Assessing the Roles of Cognitions, Country of Origin, Consumer Patriotism, and Familiarity in Consumer Attitudes Toward Foreign Brands

ABSTRACT - An empirical investigation is conducted to determine the relative importance of cognitions, country of origin, patriotism, and familiarity with a country's products in consumers' attitudes toward foreign brands. The study hypothesizes that country-product familiarity moderates the roles of cognitions, country of origin, and consumer patriotism in brand attitudes. The results indicate that cognitions do not play the dominant role in attitudes as previously suggested; on the other hand, country of origin and consumer patriotism have signficant roles in attitudes. The results also indicate that country-product familiarity increases the roles of country of origin and consumer patriotism, but decreases the role of cognitions in brand attitudes.



Citation:

C. Min Han (1994) ,"Assessing the Roles of Cognitions, Country of Origin, Consumer Patriotism, and Familiarity in Consumer Attitudes Toward Foreign Brands", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. Joseph A. Cote and Siew Meng Leong, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 103-108.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1994      Pages 103-108

ASSESSING THE ROLES OF COGNITIONS, COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, CONSUMER PATRIOTISM, AND FAMILIARITY IN CONSUMER ATTITUDES TOWARD FOREIGN BRANDS

C. Min Han, Hanyang University

ABSTRACT -

An empirical investigation is conducted to determine the relative importance of cognitions, country of origin, patriotism, and familiarity with a country's products in consumers' attitudes toward foreign brands. The study hypothesizes that country-product familiarity moderates the roles of cognitions, country of origin, and consumer patriotism in brand attitudes. The results indicate that cognitions do not play the dominant role in attitudes as previously suggested; on the other hand, country of origin and consumer patriotism have signficant roles in attitudes. The results also indicate that country-product familiarity increases the roles of country of origin and consumer patriotism, but decreases the role of cognitions in brand attitudes.

This study is designed to examine what determines consumers' attitudes toward foreign brands. Building upon the multiattribute attitude theory (Fishbein 1967, 1980), the country-of-origin literature (Bilkey and Nes 1982), and recent research on consumer patriotism (Shimp and Sharma 1987; Han 1988), the study examines the roles of cognitions, country of origin, and consumer patriotism in consumers' attitudes toward foreign brands. In addition, the study investigates how subjects' familiarity with a country's products moderates the roles of these attitude determinants in brand attitudes. Our research proposition is that their roles vary depending upon consumers' familiarity with a country's products. The following section presents the theoretical background for our research proposition.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

What determines one's attitude toward an object or act? In addressing this issue, Fishbein (1967, 1980) proposed the theory of reasoned action. Generally, this theory is based on the assumption that human beings are usually quite rational and make systematic use of the information available to them. According to the theory, attitude is determined by cognition. Specifically, the theory specifies that attitude is determined by perceived consequences people associate with the behavior (i.e., purchasing a brand) and their evaluations of those consequences.

Another perspective on explaining consumers' attitudes toward foreign brands is provided by the country-of-origin literature. Numerous past studies have reported the salience of country of origin in consumers' brand attitudes (Bilkey and Nes 1982; Cordell 1991; Tse and Gorn 1993). However, several studies, notably by Erickson, Johansson, and Chao (1984) and Johansson, Douglas, and Nonaka (1985), point out that the past research has had serious limitations. In particular, most studies have utilized only a single cue. In other words, the country of origin was the only information presented to subjects on which to base their product evaluations. Johansson, Douglas, and Nonaka (p.388) noted, "[The past] approach tends to bias results in favor of finding a country-of-origin effect." These two studies subsequently tested the effect of country of origin on multiattribute attitudes toward well-known U.S., Japanese, and German automobile brands, and found no such effect. Their findings may suggest that country of origin serves as a surrogate for other information. In other words, country of origin is salient when consumers are not familiar with the country's products. In addition, cognitions play a greater role in brand attitude when consumers are familiar with the products than when they are not.

