Perceptions of Western Products in Transforming Socialist Countries: the Moderating Role of Political Orientation

ABSTRACT - This paper proposes that, in the context of global marketing and consistent with well-known country-of-origin effects, the symbolic meanings of products associated with capitalism might affect the acceptance of Western brands by consumers of contrasting national identities who differ in political orientation. In particular, the authors examine the situation that occurred in East and West Germany just before the reunification of the two countries. They hypothesize that, at this moment in history, intentions to purchase Western brands should have been greater for West than for East Germans and for those more favorable toward reunification, but that this association between purchase intentions and reunificationism should have been more pronounced in the East than in the West. Data collected in July of 1990 - two months before the reunification that followed in October - support these hypotheses and thereby suggest that country-of-origin effects may depend upon political orientation and that this dependency may itself vary between different national identities.



Citation:

Nader T. Tavassoli, Lauren Goldberg Block, Bernd H. Schmitt, and Morris B. Holbrook (1993) ,"Perceptions of Western Products in Transforming Socialist Countries: the Moderating Role of Political Orientation", 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: 226-232.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 226-232

PERCEPTIONS OF WESTERN PRODUCTS IN TRANSFORMING SOCIALIST COUNTRIES: THE MODERATING ROLE OF POLITICAL ORIENTATION

Nader T. Tavassoli, Columbia University, New York, U.S.A.

Lauren Goldberg Block, New York University, New York, U.S.A.

Bernd H. Schmitt, Columbia University, New York, U.S.A.

Morris B. Holbrook, Columbia University, New York, U.S.A.

[The authors, listed in an arbitrary order, contributed equally to the development of this paper. Support from the Columbia Business School's Faculty Research Fund is greatly acknowledged.]

ABSTRACT -

This paper proposes that, in the context of global marketing and consistent with well-known country-of-origin effects, the symbolic meanings of products associated with capitalism might affect the acceptance of Western brands by consumers of contrasting national identities who differ in political orientation. In particular, the authors examine the situation that occurred in East and West Germany just before the reunification of the two countries. They hypothesize that, at this moment in history, intentions to purchase Western brands should have been greater for West than for East Germans and for those more favorable toward reunification, but that this association between purchase intentions and reunificationism should have been more pronounced in the East than in the West. Data collected in July of 1990 - two months before the reunification that followed in October - support these hypotheses and thereby suggest that country-of-origin effects may depend upon political orientation and that this dependency may itself vary between different national identities.

INTRODUCTION

Recent political and economic upheaval in Eastern Europe has plunged countries and their centralized economies into a path toward free market systems. This restructuring has resulted in an influx of foreign investments, the formation of joint ventures, and increased levels of trade with Western countries. Socialist countries in other parts of the world have also started to transform their centrally planned economies and have opened up their markets to goods from the capitalist West. Transitions of such scale are rare in the history of state economies and promise to have profound implications for consumer behavior.

This paper focuses on how consumers in a transforming socialist country may perceive consumer products produced by Western companies. We propose that perceptions of Western products and the symbolism attached to them are, in part, determined by consumers' political orientations. We test this hypothesis by examining the moderating role of political orientation on the country-of-origin effect in the context of the recent German reunification.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The opening of the Berlin Wall that occurred on November 9, 1989 marked the starting point for the rapid dismantling and thorough restructuring of the political and economic system in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). On March 18, 1990, a non-socialist government was democratically elected in East Germany; on July 1, the monetary and economic systems were merged. By October 3, 1990Cless than a year after the first cracks in the Wall had openedCGermany was unified.

Since its institution in 1949, the German Democratic Republic had followed the example of other socialist and communist regimes by largely insulating itself from the influx of consumer products originating in Western capitalist democracies and by restricting the travel of most East German citizens to neighboring socialist countries such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Thus, for most East German consumers, the opening of the border to the West led to a sudden access of a new variety of products. Conversely, for Western firms, the opening of the East meant an opportunity to offer their products and services to a large market previously unexplored by Western companies.

