Effects of country-of-origin stereotypes on consumer responses to product-harm crises

Camilla Barbarossa (Department of Marketing and International Business, Toulouse Business School, Toulouse, France)
Patrick De Pelsmacker (Department of Marketing, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium)
Ingrid Moons (Department of Marketing, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium)

International Marketing Review

ISSN: 0265-1335

Publication date: 14 May 2018

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to investigate “how” and “when” the stereotypes of competence and warmth, that are evoked by a foreign company’s country-of-origin (COO), affect blame attributions and/or attitudes toward a company’s products when a company is involved in a product-harm crisis.

Design/methodology/approach

Study 1 (n=883) analyzes the psychological mechanisms through which perceived COO competence and warmth differently affect blame attributions and evaluative responses. Study 2 (n=1,640) replicates Study 1’s findings, and it also investigates how consumer ethnocentrism, animosity toward a country, and product category characteristics moderate the hypothesized COO’s effects.

Findings

COO competence leads to more favorable attitudes toward the involved company’s products. This effect increases when the company sells high-involvement or utilitarian products. COO warmth leads to more favorable attitudes toward the involved company’s products directly as well as indirectly by diminishing blame attributions. These effects increase when consumers are highly ethnocentric, or the animosity toward a foreign country is high.

Originality/value

This paper frames the investigation of COO stereotypes in a new theoretical and empirical setting, specifically, a product-harm crisis. It demonstrates that consumers differently evaluate a potential wrongdoing company and its harmful products in a product-harm crisis based on their perceptions of a company’s COO competence and warmth. Finally, it defines the moderating effects of individual, consumer-country-related and product characteristics on the hypothesized COO effects.

Keywords

Citation

Barbarossa, C., De Pelsmacker, P. and Moons, I. (2018), "Effects of country-of-origin stereotypes on consumer responses to product-harm crises", International Marketing Review, Vol. 35 No. 3, pp. 362-389. https://doi.org/10.1108/IMR-06-2016-0122

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Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited


1. Introduction

In recent years, scholars that investigated the country-of-origin (COO) concept (i.e. the country which a consumer associates a certain product or brand as being its source – Roth and Diamantopoulos, 2009) emphasized the need to advance COO knowledge in three directions: to deepen the understanding of COO dimensions and their effects on company and/or product evaluations (Herz and Diamantopoulos, 2013); to evaluate the importance of COO effects in new theoretical and empirical consumption settings (Laufer et al., 2009) and to improve knowledge of the boundary conditions under which COO effects occur (Chattalas et al., 2008).

Only a limited number of studies, using hypothetical brands/categories (Maher and Carter, 2011), multiple real brands across multiple product categories (Halkias et al., 2016), and perceptions of companies as focal elements (Chen et al., 2014; Chattalas, 2015), delved into the cognitive dimensions of COO, specifically, perceived COO competence and warmth. These studies analyzed how the stereotypes of competence and warmth that are associated with a foreign company’s origin affect company and/or product evaluations, and they further developed conceptual frameworks to envisage possible boundary conditions for such effects (Chattalas et al., 2008).

These studies framed COO stereotypes in customary consumption settings. None of them assessed the effects of COO stereotypes in extraordinary, critical, consumption contexts, such as corporate misconduct and, in particular, product-harm crises, which can be defined as “discrete, well-publicized occurrences wherein products are found to be defective or dangerous” (Dawar and Pillutla, 2000, p. 215). Product-harm crises (and consumer evaluations in these contexts) differ from customary consumption environments. Product-harm crises are relatively unusual events in a company’s life, and they have potentially dramatic effects on consumer health and company performance (Klein and Dawar, 2004). Additionally, in these critical contexts, consumer evaluations are: directed to potential wrongdoers and/or their harmful products (Laufer et al., 2009); formed through specific psychological mechanisms of blame attributions (Folkes, 1984; Weiner, 1986); and further influenced by consumers’ pre-existing beliefs about the involved company, such as beliefs of competence and warmth that are associated with a potential wrongdoer’s COO (Xu et al., 2013).

The specificity of these consumption settings calls for a deeper understanding of “how” and “when” COO stereotypes affect blame attributions and/or attitudes toward a company’s harmful products when a company is involved in a product-harm crisis. In this regard, Barbarossa et al. (2016) investigated how COO competence and warmth affect Weinerʼs (1986) causal variables of attributions and subsequent purchase intentions in the context of a food safety scandal. However, building on Chattalas et al.ʼs (2008) work, they conceptualized COO warmth to be analogous to the country’s affect and thus failed to consider perceived warmth as a COO cognitive dimension. Furthermore, they neither hypothesized specific effects of COO competence and warmth on diverse consumer responses nor did they investigate boundary conditions for these effects.

The present research builds on the studies that are mentioned above. Drawing from the literature on COO cognitive dimensions (Maher and Carter, 2011), bias in inter-group judgment processes (Fiske et al., 1999, 2002), and corporate social irresponsibility and blame attributions (Folkes, 1984; Weiner, 1986), the current study frames the analysis of COO cognitive dimensions in the critical consumption setting of a product-harm crisis. It conceptually hypothesizes and empirically tests the specific, asymmetric effects of COO competence and warmth on blame attributions and/or attitudes toward a company’s harmful products. Finally, it explores the moderating effects of individual characteristics (e.g. consumer ethnocentrism), consumer-country-related characteristics (e.g. consumer animosity toward a country), and product characteristics (e.g. high-involvement vs low-involvement products, and utilitarian vs hedonic products) on the hypothesized COO stereotype effects.

Based on two survey-based, quasi-experimental studies, the findings make novel contributions to theory and have important implications for practice. From a theoretical perspective, this research investigates COO stereotypes in a relatively new setting of potential corporate misconduct. It thus goes beyond the analysis of an overall “good” vs “bad” COO image dichotomization, and it shows that, similar to the impact of stereotypes on the judgments of culpability that are found in the social psychology literature (Cuddy et al., 2008), COO stereotypes of competence and warmth play specific roles when consumers make inferences about corporate culpability and/or evaluate a company’s harmful products. It demonstrates that, while COO competence influences attitudes toward a company’s products directly, COO warmth influences attitudes toward a company’s products directly as well as indirectly by diminishing blame attributions. Finally, it defines the relevant conditions under which the hypothesized COO stereotype effects are enhanced or weakened.

From a managerial perspective, the study provides brand managers with answers to important questions, such as “Do a company’s COO stereotypes bias blame attributions and/or attitudes toward a company’s products during a product-harm crisis?”, “Do different psychological mechanisms occur for the effects of perceived COO competence and warmth on these consumer responses?”, “Under which conditions are these COO effects enhanced or weakened?” The study provides brand managers with suggestions on how to leverage the brand attributes of COO competence and warmth in customary communication content to obtain more favorable responses in the event of a product-harm crisis.

2. Theoretical framework

2.1 COO stereotypes of competence and warmth

COO stereotypes are an oversimplified set of beliefs about the characteristics of nations and their members (Halkias et al., 2016). They are formed through direct or indirect experience with the country and are stored as cognitive elements in a consumer’s memory (Maheswaran, 1994). The Stereotype Content Model (SCM ‒ Fiske et al., 2002), when it is applied to country-based categorizations (Maher and Carter, 2011), posits that individual judgments about nations are consequences of the social structural relationships between national groups, which mainly refer to two independent, stereotypical dimensions: competence and warmth (Fiske et al., 1999). COO competence refers to consumer cognitive appraisals about a country’s capability, efficacy and efficiency, which originates from the country’s degree of modernity, innovativeness, technology sophistication, economic development and political power. Countries that are perceived to have the ability to implement their intentions are seen as being competent. COO warmth refers to consumer cognitive appraisals about a country’s friendliness, cooperativeness and trustworthiness, which originates from the past and current cultural, political and economic relationship between the foreign country and a consumer’s own country. Countries that are perceived to have cooperative, approachable and trustworthy intentions are seen as being warm.

Individuals perceive countries to have different degrees of competence and warmth (Cuddy et al., 2008), and they unintentionally transfer (i.e. automatic decision making – Herz and Diamantopoulos, 2013) such perceptions to companies and products that originate from those countries. These perceptions in turn bias consumer responses toward these social entities (Chattalas, 2015).

