Country Image: a Reflection of the Significance of the Other

ABSTRACT - In this study we explore new dimensions of country images by making use of theory and method new to the marketing literature on this topic. Self identity theory provides a conceptual framework for interpreting country images as they are conveyed in a longitudinal text analysis of newspaper articles. Cross country variation in degree of: a) awareness of the other country; b) analytical versus descriptive content; d) complexity of coverage; f) self- and other-anchoring of content; d) involvement in the other country; and e) depth of content reflect the significance of the other country to the observer. Transnational and collective identities between nations can be evoked on pan-cultural values and issues.


Ingeborg Astrid Kleppe and Lena Mossberg (2005) ,"Country Image: a Reflection of the Significance of the Other", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, eds. Geeta Menon and Akshay R. Rao, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 295-301.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, 2005     Pages 295-301


Ingeborg Astrid Kleppe, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration

Lena Mossberg, Gothenburg University


In this study we explore new dimensions of country images by making use of theory and method new to the marketing literature on this topic. Self identity theory provides a conceptual framework for interpreting country images as they are conveyed in a longitudinal text analysis of newspaper articles. Cross country variation in degree of: a) awareness of the other country; b) analytical versus descriptive content; d) complexity of coverage; f) self- and other-anchoring of content; d) involvement in the other country; and e) depth of content reflect the significance of the other country to the observer. Transnational and collective identities between nations can be evoked on pan-cultural values and issues.


Despite the fact that geographical source of origin has become a key issue in international trade regulations (; www.europa...s_origin/rules; Dimara and Skuras 2003), marketing research on how to understand and measure a country’s image in a target market is not well developed. In the marketing literature it appears that the concept of country image is defined like product or corporate images. In the Handbook of Marketing Scales (Bearden and Netemeyer 2000) there are two country image scales. That proposed by Martin and Eroglu defines country image as "a total of all descriptive, inferential, and informational beliefs about a particular country" (Martin and Eroglu 1993, p. 60). Parameswaran and Pisharodi’s country of origin scale uses the following definition: "Country of origin image refers to buyers’ opinions regarding the relative qualities of goods and services produced in various countries" (Parameswaran and Pisharodi 1994, p. 44). Martin and Eroglu’s (1993) country image scale is refined into 13 items representing political, economic and technological factors. The Parameswaran and Pisharodi (1994) scale contains 12 country image items that reflect interaction facets (perceptions of political, cultural, and economic similarity to source country) and people facets measuring perceptions of characteristics of the people of the source country. Both scales were developed from extensive literature searches, expert panels and pilot surveys among consumers. However, they are reduced and purified to a level where the scales largely contain generic, descriptive or factual items.

Moreover, both scales have been developed in a single country setting (the USA). When testing their country image scales in different target markets, Parameswaran and Pisharodi (1994) found that, while the number of facets for each country was generally stable, items constituting a facet were "country dependent", a finding that they argue is a weakness in the use of standardized country image scales. Usunier (1997) claims that existing marketing research in different cultural contexts should encourage feedback from the informant on cultural adequacy, even as regards the instruments used and the types of questions asked. Cross-national studies and increased cultural sensitivity are crucial in developing tools for international marketing research and practice (Roth 1995; Nakata and Sivakumar 2001; Usunier 1997).

Marketing researchers are also concerned over the dominant sales orientation in promotional campaigns for country images (Jaffe and Nebenzahl 2001; Therkelsen 1999). A country’s identity and image cannot be defined or controlled by a singular actor, whether public or private (Beckett 2000), and lack of interest in the images that already exist in the target market is seen as a major reason why there are severe problems in implementing country image promotions.

Hence, in this study we have adopted a market oriented perspective, studying country images in the target markets where the images occur. First, we have extended the literature search on country image to other disciplines with long traditions in the study of perceptions of other countries. Second, we use the news media as a data source to explore dimensions of country images. The news media are significant cultural and political image makers (Jansson 2001) and are frequently used as a data source for studies of public images of gender (Kahn 1993). Finally, multinational data from this rich data source allow us to explore and compare cross-country variation in country images.


