National Image Correlates of Product Stereotypes: a Study of Attitudes Towards East European Countries

ABSTRACT - Country-of-origin studies usually focus on the images of products from various nations and only a few have looked at perceptions of the nations themselves. This study used independent measures for each of national and product images and examined the relationships between them. The findings suggest that the two measures are distinct from but related to each other, and that certain elements of national image are better predictors of product image than others.



Citation:

Nicolas Papadopoulos, Louise A. Heslop, and David Bennett (1993) ,"National Image Correlates of Product Stereotypes: a Study of Attitudes Towards East European Countries", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 206-213.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 206-213

NATIONAL IMAGE CORRELATES OF PRODUCT STEREOTYPES: A STUDY OF ATTITUDES TOWARDS EAST EUROPEAN COUNTRIES

Nicolas Papadopoulos, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Louise A. Heslop, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

David Bennett, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

ABSTRACT -

Country-of-origin studies usually focus on the images of products from various nations and only a few have looked at perceptions of the nations themselves. This study used independent measures for each of national and product images and examined the relationships between them. The findings suggest that the two measures are distinct from but related to each other, and that certain elements of national image are better predictors of product image than others.

INTRODUCTION

Research into the country-of-origin issue has grown significantly, resulting in a substantial body of knowledge comprising well over 300 publications between the first studies in the 1960s and today. Nonetheless, several questions about the nature and effects of country-of-origin perceptions in the marketplace remain. One of these is the notion of a country's "national image" and whether it should be measured separately as a distinct construct which may be related to, and be able to predict, consumer perceptions of and behavior towards the nation's products.

Research to date has focused mostly on consumer views of "products from X", treating the national image of "X" itself as an abstract construct reflected in and from the country's products. Subjects in both surveys and experiments are typically asked to respond only to product-related stimuli, such as assessing product attributes or making product choice decisions from alternatives representing various countries. With only a handful of exceptions, the components of national image have not been measured separately in marketing research. These have, on the other hand, been the subject of significant research in such disciplines as social psychology and political science, whose interests lie elsewhere and which therefore do not deal with marketing issues.

The discrepancy between the disciplines which study national but not product images, and marketing, which does the reverse, represents a wide knowledge gap. This article reports on a study which was carried out in Canada and aimed at (a) measuring consumer perceptions of nations and their products, and (b) examining correlations between the two and the extent to which the image of a nation can help to predict the image of its products among consumers.

REVIEW OF PAST RESEARCH

Product-based Country Images

Product-Country Image (PCI) research deals with the referent image which consumers are assumed to conjure up when exposed to information about where a product was made, assembled, designed, or conceived. This can be found in a product's advertising, packaging, brand or manufacturer's name, made-in label, etc. The influence of this cue on behavior varies, but research leaves no doubt that it plays a role and that its relative importance may in fact equal or exceed that of brand name, price, and other extrinsic cues, depending on situational and other factors (Dickerson 1987; Han and Terpstra 1988; Schellinck 1989; Johansson 1992; see also the literature reviews by Bilkey and Nes, 1982, and in Papadopoulos and Heslop, 1992). Like other extrinsic cues, consumers use origin to infer quality and make purchase decisions since information about intrinsic cues is often unavailable or difficult to assess (Newman and Staelin 1972).

Most researchers have conceptualized country-of-origin as a halo construct (see Bilkey and Nes 1982). Han (1989) suggests this may explain cases where consumers know little about a country's products. But he has also posited the "summary construct" as an alternative hypothesis explaining the direction of effects for situations where there is less information about a nation than about its products. In this case, product information is recoded and abstracted into higher order units, or "chunks" (Simon 1974), and used to evaluate other products from the same origin on the assumption that they share similar attributes.