The application of the SCM to the COO literature represents a significant advancement in the understanding of COO effects (Chattalas et al., 2008). It delves deeper into the cognitive dimensions that form consumer perceptions of a country, and it explains why biases in inter-country (and related social entities) judgments occur (Fiske et al., 1999). Although the two dimensions of competence and warmth are not all-encompassing, scholars have widely emphasized their dominance and applicability to a variety of contexts (e.g. gender and race-based groups, Cuddy et al., 2008; brands and organizations, Aaker et al., 2010), and they have assessed their stability across different countries (Cuddy et al., 2008), thus defining competence and warmth as the “fundamental” and “pancultural” dimensions of inter-group perceptions and judgments (Cuddy et al., 2007).

In line with Fiske et al.’s (2002) SCM frame, and with the previous research that has considered perceived competence and warmth as the cognitive dimensions of COO (Maher and Carter, 2011; Chen et al., 2014; Halkias et al., 2016), the current study focuses on the conceptualization of differences in consumers’ judgments and evaluations of a potential wrongdoing company and its harmful products in a product-harm crisis, based on their perceptions of a company’s COO competence and warmth.

2.2 The effects of COO stereotypes on consumer responses in the context of a product-harm crisis

Corporate misconducts are defined as corporate actions that violate moral norms of conduct, and which envisage, albeit to varying degrees, the effect of the undesirability of the corporate actions, corporate culpability and affected party non-complicity (Lange and Washburn 2012). Among the different types of corporate misconduct, the current research focuses on product-harm crises. Incidents such as General Motors’ defective ignition switch (The Guardian, 2014), Toyota’s defective accelerator pedal (ABC News, 2014) and IKEA’s Malm dresser tip-over (BBC News, 2016) are examples of product-harm crises. Product-harm crises have received increasing attention from scholars and practitioners due to their dramatic effects on consumer health and company performance. The severity of these negative effects calls for a deeper understanding of consumer evaluations in a product-harm crisis and of the factors that may influence these responses.

Consumer evaluations in a product-harm crises are mainly directed toward harmful products, as consumers express their assessment about the (un)favorability and (bad)goodness of a potential wrongdoer’s products (Laufer et al. 2009). These evaluations are partly based on blame attributions (Folkes, 1984), the extent to which consumers perceive the company to be responsible and accountable for the product-harm incident (Weiner, 1986). The negative impact of blame attributions on consumer evaluations about a company’s products is known as the “knock-on effect” of attributions (Klein and Dawar, 2004). This effect is grounded in psychological theories such as the cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957), which posits that, when developing judgments of blame, consumers tend to adjust their evaluations of a company’s products accordingly to reduce internal dissonance. In this regard, Jorgensen (1994) applied Weiner’s (1986) model of attributions in the context of serious company disasters and found that consumers’ attributions of the cause of an incident change their attitudes toward a company’s products. Similarly, Laufer et al. (2009) found that blame attributions affect consumer responses toward a company’s products.

Blame attributions and evaluations in a product-harm crisis are additionally affected by pre-existing consumer beliefs about a company. Much of the evidence regarding the biases that are associated with the assessment of blame and the evaluation of a social entity suggests the role that is played by pre-existing consumer beliefs within the judicial process (Dawar and Pillutla, 2000; Klein and Dawar, 2004). The stereotypes of competence and warmth that are associated with a foreign company’s origin may represent such beliefs. As part of the activation of company associations that occur when consumers make blame attributions about a product-harm crisis, the mere presence of the COO cues in the crisis environment may activate internally stored negative (vs positive) stereotypical beliefs of the competence and warmth of the involved company, which may lead to more (less) severe judgments of culpability and/or less (more) favorable evaluations of the company’s harmful products (Barbarossa et al., 2016). Furthermore, COO stereotypes of competence and warmth may affect blame attributions and evaluative responses differently. The next sections provide theoretical arguments that support these asymmetric effects.

2.2.1 The effect of perceived COO competence on evaluative responses

Perceived COO competence is high when consumers believe that a company has the required abilities to satisfy its customers’ needs, because it originates from a country with high economic and technological standards (Fiske et al., 2002). This is similar to “credibility trust” in a buyer-seller relationship, which reflects the extent to which a company is believed to have the ability to fulfill its promises and satisfy the other party’s needs (Doney and Cannon, 1997). When a company is perceived to originate from a highly competent country, it is likely that there will be a positive halo effect on the company’s products, which can result in more favorable attitudes toward the company’s goods (Berry et al., 2015).

We expect COO competence not to be a diagnostic cue for consumers to infer the favorability of a company’s intentions toward out-group members in product-harm crises (Fiske et al., 2002). Klein and Dawar (2004) and Lange and Washburn (2012) indeed showed that a lack of competence, different from a lack of warmth, is not associated with consumer appraisals of harm and threat, which in turn exacerbates blame attributions.

Conversely, we expect COO competence to be a relevant diagnostic cue that affects consumers’ inferences about a company’s ability to fulfill its promises and satisfy consumers needs in a product-harm crisis. Indeed, the perceived risk that is associated with a product is high, as consumers evaluate harmful products (Laufer et al., 2009). A high level of COO competence is therefore perceived by consumers as a diagnostic cue of a company’s ability to offer high-quality, safe and reliable products, despite the company’s involvement in the crisis. This association mitigates consumer perceptions about the harmfulness of a company’s products, and it can lead to more favorable attitudes toward the company’s goods. Furthermore, Barbarossa et al.ʼs (2016) findings revealed that under conditions of high COO competence, consumers tend to perceive a company’s involvement in a product-harm crisis to be an occasional incident, which only marginally affects the company’s ability to sell high-quality products. This in turn leads to more positive responses toward the company’s products. Along these lines, we expect COO competence to affect consumer attitudes toward the involved company’s products directly and positively. In the context of a product-harm crisis:

H1.

Perceived COO competence has a positive effect on consumer attitudes toward a company’s products.

2.2.2 The effects of perceived COO warmth on blame attributions and evaluative responses

Perceived COO warmth is high when consumers believe that a company, due to its national background, does not intentionally take actions that negatively affect its consumers and other stakeholders (Xu et al., 2013). A high level of COO warmth is perceived by consumers as a diagnostic cue of kindness, honesty, sincerity and trustworthiness (Fiske et al., 1999). This is similar to “benevolence trust” in a buyer-seller relationship, which reflects the extent to which a firm is perceived to be willing to act in the best interest of another party, over and above an egocentric profit motive (Doney and Cannon, 1997).

We expect COO warmth to affect both blame attributions and attitudes toward a company’s products in the context of a product-harm crisis. First, we expect COO warmth to affect blame directly and negatively. When a wrongdoing company originates from a country that evokes stereotypes of friendliness, sincerity and trustworthiness, consumers unintentionally ascribe less exploitative and greedy intentions to the company. Conversely, low COO warmth leads consumers to automatically associate the company with moral cognizance and moral responsibility for the harm, and they blame the company for misconduct to a greater extent (Lange and Washburn 2012). Following the “knock-on effect” of attributions (Klein and Dawar, 2004), consumers then adjust their attitudes toward the company’s products accordingly. Xu et al. (2013) and Barbarossa et al. (2016) found that COO warmth diminishes blame attributions, which lead to more positive responses toward a company’s products.

We also expect COO warmth to affect attitudes toward a company’s harmful products directly. Unlike competence, COO warmth is perceived to be non-diagnostic to a country’s product quality and performance (Chen et al., 2014; Halkias et al., 2016). However, previous research showed that, in high-risk situations, such as product-harm crises, the beliefs about a company’s opportunistic behavior reduce trust in the company and expand to a reduced confidence in the reliability of, and thus the attitude toward, the involved company’s products (Klein and Dawar, 2004). Hence, the presence of a COO warmth cue in a crisis context may activate stereotypical beliefs of a good-natured country (Cuddy et al., 2008), which may lead to more favorable perceptions about a company’s products. In the context of a product-harm crisis:

H2a.

Perceived COO warmth has a negative effect on blame attributions.

H2b.

Perceived COO warmth has a positive effect on attitudes toward a company’s products.

H2c.

Blame attributions have a negative effect on attitudes toward a company’s products.

H2d.

Blame attributions partially mediate the effect of perceived COO warmth on attitudes toward a company’s products.

Figure 1 summarizes the proposed conceptual model.