Organizing people in multiple nations presupposes perceptions of "us" versus "them" based on nationality (Todorow 1993), and in order to define an "us" (who we are), we use information about other peoples and nations. Our interdisciplinary review of studies that deal with perceptions of other countriesBin political philosophy (Todorow 1993), political science (Byrsk, Parsons and Holtz 2002; Wendt 1994), tourism ethnography (Galani-Moutafi 2000), and social psychology (Hopkins and Murdoch 1998; Peabody 1985; Phalet and Poppe 1997)Bsuggests three important aspects of country images that add value to the marketing literature.

First, these texts see images or perceptions of other countries as reflections of the image holder’s self-identity and self-interests in relation to the other country. Concepts of self and the Other from social behaviorism (Mead 1967) and reflexive anthropology (Galani-Moutafi 2000) provide new insights into how to understand country images. The social interactionist perspective has long traditions in social psychology and states that we cannot develop a self without some level of knowledge of or interaction with the Other (Mead 1967) and that "our image of our fellow men, the way in which we see each other, is the basis of all relations between man" (Ichheiser 1940, p.287). In contemporary anthropology the self-reflexive perspective is used to explain how we as travelers, tourists, and business people, use our international experience and contacts to develop our self-consciousness (Galani-Moutafi 2000). In many ways we learn more about ourselves than about the Other through our experience with other people and nations. As a consequence we look at the Other from the perspective of our self-interests (ibid.).

Degree of significance of the other group determines how we define our self-interests in our relations with the Other. In some situations we are dependent on another nation for our well-being; hence the significance of the Other is very high and we will be more involved in the process of defining our self-interests in the relationship (Wendt 1994; Phalet and Poppe 1997). On the other hand, when the Other has low significance to the self, the involvement in the Other will also be lower (Phalet and Poppe 1997). The significance of the Other is defined according to potential for influence over self (Woelfel and Haller 1971). Significant others usually belong to a group we identify with, such as family and close friends, while people with whom we have limited interaction are considered as out-groups (ibid.). Of all the categories relevant for self and Other definition the category of "the nation is perhaps the most politically significant" (Hopkins and Murdoch 1998). However, national identities and images are at the social level. Social identity implicates a depersonalized perception of the in-group (Yuki 2003) or out-group and inter-group comparisons are a key source of identification. Social or collective categorization is defined in terms of prototypical properties that are perceived to be shared among depersonalized members of a group. Based on the above we propose that

P1: Degree of awareness of and interest in another country is a function of the significance of the other country to the observer

A second topic in the extended literature study is a discussion of qualitative aspects in perceptions of another countryBe.g. stereotypes, prejudice, morality, and ethnocentrism (Peabody 1985; Phalet and Poppe 1997). Evidence suggests that stereotypical and self-anchored perceptions of another nation and people are inversely related to knowledge of and interest in the other nation or people (Peabody 1985; Phalet and Poppe 1997). There is a general tendency for national in-group judgments to be relatively favorable compared to national out-group judgments and for out-group judgments to exaggerate the homogeneity within a group (Peabody 1985). National out-group judgments tend to be less stereotypical when there is a recognized familiarity with the national group being judged. Simplistic stereotypical perceptions of people from other nations are most prevalent under conditions of unrecognized unfamiliarity with the out-group (ibid.).

In their study of six Eastern European countries, Phalet and Poppe (1997) find that in-groups tend to be judged according to competence while out-groups are judged according to morality. Specifically, perceptions of competence and morality in national stereotypes were associated with perceived balance of power and conflict of interest between national groups. Potential interaction between an observer and a source of origin country motivates the observer to define both self-interests and the Other’s intended goals (ibid.).