A conflicting view as to the role of country of origin was also presented by recent studies by Han (1989 and 1990). He maintains that country of origin can serve as a summary construct in product evaluation; a consumer can simply recall from memory a previously-formed overall evaluation of a country's products without examining their product attributes. This view implies the increased role of country of origin and the reduced role of cognitions in attitudes for consumers who are familiar with the country's products.

Another factor likely to affect brand attitudes is consumer patriotism (Shimp and Sharma 1987; Han 1988). Han (1988) reported that consumers' patriotic emotions had significant effects on attitudes and purchase intentions. According to him, consumer patriotism may indicate one's willingness to make a sacrifice in order to purchase a domestic brand. Thus, one would expect that consumer patriotism may play an important role in consumer attitudes toward foreign brands.

However, the above role of consumer patriotism may be moderated by consumers' familiarity with a country's products. Specifically, consumer patriotism may play a greater role in attitudes for consumers who are not familiar with the country's products than for those who are. The former consumers may not have enough experience or knowledge to estimate the economic consequences of not choosing a foreign product. In addition, as noted above, the Fishbein theory assumes that human beings are usually quite rational and make systematic use of the information available to them. Thus, those who are familiar with products from a given country are likely to take a rational approach in product evaluations.

Finally, consumers' familiarity with a country's products can affect their attitudes toward the country's brands. A psychological theory of "mere exposure" maintains that repeated exposures to a stimulus lead to greater positive affect for the object portrayed (Zajonc 1968). This mere exposure effect has been found for a wide variety of stimuli and is quite robust (Harrison 1977).

HYPOTHESES

Based on the preceding discussion, several hypotheses are proposed and tested. First, the following may be proposed as a base hypothesis:

H1: Consumers' cognitive evaluations of product attributes, country of origin, consumers' patriotic emotions, and consumers' familiarity with a given country's products have significant effects on consumers' attitudes toward a brand.

In addition, as discussed in the previous section, the roles of the above four determinants in consumer attitudes may differ depending upon consumers' familiarity with a country's products. Thus, the second hypothesis and their subhypotheses may be proposed as the following:

H2: Consumers' familiarity with a country's products moderates the roles of the above attitude determinants.

H2.1: Country of origin plays a lesser role in attitudes for consumers who are familiar with products made in a given country than for those who are not.

This hypothesis is based on the view of country of origin as a surrogate for other product information as noted previously. The alternative hypothesis to this is that country of origin plays a greater role in attitudes for consumers with great country-product familiarity.

H2.2: Cognitions play a greater role in attitudes for consumers who are familiar with products made in a given country than for those who are not.

This also assumes that country of origin serves as a surrogate for other product information. When consumers are not familiar with the country's products, they may not have sufficient information to make quality judgement. Thus, in such a case, cognitions may play a limited role in attitude formation, whereas country of origin plays an active role. The alternative hypothesis to this is that cognitions play a lesser role in attitudes with great country-product familiarity.

H2.3: Patriotic emotions play a greater role in attitudes for consumers who are familiar with products from a given country under examination than for those who are not.

As discussed in the previous section, this assumes that the former consumers employ a rational approach in product evaluation.

MODEL SPECIFICATION

To test the above hypotheses, a base model may be specified as follows:

 

ATTi = a0+ a1COGi + a2COUNi + a3PATi  + a4FAMi + ei    (1)

where

ATT= a subject's attitude toward a brand,

COG= a subject's cognitive rating of a brand,

COUN= country of origin,

PAT= a subject's patriotic emotion toward a brand,

FAM= a subject's familiarity with a country's products,

aj= regression weights,

ei= error terms, and

i= subject i.