Questions arise concerning how consumers long accustomed to a political climate of anti-capitalism and a pervading ethos of economic scarcity would react to a sudden influx of materialistic choices supplied by democratic capitalist nations. Early signs, avidly reported by the Western media, suggested that East German consumers flooded across the borderCpartly out of curiosity, but primarily for the purpose of shopping. Some signals also appeared, however, that not all East Germans responded so warmly to the newly expanded shopping opportunities. As Schneider (1990) suggested, some East Germans seemed to be ". . . bothered by the coldness of a society founded on competition, by glitzy facades behind which there is nothing, by the general climate of harshness and materialism" (p. 44).

Given these contrasting views, it would be interesting to find out whether Western goods would be sought by Eastern consumers. Part of the answer might lie in the different perceptions of symbolic meanings of products and brands associated with the West by segments of consumers with different political orientations. In other words, political orientations might shape the direction or magnitude of country-of-origin effects. Specifically, country-of-origin effects are expected to reflect culture-bound product meanings associated with the role of consumption symbolism.

THE ROLE OF CONSUMPTION SYMBOLISM AND POLITICAL ORIENTATION

Previous researchers have documented the impact that country-of-origin exerts on the evaluation or acceptance of consumer products (e.g., Bilkey and Nes, 1982; Erickson, Johansson, and Chao, 1984; Hong and Wyer, 1989; Johansson and Thorelli, 1985). Research on this phenomenon has shown some tendency to favor products from one's own country in general and from Western as opposed to Eastern Europe in particular (Bilkey and Nes, 1982, p. 90). Thus, several studies have found a home-country advantage as well as a bias in favor of products from West Germany (e.g., Cattin, Jolibert, and Lohnes, 1982; Han and Terpstra, 1988; Johansson and Nebenzahl, 1986). However, with the exception of some scattered studies on the role of dogmatism and conservatism in country-of-origin effects (reviewed by Bilkey and Nes, 1982, p. 91), little attention appears to have focused on the possible influence that individual differences in psychographic characteristics might exert on the link between "made in" identifications and product evaluations or purchase intentions. In particular, it appears reasonable to assume thatCthough neglected in prior researchCpolitical orientations might work toward shaping the direction or magnitude of country-of-origin effects. In this connection, we would expect country-of-origin effects to reflect the sorts of culture-bound product meanings associated with the role of consumption symbolism.

Pursuing the early work by Levy and his colleagues on the phenomenon of "symbols for sale" (Levy, 1959), numerous consumer researchers have followed semioticians such as Morris (1946) and Peirce (Ransdell, 1977) by converging on the importance of symbolic consumer behavior grounded in the product-related meanings that infuse the consumption experience (Hirschman and Holbrook, ed. 1981). In a culture of consumption (McCracken, 1988), consumers respond not only to tangible function-related product attributes but also to the systems of meanings - the signs and symbols (Mick, 1986) - that surround the consumption experiences (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982) associated with material possessions (Belk, 1988) and embedded in the cultural or national character (Clark, 1990). Thus, consumers may evaluate, purchase, and consume products based on the cultural meaning of their symbolic content (Douglas and Isherwood, 1978; Sahlins, 1974; Zaltman and Wallendorf, 1979). Indeed, under certain circumstances, the symbolic meaning of a product may overpower its economic or physiological utility (Mason, 1981). This occurs, for example, in the well-known case of "ostentatious" spending (Smith, 1759) or "conspicuous" consumption (Veblen, 1899, ed. 1967). Further, such meanings may combine to inform the significance of other cultural artifactsCas when the interpretation of a film, a play, or some other artwork rests in part on its use of consumption symbolism (Holbrook and Grayson, 1986; Holbrook, Bell, and Grayson, 1989).

Tucker (1957) suggested that "there has long been an implicit concept that consumers can be defined in terms of either the products they acquire or use, or in terms of the meanings products have for them or their attitudes towards products" (p. 139). Moreover, the products purchased and consumed tend to reflect and influence the consumer's sense of personal identity. As William James (1890) argued long ago, a person's self includes "not only his body and psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands, and yacht and bank-account": "If they wax and prosper, he feels triumphant; if they dwindle and die away, he feels cast down" (pp. 291-292). Thus, both the physical environment (including our material possessions) and the social environment (including our family, our friends, our city, and our country) influence our self-image (the impression and status that we attribute to ourselves in the eyes of others). In brief, because possessions serve as important determinants of self-image, consumers will feel motivated to purchase positively valued products and to refrain from purchasing negatively valued products (Grubb and Grathwohl, 1967; Sirgy, 1982).