Either way, neither Han's (1989) nor most other studies in this area have attempted to examine the components of national image as a distinct entity. The implicit assumption has apparently been that the image of a nation is an abstract notion that lies within, and can be inferred from, measures of perceptions about the attributes of its products. For example, based on product-related research, Dunn (1976) suggests that a product's foreign origin should be stressed if the producing country and its people are seen as a "reference group" by target consumers. This may be so, but knowing whether the origin nation is indeed seen in this light requires an understanding of how consumers view the country itself and its people (rather than, or at least in addition to, that of its products), which in turn requires specific research into the nature of national images.

Coupling such research with views of the nation's products would enable us to look for potential interactions between the two and thus further our understanding of the PCI phenomenon. Identifying specific nation attributes that may have a bearing on product perceptions is particularly relevant in the case of the halo construct. It is also relevant, however, in the summary construct hypothesis, since it is difficult to imagine situations where consumers know a lot about a country's products but nothing at all about the country itself.

National Image

Researchers in social psychology and related disciplines have dealt extensively with the stereotyped perceptions of individuals about others, since these play an important role in attitude formation and behavior at both the individual and inter-group levels (Tversky and Kahnemann 1973; Forgas and O'Driscoll 1984). People's perception of nations can be considered in the context of stereotyping since it is a cognitive process leading to the categorization of entire classes of objects (Tajfel 1981). Of interest here are ethnic groups, or sets of people who share a similar culture, race, religion, or nationality (Aboud and Skerry 1984). One's own nation is among the most important social groups to which one belongs. Nationality contributes to a positive social identity to the extent that the home nation is perceived as distinct from others and superior to them in identifiable ways (Tajfel 1981). Stereotyping acts as a cognitive shorthand which helps to shape individuals' views of their own and other ethnic groups, especially in today's complex environment where needed information is often lacking (Cattin, Jolibert and Lohnes 1982), or, alternatively, there is cognitive overload (Tajfel 1981).

Social psychology has devoted considerable attention to the in-group evaluation of out-groups (Jones and Ashmore 1973; Taormina et al. 1988). Perceived inter-group similarity in terms of attitudes and values is consistently identified with attraction (Byrne and Nelson 1965; Taormina et al. 1988). Generally, people tend to evaluate similar and familiar others more positively than they do dissimilar others and strangers at both the individual (Hill and Stull 1981) and group levels (Taormina and Messick 1983). Ethnocentrism has been described as an exaggerated preference for the in-group coupled with a corresponding dislike of others (Campbell and Levine 1972).

Various researchers have identified dimensions along which people evaluate nations (see Robinson and Hefner 1967; Wish, Deutsch and Biener 1970; Jones and Ashmore 1973; Forgas and O'Driscoll 1984). These include political ideology (communist/non-communist), economic development, geography and population, race, and culture (e.g., Western/non-Western, European/non-European, Spanish influence). While the dimensions vary somewhat by study, considerable consistency can be observed and most researchers agree that cross-cultural rating differences are more a function of relative weighting than differing evaluative criteria (Wish, Deutsch and Biener 1970; Forgas and O'Driscoll 1984).

In summary, research in social psychology suggests that people hold stereotyped views of nations; that countries are evaluated differently along the various dimensions; and that people are motivated to magnify differences between their nation and others, especially in those areas where it is perceived as superior. Further, public perceptions about other countries, shaped in large part by stereotyped images, have been found to have a significant impact not only on inter-personal or inter-group behavior across nations (Kelman 1965), but also on the formation of international policies by governments (Tomlin 1978).

National vs. Product Images

The preceding overview suggests that much can be gained by combining the product and national image research streams. As noted above, however, neither stream has dealt with subjects of interest to the other except for about 10 of the 300 or so marketing studies in this field. Among other results, these have found that perceived similarities in inter-national belief systems influence foreign product quality ratings (Tongberg 1972); that willingness to buy foreign products may be partially explained by perceived differences in the origin countries' economic, cultural, and political environments (Wang and Lamb 1980, 1983); and that positive social linkages had a strong favorable influence upon importers' origin country preferences (Renwick and Renwick 1988). Such results are consistent with those in social psychology that were reported above. Further, Yaprak and Parameswaran (1986) have related specific country image measures to a traditional product image scale, and Shimp and Sharma (1987) developed the CETSCALE specifically to measure ethnocentrism.