2.3 The boundary conditions for the effects of COO stereotypes on consumer responses to product-harm crises

The effects of COO stereotypes of competence and warmth on blame attributions and evaluative responses may be moderated by variables that pertain to three domains (Chattalas et al., 2008): individual-consumer characteristics (e.g. ethnocentrism), consumer-country-related characteristics (e.g. animosity toward a foreign country), and product characteristics (e.g. low-involvement vs high-involvement products, and utilitarian vs hedonic products) (Figure 1).

2.3.1 Consumer ethnocentrism

Consumer ethnocentrism refers to the beliefs that are held by consumers about the appropriateness, as well as the morality, of purchasing foreign-made products (Shimp and Sharma, 1987). High-ethnocentric consumers are more likely to buy domestic products and/or brands because foreign products and/or brands constitute economic and cultural threats (Cleveland et al., 2009). social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1986) provides a theoretical basis to explain why high-ethnocentric individuals consider national symbols to be objects of attachment and pride, whereas those of other countries are held in contempt. We posit that, in the context of a product-harm crisis, high-ethnocentric consumers tend to consider the positive stereotypes of COO competence and warmth to a lesser extent. To a highly ethnocentric consumer, the home country’s members are doubly menaced by the foreign wrongdoing company: first, because of the company’s harmful conduct and, second, because of its foreign origin. In the context of a product-harm crisis:

H3.

The higher the level of ethnocentrism, the weaker the effect of perceived COO competence on attitudes toward a company’s products.

H4.

The higher the level of ethnocentrism, the weaker the effects of perceived COO warmth on blame attributions (a) and attitudes toward a company’s products (b).

2.3.2 Consumer animosity toward a country

Consumer animosity can be defined as the remnants of antipathy or hostility toward a country, related to previous or ongoing military conflicts, divergence over foreign policy, tensions in international business, economic disagreements and religious conflicts (Riefler and Diamantopoulos, 2007). Animosity represents a negative emotion, and it acts as a protective instinct toward home country companies and products by increasing defensive behaviors toward the menace of a specific foreign country. Previous research shows that products that are made by a specific foreign company can be rejected because of their association with a country that provokes feelings of animosity (Hong and Kang, 2006). We expect that, in the context of a product-harm crisis, consumers who score high in animosity toward a foreign country tend to consider the positive COO stereotypes of competence and warmth to a lesser extent. In the context of a product-harm crisis:

H5.

The higher the level of animosity, the weaker the effect of perceived COO competence on attitudes toward a company’s products.

H6.

The higher the level of animosity, the weaker the effects of perceived COO warmth on blame attributions (a) and attitudes toward a company’s products (b).

2.3.3 Product involvement and product type

Low-involvement products are items that entail minimal effort and consideration on the part of the consumer prior to purchase because they do not have a substantial effect on the buyer’s lifestyle and are not that significant of an economic investment. Conversely, high-involvement products are high capital value items that are purchased only after careful consideration (Vaughn, 1980).

Research based on the elaboration likelihood model (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986) shows that consumers elaborate COO information differently when they evaluate low-vs high-involvement products. When evaluating high-involvement products, consumers utilize a central approach, which involves analytical information processing and discourages the use of cognitive shortcuts, such as COO stereotypes. Conversely, when evaluating low-involvement products, consumers utilize a peripheral approach, which involves evaluations based on easily accessible information, such as COO stereotypes (Chattalas et al., 2008).

COO stereotypes of competence and warmth can thus be expected to exert stronger effects on blame attributions and attitudes toward a company’s products for low-involvement rather than for high-involvement products. In the context of a product-harm crisis:

H7.

The effect of perceived COO competence on attitudes toward a company’s products is weaker for high-involvement products than it is for low-involvement products.

H8.

The effects of perceived COO warmth on blame attributions (a) and attitudes toward a company’s products (b) are weaker for high-involvement products than they are for low-involvement products.

Finally, utilitarian products are mainly motivated by goal-oriented consumption and functional motivations. Conversely, hedonic products are mainly motivated by pleasure-oriented consumption and symbolic motivations (Vaughn, 1980). COO stereotypes of competence and warmth may affect consumer expectations for utilitarian vs hedonic products differently (Chattalas, 2015). When a product is highly technical and functional, and aims to satisfy practical needs (e.g. air-conditioning systems, PCs, printers), consumers are more likely to pay attention to information cues that signal high credibility and technical competence of the company, such as COO competence. Conversely, when a product is pleasure-oriented and/or has social characteristics (e.g. candies, pizza, kids’ party entertainment services), consumers are more likely to pay attention to information cues that signal the high warmth, cordiality and friendliness of the company, such as COO warmth. Hence, we expect that, in the context of a product-harm crisis:

H9.

The effect of perceived COO competence on attitudes toward a company’s products is stronger for utilitarian products than it is for hedonic products.

H10.

The effects of perceived COO warmth on blame attributions (a) and attitudes toward a company’s products (b) are stronger for hedonic products than they are for utilitarian products.

3. Overview of the studies

To test our hypotheses, we conducted two survey-based, quasi-experimental studies using Italian adult consumers as subjects. Study 1 tests hypotheses H1-H2d using a 2 (COO competence: low vs high)×2 (COO warmth: low vs high) between-subjects design. Study 1 is framed in the context of a food safety scandal. Study 2 tests H1-H2d again using manipulations of COO that are distinct from Study 1, and framing the hypothesized effects in four different product-harm crisis scenarios (i.e. defective refrigerators, hot tubs, light bulbs and small scented candles). Furthermore, Study 2 tests hypotheses H3-H10b. It is based on a 2 (COO competence: low vs high)×2 (COO warmth: low vs high)×2 (product involvement: low vs high)×2 (purchase motivation: utilitarian vs hedonic) between-subjects design.

To preclude any connection to existing brands and to avoid the confounding effects of brand awareness (Herz and Diamantopoulos, 2013), brand familiarity (Laufer et al., 2009), and brand trust (Chattalas et al., 2008), we used fictitious brand names in both of the studies. To avoid confounding product type effects (Kaynak and Cavusgil, 1983), we avoided selecting product categories that the previous literature has associated with a specific COO (e.g. French perfumes, German cars). To enhance the effects of COO stereotypes on consumer responses, we developed scenarios that describe ambiguous product-harm crises (Laufer et al., 2009). All of the scenarios were pre-tested for clarity and comprehension.

4. Study 1

4.1 Method

4.1.1 Research design

Study 1 aims to assess the effects of COO competence and warmth on blame attributions and/or attitudes toward a company’s products in the context of a product-harm crisis. A company’s COO was manipulated by creating a 2 (competence: low vs high)×2 (warmth: low vs high) between-subjects survey-based, quasi-experimental design. To select countries that fit this four-quadrant framework, we conducted a pre-test in a sample of 92 consumers. The participants were provided with a list of foreign countries that fit the four SCM quadrants (which resulted from a focus group with ten adult consumers) and definitions of COO competence and warmth. They were asked to rate their perceptions of COO competence and warmth for each country on the list using the corresponding scales (Table I). We selected Canada (high competence, high warmth), Spain (low competence, high warmth), Germany (high competence, low warmth), and Albania (low competence, low warmth) (Table II). The results of a one-way between-subjects ANOVA reveal significant differences between the mean scores of perceived competence (F(3, 88)=21.50, p<0.01) and warmth (F(3, 88)=9.06, p<0.01) across the four COO conditions. Post hoc comparisons using the Bonferroni correction[1] (p=0.05) indicate: no strong evidence that Canada and Germany are differently competent, but they are more competent than Spain and Albania; and no strong evidence that Canada and Spain are differently warm, but they are warmer than Germany and Albania.

Hence, we developed a scenario to describe “Pralines,” a Canadian (Spanish/German/Albanian) company that specializes in the commercialization of chocolate and has been involved in a chocolate adulteration scandal. The narrative of the scenario is reported in Appendix 1.

4.1.2 Research instrument, measurement scales and participants

Four teams of research assistants – one per COO condition – personally approached potential respondents as they shopped in supermarkets. The respondents were invited to participate in an online survey, and they received tickets for an online lottery of multiple small prizes. Each participant responded to only one of the four scenarios. The self-administered questionnaire took approximately 15 minutes to complete and consisted of three sections: an explanation of the aim of the study; a presentation of the product-harm crisis scenario and of the measurement scales for the model variables; and manipulation checks, controls, marker variables for common method variance assessment, and socio-demographic data. Table I reports the measurement scales for the constructs.