Similarly, because personal and generalized others influence self-perceptions, individuals should be motivated to seek participation in reference groups that are positively valued. Yet, most of the time, group membership is not a matter of choice but is relatively fixed. Individuals happen to belong to a group held low in prestige and deprecated or, conversely, to one held high in prestige and respected. Such a membership should result in a negative or positive social identity, respectively (Tajfel and Turner, 1985). Perhaps the primary reference group in which such associations manifest themselves for most consumers involves the family and its locus among the familiar set of objects that provide a surrounding sense of "home" (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981; Kron, 1983). However, according to Belk (1988), the extended self includes not only one's actual membership in a group such as the family at home but also a sense of Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft that affects how we relate to our country or nation (Toennies, 1957). On these grounds, we would expect that the image of a country or nation as a kind of "macro" reference group exerts analogous positive or negative effects on a person's identity.

If brands possess symbolic meanings connected with the national identity of one's extended self, then the essence of those meanings might well hinge on one's political orientation. In general, we might expect political orientations to shape country-of-origin effects; we might further expect national identities to moderate the nature of this shaping. In particular, we might expect attitudes toward the reunification of Germany (circa the Summer of 1990) to affect the responses of East German consumers to products from the West.

THE DIVERGING SIGNIFICANCES OF REUNIFICATION

In the fall of 1989, faced with the decline of the East German political system that had pervaded the last 45 years of their lives, most East Germans enjoyed little reason to feel triumphant about their Communist state, especially in light of its demonstrably poor economic performance. Most East Germans must have found their sense of national identity in an extreme state of flux and uncertainty. By the spring and summer of 1990, the issue of whether or not the two Germanys should be reunited had moved to the forefront of the political debate and now offered to the individual clear alternatives concerning the possibility of restructuring his or her sense of national identity. Specifically, the choice between two optionsCthat of forming one unified Germany with a common economic, monetary, and political system as opposed to that of retaining two countries with a common economic and monetary base under separate political systemsCnow dominated the political debate.

As the possibility of reunification became a reality, a pervasive ambivalence ran deep in the attitudes with which the West Germans regarded those from the EastCand vice versa. According to Schememann (1990c), West Germans regarded East Germans "with something of the condescension and irritation that a comfortable burgher might feel toward a poor relative come to stay" (p. 1). Meanwhile, the long-awaited unity had proved a mixed blessing for East Germans: "the open borders and West German marks have brought cars, travel and freedom, but they have also brought home the poverty of the East, and with it a loss of confidence" (Schememann 1990a, p. 14).

In short, with respect to the issue of reunification, like their neighbors in West Germany, East Germans seemed to split into two camps. On the one hand, a substantial number of East Germans clearly favored reunification under the capitalistic system of the democratic regime in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). On the other hand, many East German citizens showed concern over the precipitous developments of the past few months and felt more critical of a German reunification. In other words, some East Germans evinced a positive attitude toward reunification and a strong desire to belong to the West, perhaps to overcome some of the negative social stigma attached to being an East German citizen. By contrast, other East Germans demonstrated a desire to protect their national identity. The latter may have felt, as one expert put it, that "they escaped from an indigenous totalitarian regime only to slip into the clutches of an imported regime that's running them 'for their own good'" (Josef Joffe, quoted by Schememann 1990b, p. E3).

