop associations and beliefs about the country based on their evaluation of the product’s attributes.

The halo effect was examined further by Han when he hypothesized that country image is conceptualized as a consumer halo (Han 1990). By asking consumers via a multi-cue approach their opinions regarding technical advancement, prestige value, workmanship, price and serviceability of Japanese, American and South Korean cars and TVs, Han con-cluded that consumers were more likely to buy a product from a country based on how they perceived the economic, political and cultural characteristics of the country the product came from. This tendency is even more likely to occur when the product’s country is eco-nomically, politically and culturally similar to the consumer’s own country.

The conclusions of this study can be directly associated to the work of nation branders, who attempt to manage the image of a country in order to improve the opinions of con-sumers. When consumers recur to the halo effect to evaluate countries, it can have a real influence on aspects of the economy such as exports and foreign direct investment, not to mention perceptions of the culture exports and political actions. When attempting to brand a nation, governments, academics and marketing firms must act to manage the halo image of the country and either confront negative perceptions, familiarize distant audiences with the country, or reinforce positive images.

Every place (country, region, city, neighborhood, etc) has an image that develops in the minds of consumers by means of media, education, travel, immigrants, purchase of exported goods, etc. (Papadopoulos and Heslop 1993). The term Product-Country Image is used to describe the perception that consumers have about the products and their country-of-origin. Some products make special reference to their COO in their name or marketing strategy. For example, Spanair or American Airlines use their countries in the company names; Gucci and Ferrari are associated with Italy because of the brand names are derived from words and names in Italian.

These cues link the product to a country and therefore draw upon the country image to bestow unique characteristics upon the product. This study also identifies the idea of countries promoting their products as well as themselves as destinations for tourism and FDI, paving the way for future studies (Wee et al. 1993; Papadopoulos et al.1997).

The concept “brand origin” should be distinguished from country-of-origin or product-country image. Brand origin is defined as “the place, region or country to which the brand is perceived to belong by its target consumers” (Thakor and Kohli 1996, p. 32). The Spa-nish brand Massimo Dutti, part of the Inditex family, embodies the concept of brand origin. Consumers perceive the brand as Italian because of its name and therefore associate it with characteristics attributed to Italian fashion. The perception of the brand would perhaps be different if the brand had a Spanish name to match its real country-of-origin. Furthermore, the authors distinguish between brand origin and where the product is actually made. Mas-simo Dutti products are not produced in Italy or even Spain, in some cases. Country images are not stagnant (Nagashima 1977; Lampert and Jaffe 1998).

Each market will have different reactions to COO cues, an idea that must be taken into account when promoting a product and its origin abroad. In the case of Colombia, studies showed that Colombian consumers, when faced with unfamiliar products, will not depend on the country of origin cue in valuing the product (Concha Velásquez et al. 2011). Consumers who have had first-hand experience with the product will be less influenced by COO than those who haven’t.
This study, however, only tests one consumer product, beer, and does not look into how the market would receive other products of mass consumption which may be of more (or less) importance to the consumers in their everyday lives.On the other hand, instead of observing how a country’s image influences the per-ception of a brand, White proposes that the influence and perception of a brand can have positive effects on the image of a country (White 2012).
This study demonstrated a brand international that it is positively valued (like Skype technological program or the energy drink Red Bull) helps to improve the perception of unknown or small countries when consumers find out about the country of origin of the products (in the case of the products listed earlier, Estonia and Austria). Furthermore, the more familiar consumers are with a product, the more they associate it with a country or countries. The same occurs in reverse: the more familiar consumers are with a country, the more they know about the products available from this origin (Usunier and Cestre 2007).

Rubén Weinsteiner

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