This thesis intends to provide a better understanding of the influence of country of origin on consumers' product evaluations. The first chapter explains why consumers attach importance to the country of origin of products. Next to "made in " labels, there are various ways in which products can be linked to a country of origin. Brand names, advertising and packaging may be used to make explicit and implicit references to a country. The apparent relevance of country of origin has given rise to a large number of studies that investigate its effect on consumer behavior. Chapter two presents a review and meta-analysis of prior research in this area. A literature review provides first insights into the different ways in which country of origin affects consumers' product judgements. In addition, the meta-analysis establishes a number of empirical generalizations with regard to the country-of-origin effect. Most importantly, this meta-analysis shows that country of origin has a substantial and pervasive effect on consumers. Chapter two reviews a large number of studies that have investigated the country-of-origin effect in various different settings. In doing so, it also highlights several gaps within our knowledge of this issue. The concluding section of this chapter presents an outline that structures the research in this thesis, and identifies the contributions and themes of the individual studies described in chapters three, four, and five. Each chapter provides an introduction to the issues at hand, and offers a theoretical framework or rationale. Hypotheses are developed and tested, and the study's findings are discussed and placed into a larger context.
Chapter three is focused on consumers' evaluations of domestic versus foreign products. In general it has been found that consumers are biased positively toward products from their own country, a phenomenon that is referred to as "home country bias". Chapter three examines two personality variables that relate to distinct motives for home country bias. The first variable is consumer ethnocentrism, which reflects consumers' desire to protect domestic economy and employment. The second is national identification, which relates to the desire for a positive national identity, created by the need for a positive evaluation of private and social selves. To our knowledge, the role of national identification in home country bias has not yet been examined in the marketing literature. Although there is a positive relationship between national identification and consumer ethnocentrism, the study shows that these constructs have independent positive effects on consumers' willingness to buy domestic products in different product categories. The study offers limited support for negative effects of national identification and consumer ethnocentrism on willingness to buy foreign products.
Chapter four goes beyond the distinction between foreign and domestic products, and presents a conceptual model that is primarily focused on the antecedents of consumers' attitudes and beliefs toward products from different countries. These antecedents include consumers' prior experience with a country's products within a category, but also country images, viz., consumers' cognitions and feelings about a country. The cognitive component of country images includes geographic factors (climate and natural landscape), and human factors (competence and creativity). A given component of country image can have different effects on evaluations of different products. The geographic component of country images influences consumers' beliefs toward food products from different countries, but does not affect beliefs toward technology-based consumer durables. Perceived competence influences beliefs toward technology-based consumer durables, but not beliefs toward foods.
Furthermore, it is shown that positive and negative feelings toward a country have a significant influence on consumers' beliefs toward the country's products. The study in chapter four is the first to show how the impact of feelings on product evaluations is not limited to extreme cases of animosity or admiration. Chapter four also extends the findings on home country bias that were obtained in the study described in chapter three. National identification is found to have a positive influence on consumers' image of domestic countries, and this is mirrored by a negative influence on consumers' image of foreign countries. These relationships mediate most of the impact of national identification on product evaluations.
Chapter five deals with interactions between country of origin and other product information. This issue is examined in the context of advertising. It is proposed that country of origin influences consumers' product evaluations in two ways: as an informational variable, and as a source variable. With regard to the former, we propose that a general image of a country's products within a category is used as information when consumers evaluate a product that is presented in an ad (or otherwise). As a source variable, country of origin affects consumers' evaluation of advertising claims. When consumers have an unfavorable image of a country's products, this country will have less credibility as a source for advertising claims, especially when these claims are extremely favorable. The consequences of this depend on the level of message involvement. When involvement is low, extremely favorable claims are more persuasive than moderately favorable claims. Higher levels of involvement result in greater persuasiveness of moderately favorable claims. Extremely favorable claims however, are less persuasive with increased involvement, although such claims are not significantly less effective than moderately favorable claims.
Marketers can use country of origin in the positioning of their products, for example by linking a product to relevant characteristics of the origin country. It should be noted that consumers use country of origin not only as a piece of information in itself, but also as a source of other product information. In advertising, the source credibility of country of origin moderates the influence of advertising claims on product evaluations. Marketers choosing to emphasize country of origin should acknowledge the existence of home country bias. In domestic markets, this bias would of course be beneficial, but in foreign markets care should be taken to minimize psychological resistance to foreign products. It might be beneficial to develop different positioning strategies for segments that differ in the strength of consumer ethnocentrism and national identification, as these variables determine the strength of home country bias.
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