HYPOTHESES

In the context of the watershed events that transpired in Germany during the period between November 1989 and summer 1990, one might expect that the symbolic role of Western products for East Germans who did favor reunification might differ substantially from those who did not. By contrast, given the obvious economic underdevelopment of the East versus the West, one would expect no comparable tendency to appear among West Germans whoCwhatever their views on reunificationCwould presumably continue to purchase and to consume the Western products already associated with their advanced state of material comfort and its surrounding cultural identity. In other words, the sudden availability of Western productsBassociated with a host of hitherto unavailable choicesBshould pose a kind of identity crisis for East Germans. Under such circumstances, those East Germans in favor of reunification with West Germany should show more favorable predispositions toward consumer products from the West. Conversely, East Germans who were more cautious about reunification with West GermanyCby virtue of being motivated to protect their sense of identity as East GermansBshould show less inclination to purchase Western brands of consumer products.

For West Germans, on the other hand, conditions had not changed so drastically. Unlike the East, national identity in the West had not been challenged by being flooded with Eastern products. Although many West Germans had strong feelings about the issue of reunification, one would not expect these attitudes to affect their intentions to purchase Western products (which should have remained high for all West Germans in light of the clear inferiority of competing merchandise from the East). Hence, we would not expect the relationship between pro-reunificationistic attitudes and intentions to purchase Western brands for West German consumers.

Three hypotheses are proposed:

H1 - West as opposed to East Germans should have stronger intentions to purchase Western brands;

H2 - Pro- as opposed to anti-reunificationists should have stronger intentions to purchase Western brands;

H3 - The relationship between pro-reunificationism and intention to purchase Western brands should be positive for East Germans but not for West Germans.

Of these three hypotheses, the third appears most important to the purpose of the present study. It posits a slope shift in the relationship between pro-reunificationism and intention to purchase Western brands such that this relationship should be positive for East Germans but not for West Germans.

OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY

Data to test these hypotheses were collected in July of 1990Ca time when the monetary and economic systems of the two countries had already been merged but when no official decision had yet been made on whether or not to form one German nation. Western products were already widely available on the market in East Germany and could be purchased as freely as East German products. (In West Germany, of course, East German products remained largely unavailable, primarily because they were not considered to be desirable by the customers in that market and therefore did not represent a viable business opportunity attractive to West German importers.) Therefore, our two samples could be meaningfully compared with respect to their purchase intentions toward Western brands (but not with respect to those toward products from the East). Since economic and monetary constraints had already been mitigated, purchase intentions could be taken to reflect reunificationistic or symbolic meanings. As previously noted, this comparison reflects a concern long neglected in studies on country-of-origin effectsCnamely, a focus on the role of political orientation in shaping consumer responses toward products. Specifically, it addresses the moderating effect of national identity on the relationship between reunificationism and the propensity to consume brands from the West.

METHOD

Respondents

Data for this study were collected during the month of July, 1990. The sample consisted of students at the Humboldt UniversitSt in East Berlin (the East Germans) and at the UniversitSt Hamburg (the West Germans). These respondents provided 156 usable questionnaires (that is, complete sets of answers with no missing data): 66 from East Germans and 90 from West Germans. Of the East Germans, 25 were female and 41 male, with ages ranging from 19 to 33 years old (median = 24). Of the West Germans, 31 were female and 59 male, with an age range from 20 to 35 years (median = 23). Hence, the sex and age distributions were closely comparable between the two subsamples, though they cannot be taken as representative of the general population in East and West Germany.

Common with other studies on country-of-origin effects (e.g., Johansson, Douglas, and Nonaka, 1985), no claim is made concerning the national representativeness of the sample. Therefore, no inferences are made on issues such as the overall intention to purchase Western brands among the general populations of East or West Germans. Rather, the purpose of this research is to examine differences in relationships found within and between citizens of the two countries. In this connection, when comparing respondents from the East and West, as argued by Johansson, Douglas, and Nonaka, (1985), it helps that subsamples "constitute relatively comparable populations in the two countries in terms of socioeconomic characteristics, such as education and social background, which might affect evaluations" (p. 390).

Questionnaire

Respondents were asked to fill out a questionnaire on consumer behavior. This questionnaire was divided into two major parts: (1) measurement of respondents' purchase intentions toward Western brands in 12 product categories and (2) measurement of respondents' attitudes toward German reunification.