These studies provide preliminary evidence of nation-product image interactions but most were exploratory in nature or limited in scope. For instance, Wang and Lamb (1983) pre-classified 36 countries into economic, political, and cultural levels (three each), and respondents were asked only one question (willingness to buy) for each country/level combination. Further, the small amount of research makes it difficult to ascertain the role of various elements of national image where the findings of different studies differ. For example, unlike Wang and Lamb (1983), Crawford and Garland (1987) found that the perceived degree of political freedom in the origin country was not strongly tied to product evaluations. Clearly there is a need to measure perceptions across a fuller range of national image determinants, as Wang and Lamb note, and to relate these to a wider range of product attributes, such as those typically used in PCI research, in order to begin building a better understanding of the role of national image in product evaluations.

CONCEPTUALIZATION AND METHOD

In another study we examined the potential relationships between certain elements of national image and product evaluations based on a large international sample (Heslop, Papadopoulos, and Bamossy 1992). Building on the knowledge gained from that research, the present study focused on developing a more in-depth understanding of nation perceptions and how these may be related to product-based country-of-origin ones.

Study Design

The study was being developed in 1990 as the recent changes in Eastern Europe (EE) were unfolding (note: for convenience, "Eastern Europe" is used in this paper to include all former Soviet bloc countries, including the USSR, plus Yugoslavia and Albania). It was decided to use countries in that region as the target for analysis for two main reasons that are of special relevance to this research: Western consumers know little about these countries, and even less or nothing at all about their products.

The lack of detailed public information about communist countries during the Cold War had resulted in a Western view of EE as "an unknown and uniform mass" (Beracs and Papadopoulos 1990) on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. Although many researchers (e.g., Milosh 1973; Samli and Jermacowicz 1983; Knirsch 1984) had pointed to the growing similarities between nations across the East-West divide, stereotyped views of EE persisted even among buyers who are generally assumed to be more knowledgeable. For example, Chasin and Jaffe (1979, 1987) found uniformly poor views of EE products among U.S. industrial buyers, even though most respondents had had no business dealings in the region. In a later study of U.S. as well as Austrian buyers, who were more familiar with EE products, Chasin, Holzmuller and Jaffe (1989) found similar levels of negative bias in both groups and attributed it to "personal dogmatism" and the respondents' "attitudes toward the political and/or social systems of the countries" (p. 23).

The situation began to change over the past two years as the information flow about EE countries increased dramatically, but during the early stages of change the media continued to treat the region as a largely uniform entity characterized by a bankrupt political and economic system. This region, then, presented a unique opportunity to study the potential role of national image as a halo in product evaluations in a situation where consumers knew practically nothing about the latter and had only little, and largely undifferentiated, information about the former. Further, it was felt that a study at this time would enable us to obtain benchmark data for comparison with future research to be carried out as the East-West flow of information and products increases. Given the above, the following null hypotheses were formulated:

H1: There are no differences in the beliefs held about the different countries of EE.

H2: There are no differences in the beliefs held about products made in different EE countries.

H3: Consumer attitudes towards each EE country and its people will not be related to willingness to buy products from it.

H4: Consumer attitudes towards each EE country and its people will not be related to quality perceptions of its products.

Methodology

The study used a self-administered questionnaire, distributed by the drop-off/pick-up technique to a sample of adult consumers selected by area probability sampling from the Ottawa metropolitan area. The research instrument sought to determine the respondents' views of the target countries and their products using two separate scales of 7-point semantic differential (SD) items.

The country scale was developed systematically drawing from similar scales used in the social psychology and marketing studies mentioned above, including our own research. A complete list of all SD items (over 100 in total) used in past research was compiled first, and then 20 items were selected using five main criteria: unambiguous meaning; relevance to the marketing objectives of the research; extensive and cross-national use in previous studies, to ensure external validity and the ability to replicate the study in other cultures; consistent and high loadings on previously identified principal evaluation dimensions; and adequate representation of the cognitive, affective, and conative components of attitude. The product scale for each country comprised 16 SD items determined on the basis of our PCI research (Papadopoulos, Heslop, and Bamossy 1990), which has integrated and extended the findings of earlier country-of-origin studies.