Judgments of another nation can be informed or uninformed, analytical or superficial, empathetic or emotional versus distant and detached. Hence we propose that

P2: Qualitative content of the image of another country is related to the observer’s involvement with, relational interest in, and knowledge of the other nation

Moreover, national identities are dynamic and vary according to situation and issue (Wendt 1994). A third topic from the interdisciplinary literature review that has great relevance for studies of country images is the discussion of transnational and collective identities between people and nations (Todorow 1993; Wendt 1994; Brysk et. al. 2002). Typical transnational issues are concerns about human rights, the spread of democratic institutions, and environmental issues (Wendt 1994). A recent cross-national study finds that there is a striking degree of consensus across individuals and societies on certain basic values (Schwartz and Bardi 2001). Three top pan-cultural norms/values are: 1) Preservation of cooperative and supportive relations among members of a society; 2) motivation to invest in the time and physical and intellectual effort needed to perform productive work; and 3) support for the individual to the extent that group norms are not undermined (ibid.). Identities based on transnational issues can be anchored both in transnational value systems and in international institutions that constitute contexts for interaction between nations (e.g. the UN, EU, and World Wildlife Fund).

Historically and culturally anchored collective identities between nations can also take the form of deep and complex familial ties. Brysk et al.(2002) use a family metaphor to interpret the relationship between former European colonial powers and their former colonies. The family metaphor provides an important key to understanding how such relationships are reproduced and sustained: "In contrast to other metaphors describing international relations like 'partners’ and 'enemies’, the family metaphor constructs post-colonial relationships as domestic, paternalistic and dedicated to reproduction" (ibid., pp. 273-274). The continued acceptance of interventions in former colonies by colonial powers cannot be explained by rational criteria alone. Like other families, familial ties between nations can be both complex and antagonistic, but interestingly, close relationships tend to persist in spite of relational strains. Based on this discussion we propose that

P3: Country images can be based on transnational identities and issues that represent convergence of values across nations and on collective identities between countries that have multiple historically anchored familial ties (e.g. ethnic, geographic, linguistic)

The above propositions add new dimensions to the understanding and analysis of country images in the marketing literature. As a consequence, country images must be interpreted on the basis of the relationship and interests that an image holder has with the country that is being judged.


Newspapers as a Data Source for Exploring Country Images

Countries are constantly subjected to media attention. Evidence suggests that the news media in particular influence our pictures of the world, have a crucial gate-keeping role in the dissemination of information, and have the ability to set the public agenda on important issues (McCombs and Gilbert 1986). In foreign affairs, of which most people have no firsthand experience, the news media have a near monopoly as an information source and hence their impact on public opinion is considerable (ibid.). Therefore the news media suggest themselves as an important data source for exploring country associations in a target market. There are three concerns that are relevant for this study. First, to capture the dynamics and structural elements of country images, longitudinal data are needed. Second, since the news media in each target market operate more or less independently, a cross-country design is necessary in order to capture variation in country images across target markets. Third, we need access to media sources that provide longitudinal and cross-country data.

We chose newspapers as a data source since they have databases that can generate complete lists of what has been written on a certain keyword-such as the name of a country-over a certain period of time. In addition to the practical concerns, analysis of newspaper articles can give insights into existing attitudes in the population (Kahn 1994).