A total of 897 consumers agreed to participate in the study (54 percent response rate), and 883 fully completed the questionnaire. Table III reports the socio-demographic composition of the samples. A chi-square test detected no significant (p>0.05) socio-demographic differences across the consumers who responded to the four scenarios.

4.2 Data analysis and results

4.2.1 Manipulation checks

The results of a one-way between-subjects ANOVA reveal significant differences between the mean scores of perceived competence (F(3, 879)=182.28, p<0.01) and warmth (F(3, 879)=166.81, p<0.01) across the four COO conditions (Table II). Post hoc comparisons indicate: no strong evidence that Canada and Germany are differently competent, but they are more competent than Spain and Albania; and no strong evidence that Canada and Spain are differently warm, but they are warmer than Germany and Albania. Furthermore, there is no strong evidence that the product-harm crisis that is described in the scenario is differently severe across the four COO conditions (F(3, 879)=2.45, p=0.06; Table IV). All of the manipulations were effective and confirmed the pre-test’s findings.

4.2.2 Measurement assessment

Before testing our hypotheses, we ran confirmatory factor analysis for our model measures using LISREL 8.80 (Jöreskog and Sörbom, 2006). We coded the selected countries to form two dichotomous variables (competence: Canada and Germany=1, Spain and Albania=0; warmth: Canada and Spain=1, Germany and Albania=0), and entered them in the model using a pseudo latent factor with a binary indicator approach. The model explains 87.34 percent of the total variance. Results of global and local fit indices, Cronbach’s α, composite reliability and average variance extracted are reported in Table I, and they are adequate. Discriminant validity is also confirmed. These findings show that the measures adopted are valid and reliable (Fornell and Larcker, 1981).

Finally, we applied the “marker variable” technique to assess common method variance, and found that common method variance does not represent a threat in our data[2].

4.2.3 Structural assessment

The structural model was tested using LISREL 8.80. Figure 2 and Table V show the standardized coefficients of the hypothesized paths. The hypothesized direct and indirect effects are all supported (p<0.05). Fit indices are adequate (Table V). To test the direct effect of COO competence on blame attributions, we fitted an alternative structural model where we allowed the path COMP→BLAME to vary freely. Results of this alternative model (χ2(23)=180.73; RMSEA=0.09 and SRMR=0.02) confirm the lack of support for this direct effect (b=0.01, p>0.05; Δχ2(1)=1.54, p=0.21). Finally, we conducted univariate analyses to test possible interactions of COO competence and warmth on blame attributions and attitudes. Results do not support any interaction effects between the two variables, either on blame (F(1, 879)=0.20, p=0.74), or on attitude (F(1, 879)=5.16, p=0.07). H1-H2d are all supported.

4.3 Discussion

COO competence positively influences consumer attitudes toward the involved company’s products, which confirms H1. High COO competence is a diagnostic cue of the reliability of a company’s products in a product-harm crisis. The more consumers perceive a company’s COO to be (in)competent, the more they believe that the company is (un)able to deliver high-quality products, which (reinforces) diminishes their negative evaluations of the harmful products. These results corroborate the extant literature on brand performance features and corporate credibility’s effects on consumer responses (Aaker et al., 2010), and they further expand the latter by assessing the effect of COO competence in critical consumption settings. Our findings are also in line with the extant literature on the effects of COO competence on consumer perceptions of the stability of a company’s harmful behavior (Barbarossa et al., 2016). Under conditions of high COO competence, consumers may perceive a product-harm crisis to be an occasional event that only marginally and temporarily affects a company’s ability to deliver superior goods.

Furthermore, COO warmth influences consumer attitudes toward a company’s products directly as well as indirectly through blame attributions, which supports H2a-H2d. High COO warmth, despite not being diagnostic of product quality, still produces a general, favorable predisposition toward the country that transfers to more positive attitudes toward its products (Chen et al., 2014; Halkias et al., 2016). Furthermore, COO warmth causes consumers to perceive that a company is well-intentioned, good-natured and cooperative toward others, which diminishes their blame attributions toward the company, which finally spill over to more positive predispositions toward the company’s products. These results corroborate Klein and Dawar’s (2004) findings of corporate associations about the fairness and trustworthiness of a company affecting blame attributions toward the company in a product-harm crisis. These results also reinforce Xu et al.’s (2013) argument that the often-ignored warmth dimension of the origin country plays a crucial role in mitigating judgments of blame in critical consumption settings. Finally, the findings reinforce the centrality of blaming as a response to critical events that involve warm vs cold countries, and they further provide empirical evidence of the “knock-on effect” of attributions (Klein and Dawar, 2004).

5. Study 2

5.1 Method

5.1.1 Research design

Study 2 aims to corroborate Study 1’s findings using different COOs and product categories. Second, it aims to assess the moderating effects of ethnocentrism, animosity toward a country, product involvement and product type. The research design was a 2 (COO competence: low vs high) × 2 (COO warmth: low vs high)×2 (product involvement: low vs high)×2 (purchase motivation: utilitarian vs hedonic) between-subjects survey-based, quasi-experimental design.

With respect to the COOs, the USA (high competence, high warmth), Greece (low competence, high warmth), Switzerland (high competence, low warmth), and Romania (low competence, low warmth) were chosen based on the results of a pre-test in a sample of 87 consumers, following the same procedure as in Study 1 (Table II). The results of a one-way between-subjects ANOVA reveal significant differences between the mean scores of perceived competence (F(3, 83)=22.93, p<0.01) and warmth (F(3, 83)=8.11, p<0.01) across the four COO conditions. Post hoc comparisons indicate no strong evidence that: the USA and Switzerland are differently competent, but they are more competent than Greece and Romania; and no strong evidence that the USA and Greece are differently warm, but they are warmer than Switzerland and Romania.

With respect to the products, a refrigerator (high-involvement products, utilitarian), hot tub (high-involvement products, hedonic), light bulbs (low-involvement products, utilitarian) and small scented candles (low-involvement products, hedonic) were chosen based on the results of a second pre-test in a sample of 98 consumers (Table VI). We provided the respondents with Vaughn’s (1980) definitions of product involvement, utilitarian and hedonic products. Then, we asked the respondents to rate each product’s degree of involvement (seven-point semantic scale; 1=low-involvement products; 7=high-involvement products), utilitarianism (seven-point Likert item; 1=very low; 7=very high) and hedonism (seven-point Likert item; 1=very low; 7=very high).

The results of a one-way between-subjects ANOVA reveal significant effects of the product category on consumer perceptions of the product involvement (F(3, 94)=23.43, p<0.01), utilitarian motives (F(3, 94)=58.32, p<0.01) and hedonic motives (F(3, 94)=30.15, p<0.01) that are associated with purchasing these products (Table VI). Post hoc comparisons indicate: no strong evidence that refrigerators and hot tubs are differently involving, but they are more involving than light bulbs and small scented candles; no strong evidence that refrigerators and light bulbs are differently utilitarian, but they are more utilitarian than hot tubs and small scented candles; and no strong evidence that hot tubs and small scented candles are differently hedonic, but they are more hedonic than light bulbs and refrigerators.

Based on these pre-tests, we developed a scenario that describes the involvement of a U.S. (Greek/Swiss/Romanian) company (that owns a fictitious brand) in a case of product-harm crisis (i.e. related to defective refrigerators, hot tubs, light bulbs, and small scented candles). The scenarios differed only in terms of company’s COO and product type. All of the other information was the same. The narrative of the scenario is reported in Appendix 2[3].

5.1.2 Research instrument, measurement scales and participants

The main study was a survey-based, quasi-experimental study following the same procedure as in Study 1. Each participant responded to only one of the sixteen scenarios. Model constructs and manipulation checks were measured as in Study 1 (Table I). Additionally, product involvement was a dichotomous variable (0=low-involvement products; 1=high-involvement products), as was the product type variable (0=utilitarian; 1=hedonic). As consumer familiarity with a product may affect information processing and COO elaboration (Maheswaran, 1994), we also controlled for product familiarity (“I am familiar with this product”, “I am knowledgeable about this product”, “I am an expert of this product”; seven-point Likert scale; M=3.03, SD=1.63, Cronbach’s α=0.92). Study 2 also included consumer ethnocentrism and animosity as moderating variables. Table I reports the measurement scales for the moderators.