Western Intentions Index (WII). On the first page of the questionnaire, respondents indicated their purchase intentions for 12 Western European brands in product categories to be bought for their own personal usage during the year 1991. First, they read the following instructions:

In the given column, please indicate the probability of buying each particular brand in 1991. Give the probability as a percentage between 0% and 100%. The higher the percentage you give, the more likely it is that you will purchase the brand in 1991 for personal use; 0% means that you are sure not to purchase it at all, and 100% means that you are certain to purchase the brand (translated from the German).

Then, the respondents indicated their purchase intentions for each brand as a probabilistic likelihood ranging from 0% to 100%. The 12 brands (and product categories) are:

Eduscho (coffee)

Pelikan (fountain pen)

Tobler (chocolates)

Boss (sweater)

Blaupunkt (car radio)

Omo (detergent)

Telefunken (television set)

Swatch (watch)

Blend-A-Med (toothpaste)

Nivea (sun-tan lotion)

Becks (beer)

Bassermann (canned vegetables)

All brands are popular brands in West Germany. All except two (Tobler and Swatch from Switzerland) are actually produced in West Germany. To encourage respondents to focus on the symbolic meanings of Western brands, we asked them to report their intentions toward the particular brand listed rather than toward the product category as a whole. In other words, respondents were asked to assume that they would make at least one purchase within each product category and to estimate the likelihood of choosing the relevant Western brand:

Please note that we are interested in your purchase of a given brand...and not of the product category...in general. In case you are not interested in the purchase of a product...we would like you to pretend that you will purchase the product...and to give the likelihood that it will be the particular brand of interest (translated from the German).

After exploring the dimensionality of the 12 purchase intentions by means of principal components analysis and assessing their reliability as a single scale by means of coefficient alpha, we used the factor scores of the first principle component as an index of overall purchase intentions toward Western brands. In what follows, we shall refer to this 12-item measureCour key dependent variableCas the Western Intentions Index or WII.

Pro-Reunificationism Index (PI). On the second page of the questionnaire, respondents completed a set of eight items intended to assess their attitudes toward reunification. Items consisted of pro- or anti-reunification statements (four of each type) accompanied by seven-point scales of agreement running from "I do not agree at all" (1) to "I agree completely" (7). The eight statementsCtranslated from the GermanCwere as follows:

(1) I am clearly in favor of reunification.

(2) In the next election, I shall vote for a party that is active in trying to achieve reunification.

(3) The process of reunification should not be hastened.

(4) The thought of German reunification makes me uncomfortable.

(5) Reunification should be one of the foremost goals of contemporary politics.

(6) Reunification would not solve most of the existing problems.

(7) The thought of German reunification makes me happy and proud.

(8) I believe that there are better political alternatives to German reunification.

After reverse coding the responses to statements 3, 4, 6, and 8 so that all items would reflect a positive attitude toward reunification, the eight relevant scores were summed to create an index of pro-reunificationism. Again, the unidimensionality of the eight reunificationism items was examined via principal components analysis, and the reliability of the eight-item Pro-Reunificationism Index or PI was assessed by means of Cronbach's alpha, as reported in the results section.

Miscellaneous. The questionnaire also contained a manipulation of the popularity (higher versus lower) attributed to the various Western brands and to various consumer activities in the two Germanys (East versus West). However, it turned out that the popularity-related treatments and the activity measures showed no significant or otherwise important main or interaction effects of any sort whatsoever. Accordingly, we will not discuss these issues further in the present paper.

Analysis

The three hypotheses were tested by using a regression analysis in which the Western Intentions Index or WII was regressed on three key independent variables:

(1) WE (a dummy variable, representing national identity, coded -1 for East Germans and +1 for West Germans);

(2) PI (the aforementioned eight-item Pro-Reunificationism Index, scored in a positive direction for those favoring reunification);

(3) PxW (a multiplicative term - PxW = PI x WE - representing the interaction of pro-reunificationism with national identity such that a negative coefficient for this term indicates a slope shift in which the effect of PI on WII for East Germans is reduced or reversed in direction for West Germans).