Design of Study

Country sample. The export/source country, Norway, can be regarded as a typical country, representing many small countries with minor roles in the world economy and politics. Such countries seldom appear on the global media agenda and therefore have a shared interest in increasing public awareness in important export markets (Olins 1999). The sample of target/import countries-Sweden, France, and Japan-was designed to achieve maximum variation in the degree to which Norway would be a significant Other country. Economic relations, and cultural and geographical proximity were used as sampling criteria. To Sweden, Norway can be considered a significant Other or 'brother country' due to long historical ties and extensive cultural, political and economic relations. Historically, Sweden has been the dominating party in the relationship and it is only one hundred years since Norway gained independence from 90 years of union with Sweden. Imports from Norway constitute approximately 8% of total Swedish imports (, making Norway a significant trade partner to Sweden. Extensive political and cultural collaboration between the two countries takes place in the Nordic Council of Ministers ( and the two countries are very similar on cultural dimensions (Hofstede 2001). The other target country-France-also has historical ties to Norway, e.g. the Viking influence on Normandy (van Houts 1995) and the Norwegian role in the European resistance movement during the Second World War (Stafford 1975). However, Norway's position as a non-member of the EU excludes Norway from a very important international arena for France, thereby defining Norway as an out-group nation. Moreover, imports from Norway constitute less than 2% of total French imports ( and the two countries are very different on Hofstede's (2001) power distance dimension. To Japan, Norway has little significance either culturally or economically. Norway scores the opposite of Japan on all of Hofstede's four dimensions (ibid.) and Norway only accounts for 0.5% of Japan's imports from other countries ( While imports and exports between the countries are fairly balanced in the Swedish case, both France and Japan are much more important to Norway than vice versa. With reference to the above, the country sample gives us the opportunity to compare one country's image in three target markets with very different relations to the source country, covering the range of relationships from very significant to insignificant Other.

Sample of newspaper articles. For each target country, the national newspaper with the highest market coverage and the leading business newspaper were selected: Le Monde and Les Echos were selected for France, Asahi and NIKKEI for Japan, and Dagens Nyheter and Dagens Industri for Sweden. Since images are typically developed over time (McCombs and Gilbert 1986), we searched the databases for all newspaper articles about the source country over a two-year period (August/September 1998 to August /September 2000). [The NIKKEI online search engine only provides articles for the past twelve months from the search date. The search period for NIKKEI is therefore Oct. 1999-Oct. 2000.] The search keyword was the name of the source country, which produced a list of articles where Norway was mentioned in the headline or in the text. The criterion for including an article was the degree to which it provided relevant and substantive information for further in-depth analysis. Applying these procedures, we ended up with final sample of 412 newspaper articles from the three target countries.

The operations of semiotic content analysis consist in classifying the signs occurring in a communication into a set of appropriate categories that provides means of testing propositions which state a relationship between a communicator's environment and the kinds of signs which occur in his communication (Lasswell 1949). A basic requirement of any procedure is that the results have a high degree of reliability. However, semantic content analysis will -always have elements of subjectivity since the task is to attribute meanings and psychological properties to the signs (ibid.). Since a text is not an objective thing, knowing the culture and context within which it is written becomes essential (Manning and Cullum-Swan 1994). While it is possible to specify the ideal basis for textual analysis, such procedures are usually not fully feasible in practice (Peabody 1985). Being aware of possible fallacies, we developed thorough recording and coding procedures to secure maximum inter-rater reliability of the analysis.

The content analysis consisted of several stages and was conducted by three two-person country teams with extensive knowledge of each target country's culture and political climate. The aim was to capture traits and signs as well as patterns of information that provided us with an understanding of the character of country images conveyed in the newspaper texts. The first task was to agree on a system for categorizing the articles according to words, topics/ themes, and characteristics, which are the basic units of analysis in content analysis (Berelson 1971). Based on a review of existing country image scales (Echtner and Ritchie 1993; Martin and Eroglu. 1993; Parameswaran and Pisharodi 1994) and the first inspection of the newspaper articles, we obtained a master list of topics (See Table A- I in the Annex). Organizing message content according to topics and subtopics provided us with a common structure for the data across the target countries and an overview of the descriptive content, as well as the type and breadth of the media coverage.

In the next stage article texts were analyzed and coded according to qualitative content. Manifest content would be such indicators as awareness (frequency of coverage), analytical versus descriptive, holistic versus attribute-based, and complex versus simplistic content of the media texts. Dimensions such as self-Other anchoring, degree of involvement, and depth of coverage constitute latent characteristics of the media content. This analysis was done in three stages. First, two individual coders identified dimensions, indicators, and attributes for each target country. Next they discussed their findings to ensure inter-rater reliability for each target country. After this exercise the three country teams agreed on a common structure and operational definitions that captured the media content across the three target countries. The attributes and operational definitions are depicted in Table A- I in the Annex. Finally all the information was recorded in three data-bases for each target country that enabled us to conduct cross-country comparative analyses.


