Is it the company’s fault? It depends on its country of origin. Placing responsibility and international stereotypes

March 21, 2017
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In one of the most popular songs of 2016, the chorus goes: “I’m only human, after all…don’t put your blame on me”. The concept behind the song is that to err is human, it is instilled in humankind and we thus cannot place excessive blame.

But when it is a brand that makes a mistake, such as using a type of meat other than what had been publically declared, how much do consumers tend to understand or condemn the company for what it has done? And what factors affect related behaviors?

These are the questions behind The influence of country-of-origin stereotypes on consumer responses to food safety scandals: The case of the horsemeat adulteration conducted by an international research team including Alberto Marcati, Camilla Barbarossa (LUMSA), Patrick De Pelsmacker and Ingrid Moons (University of Antwerp). The objective was to gain deep understanding of consumer responses in the food market, a highly sensitive theme, and the psychological process behind placing blame (or not) on the brand for the negative event.

A sample of 816 Italian consumers was interviewed regarding a brand’s undeclared use of horse meat in 2013 in attempts to understand how their perception of the company’s country of origin (measured using the parameters “warm” and “competent”), influenced the psychological mechanism that places blame on the brand.

The results seem to confirm the researchers’ initial hypothesis. Stereotypes regarding the company’s country of origin truly do seem to influence consumers’ final judgement regarding negative behaviors. The study underlined that, in general, when consumers perceive the country of origin as a “warm country” (Spain, Italy), they tend to perceive the incident as an unpredictable chance occasion that can happen during a brand’s lifetime. On the other hand, and strangely enough, brands from countries perceived as highly competent (Germany), are blamed more for mishaps, as they are considered more capable of foreseeing and preventing negative events.

This type of information could be useful to a food brand manager to set marketing strategies or campaigns to emphasize or deemphasize qualities or defects prone to stereotyping, and thus assumed to be true

"The influence of country-of-origin stereotypes on consumer responses to food safety scandals: The case of the horsemeat adulteration"