As noted above, our study hypothesizes that the effects of attitude determinants (i.e., cognitions, country of origin, and consumer patriotism) depend upon subjects' familiarity with products from the country being considered. Thus,

a1 = c0 + c1FAMi,    (2)

a2 = c2 + c3FAMi,   (3)

a3 = c4 + c5FAMi,    (4)

Substituting a1, a2, and a3 with Equations (2), (3), and (4), Equation (1) may be rewritten and simplified as,

ATTi = b0 + b1COGi + b2COUNi + b3PATi + b4FAMi + b5COGxFAMi + b6COUNxFAMi + b7PATxFAMi + ei     (5)

RESEARCH DESIGN

Product Selection

Automobiles were examined in our study, because their various domestic and foreign brands are relatively well known to many consumers and consumer evaluation is likely to be based on some objective characteristics. Thus, a more rigorous test can be given to the hypothesized roles of country of origin and consumer patriotism in multiattribute attitudes. Seven automobile brands were selected from three countries - Buick Skyhawk, Plymouth Reliant, and Ford Escort from the U.S., Honda Accord and Toyota Celica from Japan, and Audi 4000s and Volkswagen Golf from Germany. The U.S. brands would serve as a control group for the foreign brands whose countries of origin were hypothesized to affect brand attitudes. Note that an effort was made to replicate the automobile brands considered by Johansson, Douglas, and Nonaka (1985).

Operationalizations

Cognitions. In operationalizing cognitions, the study followed the following formula to better reflect marketing's consumer context (Bass and Wilkie 1973; Wilkie and Pessemier 1973):

EQUATION

where:

A = a consumer's attitude toward the brand,

B = a consumer's belief as to the extent to which attribute i is offered by the brand,

I = the importance weight given to attribute i.

Following the above formula, subjects' beliefs about the levels of seven automobile attributes were measured on five-point Likert scales for each brand. The seven attributes were horsepower, handling, gas mileage, driving comfort, reliability, stying, and price. These items, except for price, were used in a previous study by Johansson et al. (1985). Subjects were also asked to indicate the importance of each attribute on a five-point scale ranging from "not at all important" to "extremely important."

Attitudes toward the brand. Three measures of attitudes toward each brand were taken using seven-point semantic differential scales: good/bad, interesting/uninteresting, and like/dislike. These items were additively combined into one.

Country of Origin. Dummy variables were utilized to operationalize the country-of-origin variable. Since three countries were examined in the study, two dummy variables were employed-Germany (1 if German-made; 0 if not) and Japan (1 if Japanese-made; 0 if not). Similar operationalizations were used in Erickson, Johansson, and Chao (1984) and Johansson, Douglas, and Nonaka (1985).

Patriotism. Subjects' patriotic emotions toward each brand ["Buying a given brand (e.g., Toyota Celica) would be"] were measured by two seven-point semantic differential scales: patriotic/unpatriotic and unselfish/selfish. These two items were additively combined to represent the patriotism.

TABLE 1

DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS

Note that items used in previous studies by Shimp and Sharma (1987) and Han (1988) took forms of normative beliefs by using Likert-type scales. These items appear to be intended to measure patriotism as subjective norms which was hypothesized to have effects on consumers' intentions of purchasing foreign products. On the other hand, our study views patriotism as personal emotions because of our interest in assessing the role of patriotism in attitudes. Thus, the study utilized a direct method to elicit subjects' patriotism by employing semantic differential scales.

Familiarity. Subjects' familiarity was assessed with two variables - objective familiarity (actual exposure to the stimulus) and subjective familiarity (the subjects think they are familiar with the stimulus). First, subjects' objective familiarity was assessed with their present and past ownership of a country's cars. A subject's ownership may be an effective way of learning attributes of well-known automobiles from different countries (Nelson 1970; Shapiro 1982). Shapiro (p. 20) notes, "Virtually all [goods] and services are impossible to evaluate until they are used." Specifically, a three-point ordinal scale was constructed with past and present ownership measures. A subject with both past and present ownership was assigned '1'; a subject who either currently owns or previously owned a country's compacts was given '0'; and a subject who has never owned a country's compacts was given '-1.' Note that subjects' ownership was measured for compacts from the country in question, not for the specific brands under examination.