There was substantive variation in the media coverage of the source country in the three target markets that suggests variation in the degree of: 1) awareness and breadth of knowledge of the other country (Keher 1993; Peabody 1994); 2) self-Other anchoring of the media coverage of the other country (Phalet and Poppe 1997; Wendt 1994); 3) involvement in the other country (Byrsk et al. 200 1; Wendt 1994); and 4) complexity and depth in perceptions of the other country (Galani-Moutafi 2000).

The Swedish newspapers had high awareness of Norway, covering both major and minor domestic events on a daily basis. The broad coverage reflects the close relationship and shared interests between the two countries. However, the self-Other anchoring of the media content varied across issues. Sometimes an empathetic concern with the well-being of the source country was predominant while self-interests were evident in other instances, particularly in economic matters. Disappointment and anger were expressed very explicitly in the business newspaper when efforts to merge Norwegian and Swedish businesses failed. Norwegians were accused of being racists (Dagens Industri, 01.24.00), and of not sharing their wealth with their neighbors and national relative. Interestingly, the outburst of disappointment and anger did not create long-term hostility between the two countries (see Byrsk et. al 2001). In another type of country-to-country relation it would most likely have caused substantial problems if the press or politicians accused the other country of being racists. The Swedish image of Norway seems to be robust and based on deeply anchored collective identities due to shared history. Contradictions and complexities of the Other's character came across in expressions of respect and disrespect, love and hate, and in the continuous daily flow of information on a wide range of topics.



The media content in the French newspapers relating to Norway was predominantly framed according to French self interests and was therefore rather selective in terms of topics that received attention. However, the content was usually thorough mediating analytical and complex knowledge. The French national newspaper, Le Monde, describes Norway as a country with high integrity on transnational issues such as peace and environmental concerns. Norway is also perceived as having high standards in its social organization and legal system. The articles on politics, society, and economy can be seen in light of French cultural interest in political philosophy and nation-building processes (Todorow 1993). Another topic that seems to evoke French newspapers' awareness of Norway is their fascination with the Norwegian screenwriter Jon Fosse. The French seem intrigued by the Norwegian conception of the relationship between man and nature and Fosse's search for social isolation in the dramatic and beautiful Norwegian coastal scenery constituted an exotic context for the French media (Le Monde, 09.18.99).

In the business newspaper Norway's idiosyncrasies are interpreted in more negative terms, as a sign of protectionist politics and economic isolation. The state capitalism of Norway in the oil industry, and the Swedish failure to establish mergers in the banking and financial sectors, are mentioned as examples of a protectionist economy. Contrary to the Swedish press, the French newspapers have an analytic approach to this topic (Les Echos, 05.12.99 and 12.06.99). There is little mention of historical relational ties with Norway, which seem to be overshadowed by the current position of Norway outside the EU.

The media content in the Japanese newspapers reflects low awareness, little knowledge, and low involvement with Norway. Only once during the two-year period studied did Norway receive substantive media attention in Japan. This was during the rescue operation involving the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, which sank in the Barents Sea. In this case the Japanese newspapers promoted Norway as a 'partner' on issues related to nuclear waste from Russia in the North-a shared fate between the two countries that was activated by the Kursk accident. The articles were framed as if this could also happen close to the Japanese-Russian border. The Kursk accident was seen as a critical case, which put to the test the adequacy of current knowledge and technology (Asahi, 21.08.00).