The fieldwork was carried out in February, 1991. Six countries were selected for study: the five more advanced EE nationsCUSSR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and YugoslaviaCand France as a Western nation to be used for comparison. It should be noted that at that time, East Germany had ceased to exist as a political entity, the USSR had not yet been dissolved, and the changes in Yugoslavia had not yet begun. Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania were not included in order to keep the questionnaire to a reasonable size and because it was felt that consumers would know too little to express views about them. Given the large number of SD items, the research instrument would still be too long if each respondent had been asked to evaluate all six countries (36X6=216 SD items, plus demographics and other questions which are not dealt with here). Therefore, two questionnaire versions were created. Poland and Yugoslavia were included in Version 1, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in Version 2, and both versions included France (for comparison) and the USSR (because of its relative importance).

A total of 305 usable responses were obtained, representing a response rate of 62% and split evenly between the two versions (N1=152; N2=153). The sample closely matched the population's demographics in age and sex but was skewed towards slightly higher income and education levels. The country and product profiles of France and the USSR were compared using MANOVA and were not significantly different at a<.05. The demographic profiles of the two parts of the sample (for questionnaire Versions I and II) also were not significantly different. Therefore, responses for these two countries were combined where appropriate and any observed differences in views between Version 1- and Version 2-only countries are assumed not to be due to differences in questionnaire versions or the respective respondent sub-samples.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

National Image

Table 1.a. shows the mean ratings for each country on the national scale and compares France to the EE countries. Since familiarity and perceived similarity are consistently identified with attraction (Byrne and Nelson 1965; Hill and Stull 1981), France, as expected, received a significantly higher rating on 17 of the 20 items as well as overall. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that it received lower or equal ratings in comparison to one or more EE nations on six items: trustworthiness, peacefulness, hardworking people, and the conative scales concerning inter-country linkages (immigration, ties, investment).

The order of ratings for the other five countries was not as might have been hypothesized based on Tajfil's (1981) functional perception theory. For example, Hungary had enjoyed a somewhat free-er environment than its neighbors for a longer timeCyet it was rated lower than Czechoslovakia, which received the highest overall rating on 3 items (hardworking, immigration, investment) and the second-highest on 14. The Soviet Union received the lowest score on 14 out of 20 items and was rated lower overall than all countries including Yugoslavia. Yet the respondents stated that they know much less about the latter (2.24 vs. 3.26) and rated it significantly lower on such items as industrialization (3.85 vs. 4.30) and education (4.00 vs. 4.26).

To compare the image profiles of the EE countries among themselves, doubly multivariate analysis of variance [Doubly multivariate analysis if used when more than one variable is being measured across more than one treatment or occasion (Thomas 1983).[ was used for within-subjects observations (within each questionnaire version) and MANOVA for between-subjects observations. Rao's "F" approximation of Wilk's lambda was used as the test statistic. The results are summarized in Table 2.a. As can be seen, all six of the within-subjects and three of the four between-subjects profiles were significantly different at p<.001 and so null hypothesis H1 was rejected: respondents hold different views about the different EE countries. Tukey's confidence intervals were used to ascertain which of the variables contributed most to the profile differences. Table 2.b. summarizes the number of times each variable was significant. Overall, cognitive and affective variables related to a country's economy, political system, and culture contributed more than the conative variables, on which most EE nations received similar ratings.

Product Image

Table 1.b. shows the mean ratings for each country's products. Similarly with the nation scale, France had the highest rating both overall and on all individual SD items except one. Czechoslovakia received the second-highest rating on 14 out of the 16 variables, and the USSR received the lowest rating on 13. Unlike the nation scale, however, the distance between the means for France and the other countries was considerably greater and practically all differences between each of the EE countries and France were significant (including those on the item "inexpensive", where France received the lowest rating).