In short, the OLS regression of WII on WE, PI, and PxW provides tests of H1 (a significant positive regression coefficient for WE), H2 (a significant positive regression coefficient for PI), and H3 (a significant negative regression coefficient for PxW).

RESULTS

Reliability and Integrity of Indices

Pro-Reunificationism Index. Reliability for the 8-item Pro-Reunificationism Index was satisfactory: alpha = 0.88. All eight item-total correlations were positive (ranging from 0.37 to 0.84) with no indication that alpha could be meaningfully improved by the elimination of any item. Further, as assessed by principal components analysis, the Pro-Reunificationism Index appeared to be unidimensional. After the extraction of the first component, eigenvalues declined precipitously: 4.49, 1.02, 0.71, 0.51, 0.45, etc. All eight items loaded on this first component in the right direction, with loadings greater than 0.49 in all cases and greater than 0.75 for all but two items (mean loading = 0.74).

Western Intentions Index. As assessed by coefficient alpha, the reliability of the 12-item Western Intentions Index appeared marginally adequate with alpha = 0.66 (by the standards for exploratory research prepared by Nunnally, 1978, p.245). All 12 item-total correlations were positive (ranging from .15 to .40), with no indication that alpha could be improved by the elimination of any item.

For the present purposes, as explored by principal components analysis, the unidimensionality of the 12 Western intentions also appeared marginally adequate. A weak "elbow" in the eigenvalues appeared after the extraction of the first component: 2.53, 1.41, 1.24, 1.12, 1.03, etc. All 12 product-related items loaded positively on this first component, with loadings greater than 0.26 in all cases and greater than 0.40 in all but three cases (mean loading = 0.45).

Given the value of these findingsCto protect the unidimensionality of the WII measureCwe used scores on the first principle component (by definition, uncorrelated with the other dimensions) as a measure of WII for all subsequent analyses.

Hypothesis Tests

The regression analysis produced a moderately strong and highly significant overall fit: R = 0.40 (F = 9.31, p<0.0001). The OLS regression results for the three hypotheses are shown in Table 1.

H1. A significant positive effect of WE on WII (t = 3.76, p < 0.0005) was observed. This effect suggests that West Germans exceeded East Germans in their intentions to purchase Western brands, thereby conforming to the "home-country" advantage that has often appeared in previous research on country-of-origin effects.

TABLE 1

RESULTS OF REGRESSING WII AND WE, PI AND (PxW)

FIGURE 1

THE EFFECT OF PRO-REUNIFICATIONISM ON INTENTIONS TO PURCHASE WETSERN BRANDS FOR EAST VERSUS WEST GERMANS

H2. There was a positive relationship between PI and WII (t = 2.75, p < 0.01). This relationship suggests that, in general, those higher in Pro-Reunificationism intended more to buy brands from the West. Hence, as expected, political orientation is associated with this aspect of national stereotyping.

H3. Table 1 also shows a significant PxW interaction effect on WII (t = -2.56, p = 0.01). Indeed, the coefficient for this interaction effect almost exactly cancels that for the Pro-Reunificationism effect (-0.016 versus 0.017). Hence, the positive relationship between Pro-Reunificationism and the Western Intentions Index that occurred for East Germans (where 0.017 + 0.016 = 0.033) almost completely disappeared for West Germans (where 0.017 - 0.016 = .001). This result appears graphically in Figure 1. It implies that, national identity strongly moderates the effect of political orientation on the positive stereotyping of Western brands. In the East, Pro-Reunificationism contributes positively toward the propensity to purchase brands of Western origin; but, in the West, no such relationship appears. Thus, as hypothesized in H3, the results for H2 are specific to East Germans. In sum, figure 1 shows that intention to purchase Western brands depended positively on Pro-Reunificationism among the East Germans, but that this relationship disappeared among the West Germans. This result clearly supports H3.

DISCUSSION AND LIMITATIONS

The results of this field studyCconducted at a crucial moment during the political development toward German reunificationCindicate that attitudes of East Germans toward reunification had an influence on their intentions to purchase Western brands. However, no such relationship appeared for the West German respondents. These results suggest that Western brands carried symbolic political associations for East Germans that were either positively or negatively valued, depending on whether the respondent felt favorably inclined toward becoming part of the West via reunification as opposed to feeling concerned about protecting his or her identity as an East German citizen.