A total of 1,686 consumers agreed to participate in the study (48 percent response rate) and 1,640 fully completed the questionnaire. Table III reports the socio-demographic composition of the samples per country and product category. A chi-square test detected no significant (p>0.05) socio-demographic differences between consumers responding to the four COO conditions and product category conditions, with the exception of the percentage composition of male respondents for Switzerland which is slightly lower than the other groups.

5.2 Data analysis and results

5.2.1 Manipulation checks

The results of a one-way between-subjects ANOVA reveal significant differences between the mean scores of perceived competence (F(3, 1,636)=446.93, p<0.01) and warmth (F(3, 1,636)=118.53, p<0.01) across the four COO conditions (Table II). Post hoc comparisons indicate: no strong evidence that the U.S. and Switzerland are differently competent, but they are more competent than Greece and Romania; and no strong evidence that the USA and Greece are differently warm, but they are warmer than Switzerland and Romania.

The results of a one-way between-subjects ANOVA also reveal significant effects of the product category on consumer perceptions of the product involvement (F(3, 1,636)=119.35, p<0.01), utilitarian motives (F(3, 1,636)=347.89, p<0.01) and hedonic motives (F(3, 1,636)=382.02, p<0.01) that are associated with purchasing products (Table VI). Post hoc comparisons indicate: no strong evidence that refrigerators and hot tubs are differently involving, but they are more involving than light bulbs and small scented candles; no strong evidence that refrigerators and light bulbs are differently utilitarian, but they are more utilitarian than hot tubs and small scented candles; and no strong evidence that hot tubs and small scented candles are differently hedonic, but they are more hedonic than light bulbs and refrigerators. Finally, there is no strong evidence that the product-harm crisis that is described in the scenario is differently severe across the four country conditions (F(3, 1,636)=1.79, p>0.05) and the four product conditions (F(3, 1,636)=2.45, p>0.05) (Table IV). All of the manipulations were effective and confirmed the pre-tests’ findings.

5.2.2 Measurement assessment

We ran confirmatory factor analysis, following the same approach as in Study 1. The model explains 80 percent of the total variance. Global and local fit indices, Cronbach’s α, CR and AVE are reported in Table I, and they are adequate. Discriminant validity is also met. Bivariate correlations between the components ranged from −0.05 to −0.42. Common method variance bias does not represent a threat in our data. These findings indicate that the measures are valid and reliable.

5.2.3 Structural assessment and conditional effects

To test H1-H2d, we estimated the basic mediation model (Figure 1), using LISREL 8.80. The hypothesized direct and indirect effects are all supported (Figure 2, Table V). Fit indices are adequate (Table V). As in Study 1, the results of an alternative structural model, where we allowed the path COMP→BLAME to vary freely (χ2(23)= 308.65); RMSEA=0.09 and SRMR=0.03), confirm the lack of support for this direct effect (b=0.03, p>0.05; Δχ2(1)=4.00, p=0.05)[4]. Furthermore, the results of univariate analyses do not support any interaction effects of COO competence and warmth either on blame (F(1, 1,636)=0.21, p=0.65) or on attitudes (F(1, 1,636)=0.34, p=0.56). H1-H2d are again supported.

To assess the conditional effects of COO competence on attitude, we tested four moderations, one for each of the moderators (Figure 1). We used Hayes’ (2013) PROCESS model 1. We included COO warmth in the model as a covariate. Similarly, to assess the conditional effects of COO warmth on blame and attitude, we tested four moderated mediation models using Hayes’ (2013) PROCESS model 8. We introduced COO competence in the model as a covariate. In the models that tested the moderating effect of product involvement and product type, we also controlled for product familiarity by including this variable in the model as a covariate.

The results are reported in Tables VII and VIII. Neither the effect of COO competence on attitude nor the effect of COO warmth on blame is moderated by ethnocentrism. Conversely, ethnocentrism moderates the direct effect of COO warmth on consumer attitude toward a company’s products. For medium and high levels of ethnocentrism, the direct effect of COO warmth on attitude is stronger. H3 and H4 are not supported.

The effect of COO competence on the attitude toward a company’s products is not moderated by animosity. Conversely, animosity interacts with the effects of warmth on blame and attitude. For medium and high levels of animosity, the indirect effect of COO warmth through blame is stronger. Similarly, for high levels of animosity, the direct effect of COO warmth on attitude is stronger. H5 and H6 are not supported.

Product involvement interacts with the effect of COO competence on consumer attitude toward a company’s products. Contrary to our expectations, for high-involvement products, the effect of COO competence is stronger than it is for low-involvement products. Product involvement marginally significantly interacts with the effect of COO warmth on blame attributions. This effect is stronger for high-involvement products than it is for low-involvement products. Product involvement does not interact with the direct effect of COO warmth on attitude. Product familiarity positively influences consumer attitude toward a company’s products (b=0.11; p=0.02), while its effect on blame is not significant (b=0.01; p=0.74). H7 and H8 are not supported.

Finally, product type interacts with the effect of COO competence on attitude toward a company’s products. This effect is stronger for utilitarian products than it is for hedonic products. Conversely, product type does not interact with any of the hypothesized effects of COO warmth. Product familiarity positively influences the attitude toward a company’s products (b=0.10; p<0.01), while its effect on blame is not significant (b=0.01; p=0.51). H9 is supported, while H10 is not.

5.3 Discussion

Despite using COOs and product categories that are different from Study 1, Study 2 confirms Study 1’s findings, improving internal and external validity. This consistency suggests that the obtained effects are likely to be caused by stereotypes of COO competence and warmth, rather than being country-specific, and replicable across multiple categories, rather than being product specific.

Contrary to expectations, neither ethnocentrism nor animosity interacts with the effect of COO competence on attitude toward a company’s products. A possible explanation may be that, when consumers associate a company with a highly competent COO, they recognize the company’s ability to deliver superior goods, and therefore they evaluate the company’s products more favorably, despite their negative predispositions and/or emotions toward a (specific) foreign country. This explanation could be particularly valid when positive and strong “product type effects” occur (Kaynak and Cavusgil, 1983). This explanation also shows some analogies with Alden et al.’s (2013) findings. These authors investigated the effects of animosity toward global companies and the perceived value of global brands on global brands attitude. They found that the perceived value of global brands is a strong counterbalance to animosity toward global companies.

Contrary to expectations, the higher the levels of ethnocentrism and animosity, the stronger the direct effect of COO warmth on consumer attitudes. For high levels of animosity, a stronger indirect effect of COO warmth through blame attributions also occurs. These results, despite contrasting with our hypotheses, are consistent with the previous research, which indicates that when consumers score high in ethnocentrism and animosity, they place higher importance on COO cues, because they perceive higher threats – and thus place more importance on ‒ (specific) foreign COOs (Verlegh, 2007; Chattalas et al., 2008).

Both the direct effect of COO competence and the indirect effect of COO warmth on attitudes toward a company’s products are stronger for high-involvement products than for low-involvement products. These results are inconsistent with the elaboration likelihood model’s propositions (Chattalas et al., 2008). However, a different stream of research provides a suitable explanation for these findings. This research posits that when people are highly involved with a product, they are more likely to search, pay attention to, and value every possible source of information about a product and the company that commercializes that product, including COO information. Liefeld’s (1993) meta-analysis findings corroborate this thesis and indicate that the magnitude of COO effects is larger for technically complex, luxury fashion-oriented or expensive products, which can all be considered to be high-involvement products.

Finally, the effect of COO competence on a consumer’s attitude toward a company’s products is stronger for utilitarian products than it is for hedonic products, which thus confirms the previous literature that posits that perceived COO competence affects product evaluations that satisfy utilitarian needs to a greater extent than products that satisfy hedonic needs (Chattalas, 2015). However, the expected stronger effect of COO warmth on consumer evaluations of hedonic products is not found. These results suggest that the effects of perceived COO warmth on consumer evaluations of hedonic products differ in customary and critical consumption settings. When making blame attributions and evaluating a company’s harmful products, consumers may focus on the cooperative (vs exploitative) intentions of the company (which are inferred through COO warmth associations), regardless of the utilitarian vs hedonic motives that are associated with purchasing products.