The product profiles were analysed using the same approach as for the nation scale. The relevant data are shown in Table 2 (a+b) above. Items referring to a product's market presence (see Papadopoulos, Heslop, and Bamossy 1990), such as recognizable brands, easy to find, and know a lot about, contributed much less to profile differences than variables related to the products themselves (e.g., innovative) and to consumers' responses to the complete product offering (e.g., satisfaction, proud to own). Although the proportion of different profiles was lower than for the nation scales, four of the six within-subjects and two of the four between-subjects comparisons were significantly different. Therefore, null hypothesis H2 was rejected: respondents hold different views about the products of different EE countries.

TABLE 1

NATION AND PRODUCT SCALE MEANS

Nation and Product Images Compared

Pearson product moment correlations were run to ascertain the association between country and product views, and multiple regression analysis was used to examine the extent to which the former can predict the latter. The items "Good overall products" and "Willingness to buy" were selected as the dependent variables. For the regressions, Stevens (1986) notes that it is wise to work with as small a set of predictors as possible relative to the number of observations, and recommends that about 15 respondents per predictor are needed to establish a reliable equation. Therefore, the nation scale was reduced using principal components analysis (VARIMAX rotation). Using the criterion of eigenvalue >1 and a minimum variable loading of .40, four main composite variables containing 11 of the 20 SD nation items were identified: Affiliation (ties, immigration, investment, like, trustworthy); Technical Advancement (industrialized, educated); Security (rich, stable); and Political Ideology (many rights, democratic).

TABLE 2

EE NATION AND PRODUCT DIFFERENCES

The correlations were run for all 20 individual SD items as well as the summary ratings of the four composite variables. They revealed a total of 45 significant relationships (the majority at .30 or greater) between the country variables and each of the two dependent variables for all six countries, or a total of 90 out of a maximum possible 288 [(20 + 4) X 6 countries X 2 dependent variables]. However, these were not evenly distributed across all tests. A considerably larger number of correlations were found for France (38 for both dependent variables) than for the EE nations (8-12/country). Further, Affiliation and the items loading on it were correlated with the dependent variables more frequently than any other composite or individual variable. In other words, affective (like, trustworthy) and conative (ties, immigration, investment) variables were more closely related to the dependent variables than cognitive items.

For the multiple regressions, 13 predictor variables were used (4 composite variables and the 9 remaining individual items). Given the sample size, reliable estimates could be obtained. The regression equations were generated using the "Stepwise" variable entry procedure in SPSSx (Stevens 1986). Regression coefficients were tested for significance using t-tests. The number of significant regression coefficients included in the equation ranged from one to three. For each of the dependent variables and all six countries, the R2 was significant (F<.05; see Table 3). Therefore, null hypotheses H3 and H4 were rejected: views of a country and its people are related to consumers' overall evaluations of the country's products and willingness to buy them.

The composite variable "Affiliation" was consistently the best predictor of consumer's willingness to buy a country's products. The item "active" was significant in three of the six regression equations predicting willingness to buy. For Polish products, its beta coefficient had a negative value. Further examination revealed that this item had a very low correlation with willingness to buy, and a strong correlation with Affiliation. Thus it was acting as a suppressor variable. Including it in the analysis allowed some of the variance on Affiliation to be partialled out. When this variance was suppressed, the remaining variance on Affiliation was more strongly tied to the dependent variable. The item "peaceful" acted as a suppressor in a similar fashion in the Yugoslavia regression. Suppressor variables can improve an equation's R2, but they themselves are not good predictors of the dependent variable under consideration (Stevens 1986).

TABLE 3

R-SQUARE AND INDEPENDENT VARIABLES FOR REGRESSIONS

Concerning the first dependent variable, overall product evaluations, Technical Advancement appeared in three equations as did the item "aligned (with Canada)". Affiliation and the items "ideal" and "hardworking" appeared in two equations. The composite variable Security and the item "Western culture" were suppressor variables in the multiple regression for Hungary.

