Special Session Summary Ingroups, Outgroups and Stereotyping: Consumer Behavior and Social Identity Theory

Peeter W.J. Verlegh, Wageningen University
[ to cite ]:
Peeter W.J. Verlegh (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Ingroups, Outgroups and Stereotyping: Consumer Behavior and Social Identity Theory", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 162-164.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 162-164



Peeter W.J. Verlegh, Wageningen University


Within consumer and marketing research, considerable attention has been given to the country-of-origin effect, viz., the influence of a product’s country of origin on its evaluation by consumers. Traditionally, research on country-of-origin effects has focused on the influence of the "made in ..." label on consumers’ product judgments. In addition to made in labels, however, products are linked to their origin in many other ways. Brand names, like "Swissair", "Cafe de Colombia" and "BOY from London", for example, refer explicitly to a particular place of origin. Other brand names like the French sounding "Boursin" (soft cheese) or the Italian sounding "Buitoni" (pasta), refer to a place of origin in more subtle manners. Besides branding, products are linked to a place of origin in advertising and design. This may be done through slogans like "SiemensBfrom Germany with love", but also through the use of foreign language (e.g., BMW: "Freude am Fahren"), a national flag (e.g., the British flag on Reebok sneakers) or visual images of the area (e.g., Milka chocolate ads in an alpine scenery). Moreover, although consumers may not know where a specific product is manufactured, consumers do know the country of origin of brands. They know that Sony is Japanese, and that Volkswagen is German. Like other "brand demographics" such as age, and social class, country of origin thus is a key antecedent of brand personality (Aaker 997).

When products are linked to a specific country (or place) of origin, they are linked to consumers’ stereotypes about the country. These stereotypes span a wide range of objects, ranging from the country itself (i.e., landscape), to its inhabitants and its products. Examples of relevant stereotypical beliefs are numerous. The Germans are stereotyped as skilled engineers, with a talent for building cars and household appliances. France is stereotyped as a country of wine, food and "savoir-vivre", and the Japanese are stereotyped as efficient and precise, with great abilities in the production of high-tech electronics.

The stereotypes of countries may be thought of as networks of interrelated beliefs about a country, its products and its people. These networks also include "theories" that explain how and why the attributes go together, and affective elements, such as feelings, emotions and images (Leyens, Yzerbyt and Schadron, 1994). Together, these complex structures allow consumers to make inferences about unobserved attributes of individual objects, and serve as heuristics in information processing. The use of such shortcuts may also lead to biased judgment and decision making (Eagly and Chaiken 1993).

Consumers’ stereotypes of countries are not a mere representation of reality. The division of the world into countries and nationalities implies a classification of people into "ingroup" (the own country) and "outgroups" (foreign countries) (cf., Tajfel, 1981). Thus, the own country is seen as the territory of the ingroup, and domestic products may be conceived as the ingroup’s products, while foreign products are outgroup products. Such a distinction between ingroups and outgroups gives rise to ingroup bias: A tendency to favor the ingroup over outgroups. In contemporary social psychology, Henri Tajfel’s social identity theory is the most prominent theory that deals with stereotyping and ingroup bias. According to Tajfel, group memberships form the basis of an individual’s social identity, which is defined as "that part of an individual’s self-concept which derives from his [sic] knowledge of his membership in a social group ... together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership" (Tajfel, 1978, p. 63). Social identity is established and evaluated through the comparison of the ingroup with relevant outgroups. Because social identity is part of the self, and individuals generally strive to maintain a positive self-image, such comparisons are typically subject to ingroup bias (Tajfel, 1978).

Ingroup bias has many appearances. People emphasize those ingroup-outgroup differences that are positive for the own group, assign more positive characteristics to ingroups, and overestimate own group’s performance and achievements. An interesting exception occurs in low-status groups, of which members have been found to display "outgroup favoritism". Outgroup favoritism is thought to reflect the reality of the perceived low status of the own group (Leyens et al. 1994).