6. Conclusions, implications and further research

6.1 Summary of the findings

The results of the present study strongly support the specific effects of COO stereotypes of competence and warmth on blame attributions and/or attitudes toward a company’s products during a product-harm crisis: perceived COO competence influences attitudes toward a company’s products directly. This effect is stronger when a company sells high-involvement or utilitarian products. Perceived COO warmth influences attitudes toward a company’s products directly as well as indirectly by diminishing blame attributions. These effects are stronger when consumers are highly ethnocentric or the animosity toward a foreign country is high.

6.2 Managerial implications

COO stereotypes matter in product-harm crises. Brand managers should develop positive associations with competent and/or warm COOs in customary communication content to leverage these positive associations in the occurrence of a product-harm crisis. In the aftermath of a corporate scandal, companies may opt for specific response strategies (e.g. conciliatory vs defensive stances). However, before any specific response strategy, brand managers can rely on positive company-COO stereotypical associations to mitigate negative consumer reactions.

Brand managers should first assess whether their target groups associate the company and its products with a specific COO. If yes, they should analyze which stereotypes the COO evokes and estimate the magnitude of these associations. This information is essential to: understand whether and to what extent COO stereotypes may significantly affect blame attributions and attitudes toward a company’s products; rely on positive COO stereotypes to diminish negative consumer reactions; and eventually develop corrective actions if the company is associated with negative COO stereotypes of incompetence and/or unfriendliness.

If a company is associated with a warm COO, brand managers should emphasize the friendly, sociable, trustworthy and well-intentioned nature of the country and of its citizens, in pre-crisis communication content. Emphasizing the warm dimension of a company’s COO induces consumers to diminish blame attributions toward the company and to develop more positive attitudes toward the company’s products during a product-harm incident. For instance, Giovanni Rana’s 2013 advertising claims go in this direction. The brand, which has a strong implied Italian COO, has emphasized the friendly, warm and cooperative nature of its Italian employees, who prepare Italian meat sauces as if they were at home. Buitoni’s 2015 advertising campaigns go in a similar direction. This approach is even more effective when the target consumer is highly ethnocentric or when animosity toward a foreign country is high.

If a company is associated with a competent COO, brand managers should emphasize on the degree of modernity, innovativeness and technological sophistication of a brand’s origin and explain how the company has taken advantage of this context to achieve excellent technical, quality and safety standards. Emphasizing the competent dimension of a company’s COO in pre-crisis communication contributes to the development of more positive predispositions toward the company’s products during a product-harm crisis. These positive effects are enhanced when the company manufactures high-involvement or utilitarian products.

While warmth plays a twofold role that affects both blame and attitude, competence only leads to more favorable attitudes toward a company’s products. Hence, when companies are associated with competent but “cold” countries, brand managers should consider increasing the warmth dimension to obtain more positive effects on blame reduction. For example, they may consider developing brand alliances with warm brands or organizations (e.g. NGOs), building up associations with countries that have warm images or engaging in self-mocking of their own “cold” country image. British Airways, for instance, is the flag carrier airline of the UK that evokes stereotypes of high competence but somewhat lower warmth. In 2013, the company developed two commercials. First, the company launched the commercial “Today, tomorrow”, which emphasizes the technological excellence of the British company’s services. Second, it launched the commercial “Fueled by love”, which emphasizes the British company’s connection with India and its warm, good-natured, kind people. Similarly, Deutsche Lufthansa is a German airline that evokes stereotypes of high competence but somewhat lower warmth. In 2016, the company launched the commercial “Everyone’s Fanhansa,” where the company makes fun of the “cold” stereotypes that are related to its COO.

Finally, companies that are associated with incompetent and “cold” countries should downplay information about the company’s origin and emphasize other brand attributes. They may also develop ties with endorsers (e.g. brands providing complementary products, celebrities and ambassadors), as well as sponsoring well-known events (e.g. fairs and festivals), that their target group associates with competent and warm COOs to take advantage of the allied endorser and/or sponsored event’s country image.

6.3 Limitations and further research

The present study has limitations that provide avenues for future research. First, this study was conducted in Italy. Although previous research assessed the stability of competence and warmth across different cultures (Cuddy et al., 2008), the consistency of COO stereotypes across consumers with different national backgrounds is open to investigation.

Second, this study focuses on the effects of COO stereotypes on consumer responses in product-harm settings. In so doing, it does not consider the role of governments, sectors and firm moral and behavioral norms of conduct, which all may interact with consumer evaluations of corporate misconduct and the causal variables of blame attributions (Weiner, 1986). Additional research is needed to explore these issues.

Third, based on the notion of “benevolence trust” (Doney and Cannon, 1997), this study posits that COO warmth is perceived to be non-diagnostic to a country’s product quality and performance. Future research is needed to investigate, and eventually question, this proposition in the context of service companies. For these companies, information cues that signal high warmth could be more diagnostic of quality. Similarly, the current study reveals that the effect of COO competence – but not of COO warmth – on attitudes toward a company’s products is moderated by product-related characteristics. Conversely, the effects of COO warmth – but not of COO competence – are moderated by consumer characteristics and consumer-country-related characteristics. Future research is needed to delve deeper into these effects in the context of product-harm incidents.

Fourth, this study does not consider the longitudinal effects of the negative responses in a product-harm crisis. Whether the lingering effect of reputational damage is a function of a company’s COO stereotypes is open to investigation.

Fifth, this study adopts the SCM perspective (Fiske et al., 2002) to explain the differences in consumer responses toward foreign companies that are involved in product-harm crises. In doing so, it does not consider the role that is played by complementary stereotypical frameworks that are based on social identification processes (e.g. consumer perceived similarity with a wrongdoer’s COO or consumer cosmopolitanism ‒ Cleveland et al., 2009). The inclusion of these dimensions in the proposed conceptual model is open to investigation.

Finally, this study focuses on cognitive COO dimensions. Later developments of the SCM, such as the BIAS map (Cuddy et al., 2007), also involve country-related emotions (e.g. admiration, envy, pity and disgust). Similarly, our study focuses on evaluative outcomes. Negative moral emotions toward a wrongdoing company (e.g. contempt, anger and disgust) may also play pivotal roles in driving consumer retaliations. Future research is needed to investigate the effects of COO stereotypes and subsequent country-related emotions on negative moral emotions and retaliations.

In conclusion, the current research demonstrates that COO stereotypes do matter in the critical consumption setting of a potential corporate misconduct. It shows “how” and “when” the COO stereotypes of competence and warmth affect blame attributions and/or attitudes toward a company’s products when a company is involved in a product-harm crisis.

