Are There Gender Differences in the Use of Country-Or-Origin Information in the Evaluation of Products?

Sung-Tai Hong, University of Missouri-Columbia
Julie F. Toner, University of Missouri-Columbia
ABSTRACT - Previous studies have produced seemingly conflicting results about the differences between males and females in the use of country-of-origin information when evaluating products. The purpose of the present study is to explore the hypothesis that gender differences in the use of country-of-origin information may actually be a function of how much an individual knows about a product. Consistent with theoretical predictions derived from the Elaboration Likelihood Model, the results of the present study suggest that specific product attribute information is more likely to be used in the evaluation of a product when individuals are relatively knowledgeable about the product. On the other hand, when individuals are less knowledgeable about the product, country-of-origin information is more likely to be used as a cue in product evaluation.
[ to cite ]:
Sung-Tai Hong and Julie F. Toner (1989) ,"Are There Gender Differences in the Use of Country-Or-Origin Information in the Evaluation of Products?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 468-472.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, 1989      Pages 468-472

ARE THERE GENDER DIFFERENCES IN THE USE OF COUNTRY-OR-ORIGIN INFORMATION IN THE EVALUATION OF PRODUCTS?

Sung-Tai Hong, University of Missouri-Columbia

Julie F. Toner, University of Missouri-Columbia

ABSTRACT -

Previous studies have produced seemingly conflicting results about the differences between males and females in the use of country-of-origin information when evaluating products. The purpose of the present study is to explore the hypothesis that gender differences in the use of country-of-origin information may actually be a function of how much an individual knows about a product. Consistent with theoretical predictions derived from the Elaboration Likelihood Model, the results of the present study suggest that specific product attribute information is more likely to be used in the evaluation of a product when individuals are relatively knowledgeable about the product. On the other hand, when individuals are less knowledgeable about the product, country-of-origin information is more likely to be used as a cue in product evaluation.

INTRODUCTION

The effects of country-of-origin information on the consumer's evaluations of products are gaining interest among managers as increasingly more firms seize international opportunities. A considerable amount of research conducted in the area of "country image" in the past two decades has provided evidence that country of origin is an important informational cue in the consumer's evaluations of products (for a review of the literature, see Bilkey and Nes 1982). The major issues in this research centered around: (a) the investigation of preconceptions about the products made in a certain country (cf. Anderson and Cunningham 1972; Erickson, Johansson, and Chao 1984; Gaedeke 1973; Hampton 1977; Han and Terpstra 1988; Johansson, Douglas and Nonaka 1985; Lillis and Narayana 1974; Schooler 1965); (b) the comparison of perceptions of foreign products between different cultures (cf. Etzel and Walker 1974; Nagashima 1970); and (c) the identification of the demographic factors of the people who favor foreign products (cf. Dornoff, Tankersley, and White 1974; Schooler 1971; Tongberg 1972; Wang 1978).

Although a country-of-origin effect has been frequently demonstrated, conceptual and methodological problems call its interpretation into question. Among the three issues identified above, the most controversial area is the effort to identify the demographic profile of those people who make greater use of country-of-origin information in their evaluations of products. For example, Schooler (1971) and Tongberg (1972) found that older people tended to evaluate foreign products more highly than domestic ones. Also, foreign products were typically rated higher by females than by males (Schooler 1971), higher by more educated people than by less educated ones (Anderson and Cunningham 1971; Dornoff et al. 1974; Schooler 1971; Wang 1978), and higher by liberals than by conservatives (Anderson and Cunningham 1972). However, others have found different results. For example, Wang (1978) found no effect of age, Tongberg (1972) found no effect of educational level, and Dornoff et al. (1974) found no effect of gender on preference for foreign products. These contradictory results may be due to the absence of a theoretical or conceptual basis for predicting why people who belong to a specific demographic category should (or should not) be favorably disposed toward foreign products.