IMPLICATIONS AND CONCLUSION

Although respondents stated that they know little about EE nations (Table 1), they evaluated them and their products as being significantly different from each other. France was perceived most positively overall. In previous research, the USSR had been rated higher or no differently than other EE nations (see Chasin, Holzmuller, and Jaffe 1987). This is in line with research in other regions showing that more developed countries are rated consistently higher than less developed ones (Nes 1981). Yet in this study the USSR received lower ratings than any other EE nation, including the less developed and less familiar Yugoslavia. Considering that the other EE countries were rated as quite similar to or only slightly below France on several affective and conative dimensions (including, for example, trustworthiness), and reform in the USSR has been lagging behind its neighbors (see, for instance, its ratings on the "democratic" and "many rights" items), it appears that liberalization in Eastern Europe has influenced consumer views very positively.

The differences among EE profiles were more pronounced for the nation than the product scales. For instance, Hungary, Poland, and Yugoslavia were perceived differently as countries but quite similar in terms of the products they produce. Nonetheless, both Czechoslovakia and the USSR were seen as significantly different on both scales, and from both France and the other EE nations. While many of these differences can be explained in terms of the political situation and the amount of information available to consumers for each country at the time of the study, the distinct and positive profile of Czechoslovakia, and its higher rating than Hungary, were somewhat puzzling. It is possible that other factors not examined in this study (e.g., memories of the 1968 uprising) influence consumer views about Czechoslovakia.

Concerning the second objective of the study, the findings suggest that nation image can predict product evaluations. Overall, nation items which tap the affective and conative aspects of attitude were found to be particularly strongly correlated to the product items. Some items bearing on economic development were also significantly related, while items measuring political orientation were poor predictors. It may well be that reforms in Eastern Europe have removed ideology as a consideration in respondents' views of countries in the region. It is particularly interesting to note that affect is even more closely related to willingness to buy than to overall product evaluation. It would appear that respondents are prepared to "assist" the newly democratic countries as they welcome them in from the cold.

Exporters from Eastern Europe (including Western companies investing there), as well as companies elsewhere that expect to face increasing competition from that region, will likely find these results of interest. Although the sample was drawn from only one North American city, the findings suggest that (a) products made in Eastern Europe and exported to the West may not be resisted by consumers (e.g., the mean rating on willingness to buy French and Czechoslovakian products differs by only one-half of a scale point); and, (b) their degree of potential success will vary significantly depending on the specific country in which they are made. Therefore, national images will need to be taken into account when selecting locations for investment within Eastern Europe and/or when preparing marketing strategies to support exports from that region. Further research may examine whether the views of this sample are shared by other Western consumers.

The findings of this study reflect the views of one sample about a limited set of nations and along a particular set of dimensions. Other studies may produce different results. It is possible, for example, that the relative importance of affective vs. cognitive variables would be different in evaluations of other nations and products, and that those evaluated here would be rated differently by samples in other consuming countries. Nonetheless, the findings support the halo hypothesis of country-of-origin effects and, more importantly, provide specific information on the dimensions of national images and how these may interact with consumers' evaluations of products, which is not often encountered in PCI research. Furthermore, it should be emphasized that the relatively higher importance of affect found in this research was also noted in our other study (Papadopoulos, Heslop, and Bamossy 1992), which examined the images of a distinctly different set of nations (Western industrial countries, such as the U.S., Japan, Sweden, and Canada).

Respondents in this study had practically no experience with the products being examined and yet differentiated among them based on the images held about the origin countries. Further research is needed to determine whether or not the pattern of association identified in our studies is unique to the countries examined, and there is a need for further testing and development of nation and product scales. As well, the emergence of East European countries as potentially significant global competitors merits continued investigation for which the present findings may serve as a useful benchmark.

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Authors

Nicolas Papadopoulos, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
Louise A. Heslop, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
David Bennett, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993



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