Linking ingroup bias to stereotypes of ingroups and outgroups, social identity theory provides a social psychological perspective for studying country-of-origin effects. In this context, the social identity of interest is the national identity. Although the strength of this identity varies between individuals and is dependent on situational influences, national identity is usually regarded as a salient aspect of the self. The nation is reflected in legislation and passports, but also in language, currencies, flags, and other symbols. Consumers are confronted with these symbols on a daily basis, which provides a continuous reinforcement of the national identity (Billig 1995). National identity is established through the comparison of the own country with other countries. The ingroup bias that accompanies these comparisons may be conceptualized as the driving force behind phenomena like consumer ethnocentrism (Shimp and Sharma 1987). Thus, social identity theory provides a rich conceptual framework for country-of-rigin research. This may adress a frequent criticism on country-of-origin research, viz. its alleged lack of theoretical development (cf., Obermiller 1993).

This session was organized to explore the ways in which social identity theory could be used to understand the role of country of origin and foreign branding in consumer behavior. The four papers of this session originate in different perspectives in consumer research. Each of these papers approached issues of identity, origin and stereotyping from their own angle. The first paper (Verlegh and Steenkamp) outlined the value of social identity theory for country-of-origin research, and provided a first test of a number of its propositions in the country of origin context. The second paper (Askegaard, Ger and Christensen) took an interpretative approach. Building on social stereotyping, semiotics and imagery, these authors proposed a conceptual framework that showed how consumption is contextualized with regard to product, place, market and usage. The third paper (Burgess and Harris) investigated how social identity theory can be used to understand consumption in emerging economies. In addition, it pointed out that national identity not necessarily equates the country of origin. The fourth paper (Klein and Ettenson) was based on the recently published animosity model (Klein, Ettenson and Morris 1998), and presented new data, collected in Australia, to support the model. A summary of each presentation is given below. In addition, the papers of Burgess and Harris, and Askegaard et al. are published in full in these proceedings.



Peeter W.J. Verlegh, Wageningen University,

Jan-Benedict E.M. Steenkamp, Catholic University of Leuven, Wageningen University

Consumers’ stereotypes of a country of origin, which we refer to as country stereotypes, contain beliefs regarding the country’s landscape, industry, people and other characteristics. In earlier research these stereotypes are determined through exploratory methods such as MDS. The development of more generalizable instruments to measure consumers’ perceptions of countries is valuable for future research on the role of country stereotypes in consumer behavior. In this paper, we discuss preliminary data that pertain to measures of a number of characteristics, such as a country’s economic development and climate. We show how these measures for the own country and other countries are affected by ingroup bias.



Guliz Ger, Bilkent University

SĀ°ren Askegaard, Odense University

Ania Christensen, Odense University

This paper takes an interpretative approach to imagery related to country of origin and proposes a conceptual framework based on stereotyping and experientially constructed meaning. Countries and nations engender mythological narratives in other countries as they become part of the signification process concerning "foreign-domestic" and "country X-country Y". This depth in meaning is best captured through an experiential approach. We suggest that the dimensions of place, product, market context and usage context are central to understanding contextualized product-place images (CPPIs). Furthermore, we suggest interpretive methodologies to assess CPPIs. Demonstration of the strength of this approach rests on ongoing empirical research.



Steven M. Burgess, University of the Witwatersrand

Mari Harris, Markinor (Pty) Ltd.

Social, economic and political diversity, and the rapid changes in emerging consumer markets (ECMs) and transiion economies (TEs) foster social identity instability that calls attention to within-country diversity, a neglected issue in country-of-origin research. This paper identifies 14 South African social identity groups and explores the impact of this within-country diversity on home-country brand preference biases and other country-of-origin effects. The research employs new scales in new populations, measuring personal values, optimum stimulation level, a range of living standards, lifestyle, and demographic characteristics. The results suggest that within-country diversity should be an important consideration in country-of-origin research in ECMs and TEs.



