'Made in China': the effect of country associations on a brand's personality.

Author:Wysong, Scott


This paper examines the relationship between a country and a brand. Specifically, the case of China and the numerous product recalls of 2007 is highlighted. In doing so, the different levels of associations that a brand has with a country are put forth in a model and discussed. Hopefully, this paper provides academics and practitioners with a new perspective on how to view brands and how their personality can be shaped by the country where the brand gets its parts/ingredients and/ or is made.


Firms spend millions of dollars to develop their brand's image. By investing heavily in brand names, logos, slogans, ad style, celebrity endorsers and sponsorships, a firm can create a distinctive brand image that portrays sophistication, ruggedness, etc. Yet, for brand icons, Barbie, Thomas the Tank, Alpo and Bassett Cribs, one decision nearly unraveled years of brand development: their association with China. Like many companies, these firms looked to China for all or part of their manufacturing process. However, in 2007, when children's toys ended up with lead paint and pet food was found to contain poisonous wheat gluten, these products and many others had to be recalled resulting in a publicity nightmare for all of those involved. Some of the headlines last year included:

"Chinese Goods: It's Not Child's Play" (Anonymous 2007)

"China's Brands: Damaged Goods" (Roberts, 2007)

"Shoppers Make New Kind of List: Toy Recalls" (Lade, 2007)

For years, many U.S. firms have outsourced production to China in an effort to cut costs. This is not a new phenomenon and American customers have come to accept that a majority of the products they buy are made overseas. But, the question remains, at what point are American consumers no longer willing to buy products made in China? In other words, what is the trade off between price and product quality? In a recent poll by brand consulting firm, Interbrand, "respondents said Chinese products are 'a good value,' [but] few labeled them 'safe,' 'high quality,' 'prestigious,' or 'luxurious"' (Roberts, 2007).

This paper explores how the image of a country can impact a brand's image when the two are associated with each other. To begin, an overview of branding and brand personality research is provided. Then, a model is put forth that shows how brands can be affected differently by the country association(s) it has developed.

Brand Personality

According to Bruce Roberson, Senior Manager of Marketing Research at Whirlpool Corporation, consumers readily assign human characteristics to brands. Furthermore, Roberson advocated that a firm actively manage its brand's personality to prevent the brand from taking on an undesired one. In addition, Roberson believed that brand personality is important because consumers may choose one brand over another based solely on its personality. Through research, Whirlpool discovered that its two top brands, Whirlpool and Kitchen Aid, had different brand personalities. Consequently, Whirlpool decided to use two distinct strategies to market the brands (Triplett, 1994).

Some brands not only have a personality, but charisma (Cart, 1996). With a dedicated following, these charismatic brands use their very strong personality to gain market share (Carr). An example of a charismatic brand is Harley-Davidson. As Aaker (1996) pointed out, if the number of customers wearing a brand's logo as a tattoo was an indication of brand equity, Harley-Davidson would be the leading world brand. Aaker (1996) adeptly described the brand: "Hatley-Davidson is much more than a motorcycle; it is an experience, an attitude, a lifestyle, and a vehicle to express who one is" (p. 138).

Do brands really have personalities? Several researchers have tried to find out. Alt and Griggs (1988) concluded that brands could be described with regard to four unique personality dimensions: extraversion, social acceptability, virtue and potency. While they only tested six brands, their research at least attempted to measure brand personality empirically.


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