Figures

Hypothesized conceptual model

Figure 1

Hypothesized conceptual model

Direct and indirect effects of COO competence and warmth on consumer responses

Figure 2

Direct and indirect effects of COO competence and warmth on consumer responses

Study 1 and 2 – measurement model

Study 1 Study 2
χ2(23)=180.72;
RMSEA=0.08; SRMR=0.02
NFI=0.97; NNFI=0.97; CFI=0.97
χ2(91)=742.90; RMSEA=0.06;SRMR=0.03;
NFI=0.96, NNFI=0.96, and CFI=0.96.
Measurement source M SD α λCFA CR AVE φ2 vs AVE M SD α λCFA CR AVE φ2 vs AVE
Model variables
COO Competence (COMP)a Manipulated
COO Warmth (WARM)a dichotomous variables
Blame (BLAME) Klein and Dawar’s (2004) blame toward the company
Seven-point Likert scale
(1=not at all, 7=very much), as adapted by Barbarossa et al. (2016)
5.18 1.33 0.92 0.93 0.76 0.41<0.76 5.12 1.46 0.92 0.92 0.75 0.42<0.75
 The company is responsible for the chocolate adulteration scandal (BLAME1) 0.89 0.88
 The company should be held accountable for the chocolate adulteration scandal (BLAME2) 0.84 0.85
 The chocolate adulteration scandal is the fault of the company (BLAME3) 0.90 0.90
 I blame the company for the chocolate adulteration scandal (BLAME4) 0.84 0.83
Attitude toward the company’s products (ATT) Jorgensen (1994)’s attitude toward the company
Seven-point semantic scale
2.95 1.26 0.93 0.93 0.81 41<0.81 2.74 1.29 0.91 0.91 0.77 0.42<0.77
 Bad […] good (ATT1) 0.88 0.84
 Negative […] positive (ATT2) 0.88 0.88
 Unfavorable […] favorable (ATT3) 0.93 0.91
Moderating variablesb
Ethnocentrism (CET) Shimp and Sharma’s (1987) seven-point Likert CETSCALE (1=totally disagree, 7=totally agree), as adapted by Cleveland et al. (2009) NA NA NA NA 3.30 1.58 0.86 0.87 0.63 0.14<0.63
 [Countrymen] should not buy foreign products, because this hurts [home country’s] businesses and causes unemployment (CET1) NA 0.79
 It is not right to purchase foreign products, because it puts [countrymen] out of jobs (CET2) NA 0.84
 A real [country person] should always buy [home country]-made products (CET3) NA 0.82
 We should purchase products manufactured in [home country] instead of letting other countries get rich off of us (CET4) NA 0.70
Animosity (ANIM) Klein et al.’s (1998) animosity
Seven-point Likert scale (1=totally disagree, 7=totally agree)
NA NA NA NA 2.29 1.54 0.87 0.88 0.71 0.14<0.71
 I feel antipathy toward [Country name] (ANIM1) NA 0.86
 I dislike anything linked to [Country name] (ANIM2) NA 0.79
 I feel aversion to anything linked to [Country name] (ANIM3) NA 0.87
Manipulation checksc
Perceived COO competence (COMP) Fiske et al.’ (2002), COO competence and warmth five-point Likert scales, (1=totally disagree, 5=totally agree), as adapted by Maher and Carter (2011) 2.90 1.14 0.94 3.28 1.11 0.94
 [Country] is competent (COMP1) NA NA
 [Country] is effective (COMP2) NA NA
 [Country] is efficient (COMP3) NA NA
 [Country] is skilled (COMP4) NA NA
 [Country] is capable (COMP5) NA NA
Perceived COO warmth (WARM) 3.23 1.16 0.96 3.07 1.04 0.92
 [Country] is friendly (WARM1) NA NA
 [Country] is warm (WARM2) NA NA
 [Country] is well-intentioned (WARM3) NA NA
 [Country] is good-natured (WARM4) NA NA
 [Country] is sociable (WARM5) NA NA
Perceived severity of the product-harm crisis (SEV) Lei et al. (2008) perceived severity seven-point Likert scale, (1=not at all, 7= very much), as adapted by Barbarossa et al. (2016) 5.1 1.50 0.90 4.80 1.62 0.91
 I considersevere the effects of the product-harm crisis reported in the scenario (SEV1) NA NA
 I consider dangerous the effects of the product-harm crisis reported in the scenario (SEV2) NA NA
 I consider harmful the effects of the product-harm crisis described in the scenario (SEV3) NA NA

Notes: RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation; SRMR, standardized root mean square residual; NFI, normed fit index; NNFI, non-normed fit index; CFI, Comparative fit index; M, construct mean; SD, construct standard deviation; λCFA, Factor loadings of confirmatory factor analysis; α, Cronbach’s α; CR, Composite reliability; AVE, Average variance extracted; NA, not assessed; aλCFA, M, SD, α, CR, and AVE are not computed for COO competence and warmth as they are manipulated binary factors and single item measures; bIn Study 1 statistics for the moderators are not assessed, as these variables are theoretically introduced in the model in Study 2; cStatistics for the manipulation checks, such as factor loadings, CR and AVE, are not assessed, as these variables are not included in the conceptual model

Study 1 and study 2 – Pre-tests and manipulation checks for country selection

Warmth
Competence High Low
High Study 1 – Canada
Pre-test
COMP: M=4.18, SD=0.94
WARM: M=3.68, SD=1.14
Main study
COMP: M=3.81, SD=0.88
WARM: M=3.90, SD=0.94
Study 1 – Germany
Pre-test
COMP: M=4.22, SD=1.08
WARM: M=3.59, SD=1.10
Main study
COMP: M=3.69, SD=0.82
WARM: M=2.59, SD=0.82
Study 2 – USA
Pre-test
COMP: M=4.17, SD=0.96
WARM: M=3.75, SD=1.03
Main study
COMP: M=4.13, SD=0.72
WARM: M=3.49, SD=0.87
Study 2 – Switzerland
Pre-test
COMP: M=4.29, SD=1.08
WARM: M=2.80, SD=1.10
Main study
COMP: M=4.15, SD=0.85
WARM: M=2.73, SD=0.98
Low Study 1 – Spain
Pre-test
COMP: M=2.42, SD=1.03
WARM: M=2.84, SD=1.22
Main study
COMP: M=2.37, SD=0.92
WARM: M=3.92, SD=0.93
Study 1 – Albania
Pre-test
COMP: M=2.50, SD=0.85
WARM: M=2.72, SD= 0.87
Main study
COMP: M=2.28, SD=0.93
WARM: M=2.47, SD=0.94
Study 2 – Greece
Pre-test
COMP: M=2.46, SD=1.03
WARM: M=3.63, SD=1.05
Main study
COMP: M=2.71, SD=0.83
WARM: M=3.62, SD=0.92
Study 2 – Romania
Pre-test
COMP: M=2.47, SD=0.86
WARM: M=2.70, SD=0.90
Main study
COMP: M=2.59, SD=0.85
WARM: M=2.66, SD=0.97

Notes: COMP, perceived COO competence; WARM, perceived COO warmth

Study 1 and study 2 – Socio-demographic characteristics of the samples per COO and product category conditions

Study 1 Study 2
COO condition COO condition Product category condition
Canadaa n=222 Spainb n=237 Germanyc n=130 Albaniad n=294 U.S.a n=333 Greeceb n=391 Switzerlandc n=369 Romaniad n=547 Refrigeratore n=391 Hot tubf n=407 Light bulbg n=383 Small scented candleh n=459
Gender
Male 42 43 43 44 54 58 49 52 54 57 52 55
Female 58 57 57 56 46 42 51 48 46 43 48 45
Age
18-25 49 48 47 47 52 50 49 51 48 50 47 51
26-55 45 44 45 43 38 40 40 37 44 45 46 38
>55 6 8 7 10 10 10 11 12 8 5 7 11
Education
Junior High School 6 7 8 6 5 4 9 2 6 7 5 4
High School 59 58 58 60 57 59 54 58 55 57 56 56
Higher education 35 36 34 34 38 36 37 42 39 35 39 40

Notes: Cells are percentages; ahigh competence-high warmth condition; blow competence-high warmth condition; chigh competence-low warmth condition; dlow competence-low warmth condition; ehigh-involvement, utilitarian product; fhigh-involvement, hedonic product; glow-involvement, utilitarian product; hlow-involvement, hedonic product

Study 1 and study 2 – manipulation checks of perceived severity of the scenario per country and product category conditions

Study 1 Study 2
COO condition COO condition Product category condition
Canada Spain Germany Albania USA Greece Switzerland Romania Refrigerator Hot tub Light bulb Small scented candle
Severity M=4.93; SD=1.54 M=5.01; SD=1.46 M=5.20; SD=1.51 M=5.25; SD=1.48 M=4.71; SD=1.53 4.78; SD=1.66 M=4.78; SD=1.66 4.94; SD=1.60 4.77; SD=1.57 M=4.62; SD=1.62 M=4.89; SD=1.61 M=4.88; SD=1.68

Study 1 and 2 – structural equation model

Study 1 Study 2
χ2(24)=182.27; RMSEA=0.08; SRMR=0.02; NFI=0.97, NNFI=0.96, CFI=0.97 χ2(24)= 312.65; RMSEA=0.08 SRMR=0.03; NFI=0.96, NNFI=0.97, CFI=0.96
Fit indices Hypotheses b b
Direct effects
COMP→ATT H1 0.12* 0.24*
WARM→BLAME H2a −0.22* −0.16*
WARM→ATT H2b 0.11* 0.10*
BLAME→ATT H2c −0.41* −0.41*
Indirect effects
WARM→BLAME→ATT H2d 0.10* 0.06*
Total effects
WARM→ATT 0.21* 0.16*

