The Perception of Foreign Products in France

Gary Baumgartner, Maitre de ConfTrences
Alain Jolibert, Maitre Assistant
ABSTRACT - Despite numerous articles which have been published, there seems to have been no real advancement in the development of theories which might explain why consumers view foreign products differently than they do domestic products. This paper reports a study of French perception of foreign products using the theory of perceived risk as criteria for the choice of products to be studied.
[ to cite ]:
Gary Baumgartner and Alain Jolibert (1978) ,"The Perception of Foreign Products in France", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 603-605.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 603-605


Gary Baumgartner, Maitre de ConfTrences

Alain Jolibert, Maitre Assistant


Despite numerous articles which have been published, there seems to have been no real advancement in the development of theories which might explain why consumers view foreign products differently than they do domestic products. This paper reports a study of French perception of foreign products using the theory of perceived risk as criteria for the choice of products to be studied.


To date the published research in the field of foreign product perception can be classified into two types: research which essentially eliminates the product from consideration, and research on the perception of apparently randomly chosen specific foreign products and their images.

The first type can be classified as national product stereotype research. The theory has been that attitudes specific to a country emerge when products from that country are perceived. However, these studies are based on either abstract notions such as "Italian Products", or else on products with such low profiles that the consumers naturally only perceive the national origins of the product. For example, Schooler (1965) in studying the Central American Common Market found that evaluations of beige fabric and fruit juice varied according to the country of origin; these evaluations were related to preconceptions regarding attitudes toward the people of that country. Reierson (1966, 1967) in studies involving American consumers evaluating "Italian Products" and "Japanese Products" found that foreign product quality tended to be stereotyped and that the communication medium used to promote the particular foreign product influenced the stereotyped image. Nagashima (1970) found that when Japanese and American consumers evaluated the notion of "all products" made in a particular country, attitudes varied according to the opinion of the country of origin. Anderson and Cunningham (1972) in using the general classification of "foreign products" found significant differences in the socio-demographic and psychological characteristics of those consumers who were favorably disposed toward foreign products and those who were not.

Whereas these types of studies permit a certain generalization of their results, such generalizations tend to be inappropriate or misleading when applied to specific products. In fact, this is the rational adopted for the second type of research which involves very specific products such as toys, autos, cameras, etc. Unfortunately, the fact that such products are chosen in the absence of a theoretical framework eliminates the possibility of generalizing the results. A good example of this type of study is presented by Etzel and Walker (1974) who present evidence to show that the general use of national product stereotype can be very misleading. However, the alternative they offer is to restudy each individual product.


One theory in consumer behavior which seems particularly appropriate to the study of foreign product perception is the theory of perceived risk. Perceived risk related to purchase depends upon two determinants (Cox, 1967). First is the degree of uncertainty concerning the suitability of the product. Second is the importance which the consumer affects to the possible adverse consequences of the purchase. Both of these determinants could be intimately linked to foreign products. In addition to the uncertainty linked to the product proper, there is an additional uncertainty due to the origin of the product. As to the possible adverse consequences of the purchase, Jacoby and Kaplan (1972) have operationally defined and studied 5 different varieties of perceived risk, each linked to some form of adverse consequence of the purchase. These five components of perceived risk are financial risk, performance risk, physical risk, psychological risk, and social risk. It would seem that the consumer's stereotype of the product's foreign origin could in fact influence his appreciation of the particular risk involved in the purchase of the product. For example, it would seem that the purchase of life insurance from a company based in a country which is actually experiencing economic difficulties would increase the risk perception involved in the purchase.

The working hypothesis for the study was that perceived risk is a significant component in the judging of foreign products. It was thus expected that:

- foreign products with different types of risk components would be judged differently,

- foreign products would be judged differently than domestic products involving the same risk.

- the perception of the risk component of the product is conditioned by the national origin of the product.


A questionnaire was developed to obtain a measure of consumer interest for each of 16 products varying according to 4 different types of risk and with 4 different national origins. The data were analyzed by analysis of variance (ANOVA) techniques.


Four product classes were chosen to represent one or several specific components of perceived risk:

- playing cards (absence of perceived risk)

- life insurance (financial and performance risk)

- cough syrup (physical risk)

- winter coat (social and psychological risk)

We started with the list of products published by Jacoby and Kaplan (1972) from which we retained certain products and eliminated or substituted others. Certain ones were eliminated on the basis of too strong a domination of the French market by a particular country. For instance, color television was eliminated because German made televisions are quite popular in France whereas English made televisions are unknown as such. Vitamins and aspirins were eliminated as physical risk products on the grounds that the French consumption pattern of vitamins and aspirins and consequently their perception of these products are very different from that of Americans. Cough syrup is a product which in the French context closely approximates the American perception of vitamins and aspirins. Products were chosen to be appropriate for both sexes.


In addition to French, which was included as a control and as a basis of comparison, the foreign origins retained for study were American, English, and German. These were chosen according to the criteria of equivalence and relevance. The study was limited to the comparison of countries considered to be equal, respected trading partners of France. Countries with low prestige profiles due either to low economic development or to an unfavorable foreign product stereotype were eliminated. This was done on the basis that an overall prejudicial image could dominate so strongly that the perception of the differential product risk, might be affected.