For subjects' subjective familiarity, self-assessed familiarity with compacts from a given country was measured on a seven-point scale anchored by "completely familiar" and "not familiar at all." Note that there is a conceptual distinction between objective and subjective familiarity. Measures of subjective familiarity can indicate self-confidence levels as well as familiarity (Brucks 1985; Park and Lessig 1981). Perceived self-confidence may affect one's use of informational cues (Cox 1967; Olson and Jacoby 1972). Cox (Chapter 11) found in his experiments that the subjects who were confident in evaluating a cue were more likely to utilize the cue than those who were not. In this sense, subjective familiarity may be a more valid measure for the construct of country-product familiarity which was here hypothesized to affect the roles of attitude determinants.

Subjects and Procedures

Self-administered surveys were conducted in class with 147 evening MBA students at a midwestern university. We believe that the subjects may now or will in future represent the typical "yuppie" population which is high in foreign car ownership. The majority of the student body in the evening MBA program had a full-time professional job (93%) and 61% of the subjects currently own or previously owned a foreign car. Typical subjects were male (64%), single (52%), and 25-34 years old (71%). Note that foreign students were excluded from the sample.

The final questionnaire began with a brief introductory statement and proceeded in the order of questions as stated in the Operationalizations section. Each subject was asked about one brand, which was randomly selected from the seven brands considered. Note that the subjects were informed of the country of origin for the brand examined. The questionnaire ended with a section asking the subjects for their demographic characteristics. The average time taken to complete the questionnaire was 10-15 minutes.

Preliminary Data Analysis

Familiarity. As noted above, subjects' familiarity was assessed with two measures - ownership and self-assessed familiarity. Our data indicate that average subjects either currently own or previously owned a compact from the country being examined, and that they have a modest degree of subjective familiarity with compacts from the country in question. The means and standard deviations of the familiarity measures and other key variables are shown in Table 1.

Reliability. Cronbach alpha was computed to assess the internal consistency of the four measures for attitudes and the two measures for patriotism. The coefficients of Cronbach alpha were .868 for attitudes and .726 for patriotism, indicating reasonable degrees of reliability. Correlations among the measures and other variables are given in the Appendix.

TABLE 2

MULTIPLE REGRESSION RESULTS

HYPOTHESIS TESTING

A series of multiple regression analyses were run to estimate the proposed model. First, the study estimated the base model, Equation (1), which includes only the main effects of hypothesized attitude determinants. Table 2 shows the estimation results. Then, the study estimated the full model, Equation (5), which incorporates both main and interaction effects of the attitude determinants. Since subjects' familiarity with a country's cars was assessed with ownership and self-assessed familiarity, the model was estimated separately with each measure of familiarity. The results are shown in the third and fourth columns of Table 2.

When the base model was estimated, cognitions, country of origin, and patriotism were found to have significant main effects on attitudes. These findings support the hypothesized roles of country of origin and consumer patriotism in consumers' attitudes (H1). However, neither of the familiarity measures had any significant effect on attitudes. Overall, these findings converge with the Fishbein theory and previous studies by Erickson, Johansson, and Chao (1984) and Johansson, Douglas, and Nonaka (1985) on the significant role of cognitions in attitudes. However, the findings also indicate that cognitions did not play the dominant role in attitudes as the above cited studies suggested; country of origin and consumer patriotism were also found to play equally important roles in brand attitudes.

When the full model was estimated with the ownership measure of familiarity, cognitions and country of origin were again found to have significant main effects on attitudes, while consumer patriotism failed to show significant main effects. On the other hand, none of the hypothesized interaction effects except for cognitions were found to be significant: cognitions were found to play a lesser role for subjects with great ownership experience. Note that ownership is rather a weak measurement of familiarity, since riding and driving experiences are also important sources of product learning. In addition, as noted above, subjective familiarity may be a more valid measure for familiarity in our study, because it captures self-confidence levels. This may account for relatively low R-square values exhibited for the ownership measure of familiarity. Thus, the results from the ownership measure should be taken with a caution.