Notes: b, standardized β coefficient. *p<0.05

Study 2 – pre-test and manipulation checks for product selection

Motives associated with purchasing products
Involvement Utilitarian Hedonic
High Refrigerator
Study 2 – Pre-test
INV: M=5.51, SD=1.47
UTIL: M=6.26, SD=1.43
HEDO: M=2.39, SD=1.67
Study 2 – Main study
INV: M=4.60, SD=1.67
UTIL: M=5.26, SD=1.63
HEDO: M=2.58, SD=1.61
Hot tub
Study 2 – Pre-test
INV: M=5.31, SD=1.79
UTIL: M=2.66, SD=1.68
HEDO: M=5.34, SD=1.94
Study 2 – Main study
INV: M=4.73, SD=1.73
UTIL: M=3.19, SD=1.65
HEDO: M=5.39, SD=1.54
Low Light bulbs
Study 2 – Pre-test
INV: M=2.50, SD=1.43
UTIL: M=6.21, SD=1.61
HEDO: M=2.00, SD=1.56
Study 2 – Main study
INV: M=2.85, SD=1.69
UTIL: M=5.65, SD=1.61
HEDO: M=2.85, SD=1.62
Small scented candles
Study 2 – Pre-test
INV: M=2.65, SD=1.52
UTIL: M=2.37, SD=1.45
HEDO: M=5.45, SD=1.88
Study 2 – Main study
INV: M=3.28, SD=1.79
UTIL: M=2.76, SD=1.59
HEDO: M=5.33, SD=1.55

Notes: INV, perceived product involvement; UTIL, perceived degree of product utilitarianism; HEDO, perceived degree of product hedonism

Study 2 – interaction effects between the moderators and the model variables

Outcome variables
Blame Attitude
Moderators Independent variables Hypotheses b p-value b p-value
Ethnocentrism x Competence H3 0.02 0.46
Warmth H4a, H4b −0.06 0.21 0.07 0.04
Animosity x Competence H5 −0.01 0.93
Warmth H6a, H6b −0.24 <0.01 0.12 0.02
Product involvement x (low vs high) Competence H7 0.29 0.02
Warmth H8a, H8b −0.28 0.05 −0.15 0.17
Product type x (utilitarian vs hedonic) Competence H9 −0.27 0.03
Warmth H10a, H10b −0.01 0.93 −0.09 0.36

Notes: aModerators are mean centered; bmagnitude of the effect

Study 2 – conditional direct and indirect effects of the moderators

Direct effects of COMP on ATT Direct effects of WARM on ATT Indirect effects of WARM through BLAME
Types and levels of the moderators b Conf. interval b Conf. interval b Conf. interval
Ethnocentrsm
−1.58a 0.46 [0.30; 0.64] −0.01 [−0.17; 0.14] 0.11 [0.04; 0.19]
0.00 0.51 [0.40; 0.64] 0.10 [−0.02; 0.20] 0.14 [0.09; 0.20]
1.58 0.56 [0.39; 0.73] 0.20 [0.05; 0.35] 0.17 [0.09; 0.24]
Animosity
−1.12 0.54 [0.36; 0.72] −0.04 [−0.19; 0.12] 0.02 [−0.04; 0.10]
0.00 0.54 [0.42; 0.65] 0.10 [−0.01; 0.21] 0.12 [0.07; 0.18]
1.12 0.53 [0.37; 0.70] 0.23 [0.06; 0.40] 0.22 [0.14; 0.30]
Product involvement
Low-involvement products 0.37 [0.20; 0.54] 0.18 [0.03; 0.33] 0.08 [0.01; 0.15]
High-involvement products 0.66 [0.49; 0.83] 0.03 [−0.13; 0.19] 0.18 [0.10; 0.26]
Product type
Utilitarian 0.65 [0.48; 0.83] 0.14 [−0.01; 0.30] 0.13 [0.05; 0.21]
Hedonic 0.39 [0.22; 0.55] 0.04 [−0.10; 0.19] 0.14 [0.06; 0.20]

Notes: aModerators are mean centered; bmagnitude of the unstandardized effect. Confidence intervals that do not contain zero represent a significant overall indirect effect

Notes

1.

Despite not mentioned explicitly in the following post hoc comparisons, we always use the Bonferroni correction throughout the manuscript.

2.

Results are available from the authors upon request.

3.

For the sake of brevity, only one of the sixteen scenarios of Study 2 is reported. The remaining narratives are available from the authors upon request.

4.

In this case, the chi squared difference is marginally significant. It suggests that, despite the lack of support for the direct effect COMP→BLAME, the constraint imposed by the initial model should be rejected.

Appendix 1. Study 1 – Narrative scenario, “the killer chocolate scandal”

“Pralines” is a Canadian (Spanish/German/Albanian) company that sells chocolates all over the world. In January 2015, the company was involved in a food safety scandal known as “the killer chocolate scandal.” According to Regulation (EU) No. 1,169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, consumers have the right to be informed about their food purchasing and consumption choices through a transparent system of labels indicating the exact food composition. However, the chocolate foods sold by the company, which were advertised as containing cocoa powder, were found to contain undeclared ingredients. After a series of inspections in some European supermarkets, the Food Safety Authority reported that the chocolate products branded by the Canadian (Spanish/German/Albanian) company, were found to contain cheaper ingredients (replacing up to 100 per cent of the cocoa powder), such as sugar or starches (e.g. wheat, potato flour, or sago meal) and harmful food colorings. Some of these ingredients can make chocolate more difficult to digest and therefore highly endanger the health of those consumers who suffer of digestive problems. Other ingredients, such as red oxide of iron, Acid Red, and Red Sudan 7B, which are used to color the food, are highly poisonous and may cause abdominal pain, nausea, fever and – in severe cases – human death.

Newspapers reported of fifty cases of consumers being intoxicated by Pralines’ chocolate worldwide, within the period November 2014-January 2015. Among these cases, 12 consumers were hospitalized for dramatic abdominal pains and four of them passed away.

No clear explanation is available yet for the presence of undeclared ingredients in the company’s chocolate products. The Food Safety Authority is examining different potential agents responsible for the chocolate fraud, such as the company, its suppliers and carriers, the retailers, the consumers, and the government regulators.

In the aftermath of the killer chocolate scandal, the Canadian (Spanish/German/Albanian) company claimed it had never bought or used harmful ingredients. Simultaneously, it recalled the faulty products from the market.

Appendix 2. Study 2 – Narrative scenario, “the killer candles scandal”

“Bouquet Candle” is a US (Greek/Swiss/Romanian) company that sells small perfumed candles all over the world. In January 2015, the company was involved in a product safety scandal known as “the killer candles scandal.” According to The General Product Safety Directive 2001/95/EC, consumers have the right to be informed about their purchasing and consumption choices through a transparent system of labels indicating the exact product composition. However, the small perfumed candles sold by the company, which were advertised as containing bees wax, were found to contain undeclared ingredients. After a series of inspections in some European supermarkets, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that the perfumed candles branded by the US (Greek/Swiss/Romanian) company, were found to contain cheaper materials (replacing up to 100 per cent of the bees wax), such as paraffin mixed with toxic chemicals and harmful product colorings. Some of these materials cause toxic fumes when candles are lighted up and therefore they may highly endanger the health of those consumers who breath in the candles’ fumes for long periods. Other materials, such as hexavalent chromium, Acid Red, Red Sudan 7B, and Ponceau MX, which as used to color the paraffin, are extremely flammable and may cause excessive heat storage, unexpected re-ignition, candle explosion and – in severe cases – fatal residential fires.

Newspapers reported of 50 cases of consumers being intoxicated by the company’s perfumed candles worldwide, within the period November 2014-January 2015. Among these cases, twelve consumers were hospitalized for dramatic burns and four of them passed away.

No clear explanation is available yet for the presence of undeclared materials in the company’s perfumed candles. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is examining different potential agents responsible for the incident, such as the company, its suppliers and carriers, the retailers, the consumers, and the government regulators.

In the aftermath of the killer candles scandal, the US (Greek/Swiss/Romanian) company claimed it had never bought or used harmful materials. Simultaneously, it recalled the faulty products from the market.

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Supplementary materials

IMR_35_3.pdf (11.9 MB)

Acknowledgements

The authors are extremely grateful for the constructive comments of the three anonymous reviewers, the sage guidance of the associate editor, and the support of the editor. Mark Cleveland served as associate editor for this article.

Corresponding author

Camilla Barbarossa can be contacted at: c.barbarossa@tbs-education.fr