The purpose of the present study is to gain a better understanding of bow demographic profiles might be theoretically related to the use of country-of-origin information. In particular, this study uses the Elaboration Likelihood Model of attitude formation to understand gender differences in the use of country-of-origin information when evaluating products.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

The Elaboration Likelihood Model (for discussions, see Petty, Cacioppo, and Goldman 1981; Petty, Cacioppo, and Schumann 1983) posits that individuals may form attitudes via one of two qualitatively different "routes" of information processing. The model suggests that arguments for a position (or attributes of a product) are important determinants of the attitude formed by an individual who is motivated and/or able to carefully evaluate such information. This thoughtful deliberative approach to attitude formation is called the "central route" of information processing. In contrast, a "peripheral route" of information processing is employed when an individual is unmotivated and/or unable to critically evaluate relevant information. In that case, (s)he will form an attitude about the issue or product based on simple associations or inferences.

The application of this model to country-of-origin effects is straightforward. If people use the central route of processing, information about the specific attributes of a product as well as information about where the product was made (i.e., country-of-origin information, if available) will be considered in the evaluation of the product. Thus, country of origin and specific attribute information will independently contribute to the overall evaluation of the product. However, if people are not willing and/or are not able to deliberately process the information, they may simply retrieve general concepts about the country and use them as heuristic criteria. In that case, the country of origin is used as a peripheral cue.

Hypotheses

Products used in gender difference studies could typically be categorized as either male or female products. Schooler (1971), for instance, used clothes (female product) and a desk pen (male), and Dornoff et al. (1974) used fashion, food (female), electronics and mechanical products (male). Findings for individual products are not reported in these studies, but the overall results conflict with each other as mentioned previously. It is plausible that when people are knowledgeable about a particular product, they will engage in central route processing and will extensively use the product attribute information as well as the implications of the country of origin in forming attitudes toward the product. On the other hand, when people are not knowledgeable about a particular product, they will use the peripheral route of processing and will simply base product evaluations on the implications of country of origin. Since men presumably know more about male products and women presumably know more about female products, the gender relevance of the products which were used as stimuli in previous country-of-origin studies may explain their mixed findings. This possibility is examined in the present study.

TABLE 1

KNOWLEDGE LEVEL BY SUBJECTS' GENDER

METHOD

To examine the above research questions, a 2 X 2 X 2 experimental design was employed with product evaluation as a dependent variable, and gender of subjects (male vs. female), attribute information (positive vs. negative implication) and country of origin (favorable vs. unfavorable country) as independent variables.

Subjects and Design

Thirty-two male and thirty-two female undergraduate students were randomly selected as subjects for the experiment at a large mid-western university. Each subject received information about a passenger car (male product), a maxi-pad sanitary napkin (female product), and an SLR camera (neutral gender product) with names of the manufacturing countries. These products were selected based on the results of a separate survey on college students' knowledge level about each product (see Table 1). Subjects in the present study also received information about two filler item products (products without country-of-origin information). The country information provided to subjects varied in terms of the favorableness. Subjects were randomly assigned to different combinations of product, country, and attribute information.

Selection of Stimulus Information

To prepare the product attribute information for the experiment, sentences evaluating products were adapted from Consumer Reports. These descriptions conveyed either positive or negative attributes. The attribute information was accompanied by each product's country of origin. Three favorable image countries and three unfavorable image countries were selected on the basis of a pretest concerning subjects' beliefs that each of several countries had a favorable or an unfavorable image pertaining to the products they produce. The pre-test was conducted separately with a different group of 38 students. Based on the mean values of the countries (measured along a 1 to 10 scale), Japan (M = 7.76), Germany (M = 6.06) and Sweden (M = 5.91) were selected as favorable countries; and Korea (M = 3.56), Taiwan (M = 3.50) and Mexico (M = 1.85) were selected as unfavorable countries. The six selected countries were assigned to different products based on the plausibility that the particular country could have made the assigned product (see Table 2).

Procedure and Dependent Variable

The purpose of the study was introduced to subjects as an investigation about how people form an impression of new brands based on limited information about product features. Then, they were presented with information about the three products with different countries of origin as well as about two filler item products. Subjects, after reading each description, were asked to evaluate the products based on the information presented.

RESULTS

Ratings were reported on the overall quality of the products on the basis of both country-of-origin and product attribute information. No interaction involving both product attribute information and country of origin was significant, indicating that the two types of information contributed independently to product evaluation. Therefore, the effects of each type of information will be discussed separately.