In contrast, when the full model was estimated with the self-reported familiarity measure, the study found several significant interaction effects. First, the subjects who were familiar with a country's products tended to use country of origin to a greater extent than those who were not. This contrasts with the role of country of origin as a surrogate for other information hypothesized by Erickson, Johansson, and Chao (1984) and Johansson, Douglas, and Nonaka (1985), thus suggesting that country of origin may serve as a summary construct. In addition, although statistically not significant, the study found a tendency that cognitions play a lesser role for subjects with great country-product familiarity. This may be attributed to the role of country of origin as a summary construct. A familiar consumer does not examine attributes of the brand in question, but simply recalls from memory a previously-formed overall evaluation of products from the country. Finally, patriotic emotions played a greater role in attitudes for the subjects who were familiar with a country's products than for those who were not. This is against H2.3 which assumed that consumers who are familiar with a country's products are more rational in product evaluations than those who are not. Note that none of the determinants except cognitions were found to have significant main effects on brand attitudes. These findings do not render support for H2.1, H2.2, and H2.3.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS

Several theoretical implications may be drawn from the findings presented above.

First, although very effective, cognitions may not be the dominant determinant of subjects' attitudes toward a brand as previously suggested. The study found that country of origin and subjects' patriotic emotions also played important roles in brand attitudes. These findings clearly contradict previous findings by Erickson, Johansson, Chao (1984) and Johansson, Douglas, and Nonaka (1985).

Second, country of origin may serve as a summary construct for consumers who are familiar with a country's products. When subjects' familiarity with a country's products was operationalized with their self-assessed familiarity, the study found that country of origin played a greater role in attitudes for subjects who were familiar with a country's products than for those who were not. In addition, cognitions were found to play a reduced role in attitudes for subjects who had greater ownership experiences, which again suggests the role of country of origin as a summary construct in product evaluation. These findings again diverge from findings by Erickson, Johansson, and Chao (1984) and Johansson, Douglas, and Nonaka (1985), but converge with a suggestion by Han (1989 and 1990).

Third, interestingly, the study found that patriotism played a greater role in attitudes for subjects who were familiar with a country's products than those who were not. This finding is in contrast to Fishbein (1967, 1980) who assumes that human beings are quite rational and make systematic use of the information available to them. One explanation may be that consumers with greater familiarity better understand the threat of foreign competition to the domestic economy, thus their attitudes may be unfavorable toward foreign brands. Note that this finding should be taken with a caution because of the lack of previous research.

Our findings also provide several managerial implications for foreign marketers.

First, the finding that country of origin and consumer patriotism have significant effects on brand attitudes even after controlling for the effects of cognitions may suggest that foreign marketers should pay due attentions to their roles in the U.S. market. Especially, this finding confirm the importance of country of origin in foreign marketing in spite of a recent remark by Ohmae (1989) which undervalue its strategic role in a so-called "borderless world."

Second, more interestingly, our findings may suggest that communications strategies should differ depending upon consumers' familiarity with products from the country in question. Specifically, communications targeted at consumers who are not familiar with the country's products should perhaps be informative about functional benefits of the products. On the other hand, for familiar consumers, image-oriented communications may be more effective than purely informative ones since country of origin and consumer patriotism are expected to assume a greater role in brand attitudes as consumers' familiarity increases. Image-oriented promotions may help consumers to associate or dissociate the product in question with country of origin and may also discourage arousal of consumers' patriotic reactions against the country's products.

As a final note, further research is obviously needed and should be based on more representative samples and other types of products. Especially, the issue of how familiarity moderates the role of consumer patriotism in brand attitudes needs further investigation. Regarding this issue, future research may need to include subject debriefings and thought lists which our study did not investigate. In addition, future studies need to develop and refine alternative operationalizations of consumer patriotism which have more theoretical bearings on attitudes than on purchase intentions. Note that our study employed semantic differential scales in the operationalization of patriotism, while previous studies by Shimp and Sharma (1987) and Han (1988) utilized Likert-type scales.

APPENDIX

CORRELATION MATRIX

REFERENCES

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

Authors

C. Min Han, Hanyang University



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1994



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