The Japanese press also carried some mention of Norway for its role in issues of global concern, e.g. the peace negotiations in the Middle East and Sri Lanka, disarmament in Kosovo, and its role in the anti-personnel mines issue. In these articles, Norway was portrayed as a peace-loving nation that takes action in conflicts that are of concern to the whole world (Asahi, 01. 13.99). International peace and democracy are transnational issues and it is in Japan's interest that other countries engage in these issues. Norway and Scandinavia were also admired for their egalitarian social structure and equality between the sexes (Asahi, 05.07.00).


Insights gained from this study

The self-Other perspective proved to be fruitful in interpreting cross-country variation in the media content. The awareness of Norway in the Swedish media reflects a relation to a significant Other. It is a complex relationship with high mutual expectations of exchange and sharing. Strong emotions appeared in the media, particularly when Swedish business interests were hurt. The French newspapers' selective, analytical, and emotionally detached coverage of Norway is consistent with a relation to an out-group country. Only on a few topics involving specific French self-interests did we find signs of involvement with the source country. The fascination with the Norwegian author, Jon Fosse, was mainly framed as an exotic cultural phenomenon that could entertain the French public and this involvement had few references to mutual bonds between the two countries. The media coverage of Norway in the Japanese press is illustrative of a relation to an insignificant Other. Hence the perceptions of the other country are stereotypical and superficial. A special case in our data is how the Kursk accident defined Japan's collective interest in Norway on the geopolitical scene. This case shows how a critical incident can evoke strong collective interests even in nations that seem to be insignificant to each other.

In the third proposition we directed attention to transnational and collective identities between nations. We found that awareness can be evoked on highly valued transnational issues such as peace, domestic standards for human rights and equality, and environmental protection. Norway's role in such issues was mentioned in all the target markets. In target markets where the source country is an insignificant Other, this was the only type of news that was conveyed in the media. However, in countries where the source country was a significant Other, this type of attention was part of very rich and complex media coverage.

In summary, there are several new and interesting findings in this study. First we find substantial variation in level of awareness, type of coverage, and degree of involvement in the media coverage of the source country. Interestingly, the content in the business newspapers expresses stronger involvement and affect than what we found in the national newspapers. One possible explanation could be that self-interests in relation to other countries are more clearly defined in economic matters. We also find that there are transnational issues that can increase media involvement in and awareness of countries that would otherwise be perceived as insignificant Others.


Our study shows that the image and perception of one country varies both in quantity and substance across markets and therefore supports recent claims by researchers in international marketing that we need cross-national studies to capture variation and idiosyncrasies in different target markets (Roth 1995; Nakata and Sivakumar 2001; Usunier 1997). Second, our study shows that country images seem to have unique qualities in each target market depending on the significance of the source to the observer. Particularly shared interests and collective identities seem to be anchored in issues of historical, economic or geopolitical relations between countries. Generic country image scales should therefore be used with caution. Such scales should at least contain evaluative and relational qualities in addition to the descriptive traits that are measured in existing scales.

For marketing practitioners, the study provides useful concepts that capture different types of target markets according to national identities and relational ties between countries. Collective identities can be a source for customization of marketing strategies and cannot be copied by other countries that do not evoke this type of identity with the source country. Using transnational identities, the exporter can create involvement and awareness even in target markets that otherwise have few relations to the export country.

Although this study is based on a case analysis of how one small country is perceived in different target markets, the results have generic qualities. All countries, regardless of size and location, have relationships to other countries, and geographical, cultural, and social proximity between source and target countries have an impact on the form of their relationship and shared interests.





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Newspaper references:

Dagens Industri, 01.24.00, Marie Sundberg, "Staten ager halva Norge" (The State Owns Half of Norway)

Les Echos, 05.12.99, "Antoina Jacob; Norvege: Grands manoeuvres dans l=industrie petrolere"

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Asahi, 08.21.00, "Sea of No Hope: Effort to Rescue Russian Nuclear Submarine"

www.europa ... s-origin/rules



Ingeborg Astrid Kleppe, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration
Lena Mossberg, Gothenburg University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32 | 2005

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