TABLE 2

ASSIGNMENT OF PRODUCTS AND COUNTRIES

The effects of country-of-origin information on evaluations can be inferred from the differences between evaluations made when the implications of the country were favorable and evaluations made when its implications were unfavorable. These differences, pooled over positive and negative product attribute information, are presented in the mean difference columns of Table 3 as a function of subjects' gender. When subjects evaluated the car (male product), female subjects tended to be more influenced than male subjects by the product's country of origin, F(1,56) = 3.03, p<09. However, in the evaluation of the camera (neutral product), no differences in the use of country-of-origin information were found between male and female subjects, p>.10. On the other hand, when subjects evaluated the maxi pad (female product), male subjects were more influenced by the product's country of origin than female subjects, F(1,56) = 2.96, p<.10. Therefore, it is conceivable that when the subjects lacked specific knowledge or interest about the product, they used country-of-origin as a heuristic criterion.

Gender difference, which is actually reflecting the difference in knowledge level (see Table 1), seemed to influence the usage of the country-of-origin information in the evaluation of the three products. However, most of the differences were statistically marginal. Therefore, the effects of country-of-origin information on evaluations should be utilized in conjunction with the effects of attribute information.

The effects of attribute information on product evaluations can be inferred from the differences between evaluations made when the implications of this information were positive and evaluations made when its implications were negative. These differences, pooled over favorable and unfavorable country of origin, are presented in the mean difference columns of Table 4 as a function of subjects' gender. When subjects evaluated the car (male product), male subjects were more influenced than female subjects by the product attribute information, F(1,56) = 6.32, p<.02. On the other hand, when evaluating products used exclusively by females (maxi pad), female subjects were more influenced than male subjects by the product attribute information, F(1,56) = 34.20, p<.01. When subjects evaluated the camera which was thought to be a neutral gender product, male subjects were more influenced than female subjects by the attribute information, F(1,56) = 3.03, p<.09. Perhaps, this effect reflects the difference in the knowledge level, although statistically insignificant, between male subjects and female subjects about the camera (see Table 1).

DISCUSSION

The question addressed in this study is whether there are gender differences in the use of country-of-origin information in product evaluation. The results of the present study suggest that the effects of country of origin may be a function of the subjects' general knowledge level rather than their gender. The experiment shows that when females evaluated a familiar product, such as maxi pads, they did indeed use the specific attributes of the product more than country of origin. However, when they evaluated a product about which they had less knowledge, such as a car, they used the country of origin as a heuristic criterion and evaluated the product based on the reputation of the country rather than the product's attributes. Similarly, males tended to rely on country of origin as a heuristic criterion when evaluating the female product, and they had less usage of country of origin as a cue when evaluating products with which they had more knowledge.

Considering the empirical evidence obtained in this study, the widely held idea that there are gender differences in the use of country-of-origin information appears to be artifact. Therefore, mixed results of the previous studies may be due to the specific products used in the studies. In other words, the products used, which were typically male- or female-oriented products, may have led to the biased results in each direction.

The finding is consistent with the reports of sex differences in other areas (cf. Chaiken and Eagly 1976; Cooper 1979; Eagly 1978). Eagly (1978), for example, notes that most of the previous persuasion studies were biased because they were conducted by men who chose topics that typically were of more interest to men, and the male subjects in these studies also generally had more knowledge about the topics under investigation. On the basis of an extensive literature review, Eagly refuted the earlier findings that gender plays a major role in persuasion. The present study provides evidence supporting Eagly's argument.

TABLE 3

EFFECTS OF COUNTRY-OF-ORIGIN INFORMATION ON EVALUATIONS AS A FUNCTION OF SUBJECTS' GENDER

TABLE 4

EFFECTS OF PRODUCT ATTRIBUTE INFORMATION ON EVALUATIONS AS A FUNCTON OF SUBJECTS' GENDER

In the overall product evaluations, larger differences were found in the use of attribute information, rather than in the use of country of origin, between the subjects who had much knowledge (using central route of processing) and subjects who did not (using peripheral route of processing). When subjects took the peripheral route of information processing, they may have used country of origin as a major cue. When subjects took the central route, they may also have used country of origin although merely as one of many product features. Since the country of origin may have been used in both conditions, a relatively small difference was detected between subjects taking the two different routes of processing in the use of country-of-origin information compared to attribute information of which subjects' knowledge level greatly influenced usage. Therefore, some of the previous studies in which country of origin was presented as a dominant cue in evaluating products probably exaggerated the effects of country of origin.