A seven point scale was constructed with scale values ranging from "extremely interesting" (1) to "not at all interesting" (7). The respondents were placed in a purchasing situation and asked to evaluate each one of 16 products (4x4) presented in random order. Sociodemographic as well as political data were collected but were not analyzed in this study.


120 French consumers were interviewed of whom 108 complete questionnaires were retained for analysis. Characteristics of the sample indicate a slight predominance of female (57%) over male respondents. A slight bias of educational level was present with 39% of the respondents had attended at least one year of undergraduate study.


Given the nature of the data, a fixed-effects 4 x 4 repeated measures randomized block factorial design was selected as the most appropriate analytical technique (Kirk, 1968). This design is justified since each of the 108 subjects was exposed to all levels of the two factors (4 nationalities x 4 product risk classes). Because of this, each subject is technically considered a block; this means that there are 1728 (4 x 4 x 108) cells in the design and no subject x factor interaction is possible.


The model for a repeated-measures analysis is appropriate if the variance-covariance matrices are equal and if the pooled variance-covariance matrix is symmetrical (Kirk, 1968). The homogeneity of variance was tested using Hartley's Fmax test. At a risk of p < .05, Fmax was not significant and thus the assumption of homogeneity of variances within cells can be assumed.

The ANOVA results are presented in Table 1. All main effects as well as the interaction effects are significant (p < .05).



The study of each effect as well as the interactions were analyzed by a multiple comparison of the means. Dundan's Multiple-Range test, which is a more stringent test procedure than the t test, was used. The significant results are summarized below.

1. French consumers prefer French products to foreign products.

2. All products were judged equal with the exception of the winter-coat which was judged more interesting than the others.

3. Figure 1 presents the interaction between nationality and product. The most preferred combination was the French winter coat, and German playing cards the least preferred combination. A notable exception to the French perception of foreign products is that the English winter coat is not judged as disfavor- ably as other foreign products. However, the French winter coat was still preferred.




The results indicate that the French consumer has a very strong preference for domestic products. This is not surprising in light of the values inherent in the French culture, notably individualism and nationalism (Dubois, 1972). This means that the manufactures of foreign products should not in general stress their origin in brand image strategy.

Perhaps the most interesting results of the study is the extremely good showing of the English winter coat. This is all the more surprising because French winter coats have an excellent reputation, even outside of France. Since the winter coat assumedly implies an inherent social and psychological risk, we advance the hypothesis that foreign products in France are more likely to be purchased if they fall into that category. Indeed this could explain why certain foreign products are popular in France.

The English winter coat might have been appreciated by the French consumers because the English presently enjoy a favorable national stereotype in terms of fashion. From these observations, we advance the second hypothesis that for the French consumer, favorable national stereotypes are ineffectual unless they are related to products with a certain degree of social and/or psychological risk. The implications of this hypothesis for foreign manufacturers would be the following. If a product enjoys a favorable national stereotype in France, the product's publicity could perhaps best be oriented towards an emphasis on the social-psychological risks of the product class. This seems to be the area where foreign products compete most effectively with French domestic products.

Naturally, the results of this study must be tempered in the light of the relatively small sample size as well as the characteristics of the sample. Nevertheless, the results indicate that the theory of risk perception provides an interesting insight on the judgment of foreign products. More important perhaps is that specific objective criteria founded on a theoretical framework were for choosing the products used in this study. Because of this, generalization of the results become possible. In our case, we limited these generalizations to the formulation of hypotheses because of the study's restricted nature and its small sample size. Nevertheless, we hope that our study will act as a stimulus in the area of foreign product perception. Indeed, much remains to be done in the way of practical research as well as theoretical development before foreign product perception is understood.


William Anderson and William Cunningham, "Gauging Foreign Product Promotion," Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 12 (February 1972), 29-34.

Donald F. Cox, Risk-taking and Information Handling in Consumer Behavior, Boston: Harvard University Press, 1967.

Bernard, Dubois, "A Cultural Approach to the Study of Diffusion and Adoption of Innovations," Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Ace, 1972, 840-50.

Michael Etzel and Bruce Walker, "Advertising Strategy for Foreign Products," Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 14 (June 1974), 41-4.

Jacob Jacoby and Leon Kaplan, "The Components of Perceived Risk," Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Ace, 1972, 382-93.

Roger E. Kirk, Experimental Design: Procedures for the Behavioral Sciences, Belmont, Calif.: Brooks Cole, 1968.

Akira Nagashima, "A Comparison of Japanese and U.S. Attitudes Toward Foreign Products," Journal of Marketing, Vol. 34 (January 1970), 68-74.

Curtis Reierson, "Attitude Change Toward Foreign Products," Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 4 (November 1967), 385-7.

Curtis Reierson, "Are Foreign Products Seen as Traditional Stereotypes," Journal of Retailing, Vol. 42 (Fall 1966), 33-40.

Robert Schooler, "Product Bias in the Central American Common Market," Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 2 (November 1965), 394-97.