Jill Gabrielle Klein, INSEAD

Richard Ettenson, University of Chicago

A test of the animosity model of foreign product purchase was conducted in Australia in order to examine the effects of animosity toward Japan (stemming from World War II) on the willingness to purchase Japanese products. Structural equation modeling supported the model: animosity was negatively related to willingness to buy Japanese products. Further, war animosity was unrelated to judgments of Japanese product quality: those angry with Japan due to World War II did not denigrate the quality of Japanese products. In contrast, consumer ethnocentrism was related to both product judgments and willingness to buy. Implications for international marketers are discussed.



The papers in this session show that social identity theory, and the concepts of stereotyping and ingroup bias, offer a rich and valuable framework for research on country-of-origin effects. In addition, the session provides ample suggestions for future research. As Verlegh and Steenkamp note, one of the avenues that might be pursued is the application of theories regarding stereotyping and social categorization to the study of Product-Country Images (cf., Papadopoulos and Heslop 1993). Maheswaran (1994) offers an example of the application of stereotyping research to country-of-origin effects. Another possibility is the application of theories on ingroup bias to consumer ethnocentrism and consumers’ preference for products from the own country (cf., Shimp and Sharma 1987). Interestingly, two of the papers in this session show that ingroup bias is not necessarily positive. Askegaard et al. found that Turkish consumers often tend to prefer foreign products over domestic ones, and Burgess and Harris found that South African consumers show a preference for foreign cigarette brands. These findings corroborate a recent study of Batra, Ramaswamy, Alden, Steenkamp and Ramachander (1999), that shows how consumers in India have a general preference for products from foreign (western) countries. The tendency to prefer foreign (western) brands over domestic ones, apparently in contradiction with the notion of ingroup bias, seems to be present in many of the developing economies. Within the social identity framework, such findings of outgroup favoritism have been explained as the representation of reality in human judgment, i.e., the preference for foreign brands reflects their superior quality (cf., Leyens et al. 1994). However, as Batra et al. (1999) show, the preference for western brands cannot be explained entirely from differences in perceived quality. Consumers in less-developed countries seem to prefer western brands because they symbolize modernity, and have a "western-iconness". As Askegaard et al. note, the consumption of western brands provides a means of identification with an "aspirational identity". Within a social identity framework, the identification with higher status groups can be viewed as "social mobility", viz., an attempt to affiliate with a igher status group (cf., Tajfel 1978). The consumption of the exotic or foreign may also be highly desirable in itself. Foreign brands are associated with distinction and exoticness, offering consumers a way to escape from the ordinary.

Another issue that was raised in this session concerns the level at which social identity should be studied. As Burgess and Harris noted, the "ingroup" vs. "outgroup" distinction need not correspond to the domestic vs. foreign distinction. Their South African research identifies 14 "nations" within this country, suggesting that the social identity associated with being Xhosa, Zulu or Afrikaner is of much more importance than the social identity that is associated with being South African. In general, consumers will belong to a number of social groups, which means that they typically have a multitude of social identities (Brewer and Gardner 1996). The extent to which a particular social identity influences the perception and evaluation of the own and other groups is determined by the strength of each of these identities. This strength has been found to differ between individuals, and it seems appropriate to explore the role of individual differences in the strength of national identity (cf., Brewer and Gardner 1996). Other moderators or contextual variables may also impact the influence of social identity on consumer behavior. Askegaard et al. point out that the role of country (place) of origin can be understood only within the market, place, product and usage context.

A final note should be dedicated to the role of different methodological perspectives in country-of-origin research. So far, most of the research in this field has relied on survey or experimental methodology. This session combined studies conducted from interpretivist and positivist perspectives. Together, the findings of these studies provide a number of new and valuable insights into the role of country of origin in consumer behavior. In addition, the convergence in the findings from both perspectives provide tentative support for the validity of their conclusions. The session thus emphasizes the value of applying a wide range of methodologies in country-of-origin research, and in the study of consumer behavior in general (Verlegh and Steenkamp, 1999).


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