Our findings indicate that marketers should know more about consumers than merely their demographic profiles. Thus, marketers need to understand which types of information are processed via the central route and which types of information are processed via the peripheral route.

This study was limited by a small sample size (eight per cell). Further research may be conducted to see if similar results are obtained with other products. Also, only consumer knowledge level was considered in the study. Deliberate measures of motivation to process information, usage frequency of the product, or source effects may be added to increase our understanding of the use of country-of-origin information.

REFERENCES

Anderson, W. Thomas and William H. Cunningham (1972), "Gauging Foreign Product Promotion," Journal of Advertising Research, February, 29-34.

Bilkey, Warren J. and Erik Nes (1982), "Country-of-origin Effects on Product Evaluations," Journal of International Business Studies, Spring/Summer, 89-99.

Chaiken, S. and Alice H. Eagly (1976), "Communication Modality as a Determinant of Message Persuasiveness and Message Comprehensibility," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 605-614.

Cooper, H. M. (1979), "Statistically Combining Independent Studies: Meta-analysis of Sex differences in Conformity Research," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 131-146.

Dornoff, R. J., Tankersley, C. B., and White, G. P. (1974), "Consumer's Perception of Imports," Akron Business and Economic Review, Summer, 26-29.

Eagly, Alice H. (1978), "Sex Differences in Influenceability." Psychological Bulletin, 85, 86-116.

Erickson, Gary M., Johny K. Johansson, and Paul Chao (1984), "Image Variables in Multi-attribute Product Evaluations: Country-of-origin Effects," Journal of Consumer Research, September, 694-699.

Etzel, Michael J. and Bruce J. Walker (1974), "Advertising Strategy for Foreign Products," Journal of Advertising Research, June, 41-44.

Gaedeke, Ralph (1973), "Consumer Attitudes toward Products 'Made in' Developing Countries," Journal of Retailing, Summer, 13-24.

Hampton, Gerald M. (1977), "Perceived Risk in Buying Products Made in Abroad by American Firms," Baylor Business Studies, October, 53-64.

Han, C. Min and Vern Terpstra (1988), "Country-of-Origin Effects for Uni-national and Bi-national Products," Journal of International Business Studies, Summer, 235-255.

Johansson, Johny K., Susan P. Douglas, and Ikujiro Nonaka (1985), "Assessing the Impact of Country of Origin on Product Evaluations: A New Methodological Perspective," Journal of Marketing Research, November, 388-396.

Lillis, Charles M. and Chem L. Narayana (1974), "Analysis of "Made in" Product Images--An Explanatory Study," Journal of International Business Studies, Spring, 119-127.

Nagashima, Akira (1977), "A Comparative 'Made in' Product Image Survey Among Japanese Businessmen," Journal of Marketing, July, 95-100.

Petty, Richard E., John T. Cacioppo, and Goldman, R. (1981), "Personal Involvements a Determinant of Argument-based Persuasion," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 847-855.

Petty, Richard E., John T. Cacioppo, and David Schumann (1983), "Central and Peripheral Routes to Advertising Effectiveness: The Moderating Role of Involvement," Journal of Consumer Research, September, 135-146.

Schooler, Robert D. (1965), "Product Bias in the Central American Common Market," Journal of Marketing, November, 394-397.

Schooler, Robert D., (1971), "Bias Phenomena Attendant to the Marketing of Foreign Goods in the U.S.," Journal of International Business Studies, Spring, 71-80.

Tongberg, R. C. (1972), An Empirical Study of Relationships Between Dogmatism and Consumer Attitudes Toward Foreign Products. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania.

Wang, C. (1978), The Effects of Foreign Economics, Political and Cultural Environment on Consumer's Willingness to Buy Foreign Products. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University.

----------------------------------------