The fact that the research design employs a test based on correlation rather than experimental manipulation prevents us from establishing that the relationship among East Germans between pro-reunificationism and the index of Western intentions shows causality. One might claim, for example, that the flow of causality moved in the opposite directionCnamely, that unfulfilled consummatory desires determined political orientations toward reunification. However, though such an alternative hypothesis provides an interesting competing explanation, we believe thatCgiven the timing and location of our studyCit runs counter to reasonable inferences based on the conditions then prevailing. Specifically, the study was conducted at a moment when a government had been democratically elected in East Germany with mostly non-socialist and non-communist representatives. The Eastern and Western economies and monetary systems had been merged, and there was free access to the WestCespecially from East Berlin, where our data were collected. Moreover, in our research, we asked respondents to state their intentions toward brands within product categories rather than toward the product categories themselves and asked them to imagine that they would purchase some brand within each category. Unfulfilled consumption desires might be correlated with higher product-category purchase intentions, but they would be unlikely to affect intentions at the brand level. For these reasons, it appears that the alternative hypothesis of reverse causality fails the test of plausibility.

An important area for future research is to extend the generalizability of the findings. Perhaps, the timing of the studyCa highly turbulent and uncertain situation regarding the future of the nations, especially in the EastCcould have sensitized Eastern respondents and thus inflated results. Or perhaps, by now, all East Germans have surrendered the anti-reunificationistic vestiges of their national identity and have fully accepted brands imported from the West. On the other hand, it may be possible that some traces of the old Eastern loyalties remain, as some "still say drueben, meaning 'over there,' when they talk about the West...(and)...still say 'our country' when they talk about the East" (Fisher, 1991, p. 2).

In the same vein, whether this phenomenon is specific to the situation in Germany or generalizable to other transforming socialist societies is another empirical question that must await a full answer. There is reason to believe, however, that other societies in Eastern Europe may contain consumer segments that are divided about their national identity. For example, a survey conducted in the Russian republic in the summer of 1991 showed that, while 81 percent of Yeltsin backers said they favored independence for the Russian republic, only 41 percent of those who continued to be loyal to the Communists did so (Albright and Kohut, 1991): "There is a parallel pattern when it comes to efforts to establish a free market economy; only a minority of party supporters approve" but "nearly two-thirds of Mr. Yeltsin's adherents say they favor these steps" (p. A21). Interestingly, Yeltsin backers are younger, live in cities, are better educated and earn more rubles (Albright and Kohut, 1991).

From a practical perspective, this study suggests that managers targeting consumers in transforming socialist countries should not necessarily use an undifferentiated approach but need to be sensitive to consumer subsegments in those societies. Political orientation or national identity appears to be an important additional variable that marketers need to assess for their target markets. In fact, the target markets themselves could be defined as those consumer segments that are favorable towards Western products. As with the Yeltsin backers, it may be possible to identify consumer segments along demographic variables. The target market's composition can then determine whether to highlight or downplay a product's country of origin for advertising, point-of-purchase materials, packaging, and so on in general, or whether to use a differentiated approach for different advertising media or rural versus urban areas. For example, it might happen that those with a sympathetic political orientation can be targeted using certain magazines. Such a media strategy might help to increase receptivity to brands imported from the West.

Moreover, because products produced in capitalist societies carry specific symbolic meanings associated with capitalism, marketers should fully research and understand these associations so as to incorporate positive meanings in their branding and communication strategies. Finally, as suggested earlier, it seems plausible to assume that the rapid pace of transformations that occur in the political and economic arena may result in equally dramatic changes in consumers' lives and may therefore produce transient attitudes that must be monitored over time.

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Authors

Nader T. Tavassoli, Columbia University, New York, U.S.A.
Lauren Goldberg Block, New York University, New York, U.S.A.
Bernd H. Schmitt, Columbia University, New York, U.S.A.
Morris B. Holbrook, Columbia University, New York, U.S.A.,



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993



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