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Consumer Xenocentrism: An Alternative Explanation for Foreign Product Bias

Rene Dentiste Mueller* and Amanda J. Broderick**

One of the concerns of international marketers is whether the "foreignness" of a product makes it more or less preferable to consumers in different countries. Previous research has focused on more cognitively-based biases of national identity stereotypes, however, affectively-based biases related to prejudice may provide greater explanatory power of foreign product bias. This article applies the socio-psychological concept of xenocentrism (Kent and Burnight 1951) to the consumer sphere and argues that consumer xenocentrism (CX) serves as an intervening mechanism that bias some consumers to foreign products or brands even when domestic ones are qualitatively or functionally similar or better. CX offers an alternative way of examining and understanding foreign product bias; it also raises several important questions for international marketing strategy and opens many interesting avenues for future research.

Keywords: xenocentrism, ethnocentrism, national identity, consumer behavior, emerging markets


Research shows that a member’s identification with the national group strongly shapes attitudes, opinions, and beliefs about one’s self and others as well as one’s behavior - including consumer behavior (Balabanis et al., 2001). Traditionally, national identity literature has focused on in-group favoritism and out-group hostility or derogation (i.e. ethnocentrism); a similar trend can be seen in the marketing and, more generally, in the business literature (Shimp and Sharma, 1987). Despite the interest and attention received concerning theories related to consumer perceptions, attitudes, and buying intentions with regard to a product’s country of origin, our understanding of this area of research is still incomplete and there have been continued calls for further research. In particular, researchers have argued the need to: examine this area from multiple perspectives; study the conditions and context which influence consumers’ attitudes, perceptions and buying behavior; and to consider the role of affect in the decision to

*Rene Dentiste Mueller, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Director of International Business, School of Business and Economics, College and University of Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

**Amanda J. Broderick, Ph.D., Professor of Marketing and Advertising, Coventry University Business School, UK., Priory Street, Coventry, CV1 5FB, UK, E-mail:

purchase foreign or domestic products (e.g. Amine et al., 2005; Peterson and Joulibert, 1995; Amine et al., 1993).

Surprisingly little research, has been devoted to out-group favoritism and in-group derogation, termed xenocentrism (Kent and Burnight, 1951). In the consumer sphere, consumer xenocentrism (CX) appears to result in a preference for foreign products even when domestic products are qualitatively and/or functionally similar or better. Evidence of CX in different national settings suggests that the phenomenon is universal (Zhou and Hui, 2003; Khanna, 2001; Batra et al., 2000), however, consumer xenocentrics appear to be found in proportionally larger numbers in emerging market countries (Ger and Belk, 1996), which might explain why this phenomenon has received little attention. Importantly, the theoretical concept of consumer xenocentrism provides an alternative framework for understanding and interpreting previously documented consumer behaviors and demonstrates why suggested marketing strategies, which have tended to focus on improving product quality or image, may not work. This paper presents a theoretical review of the major contributions to the socio-psychological literature that conceptualize xenocentrism. A conceptual framework, applying xenocentrism to the consumer sphere is developed, together with the context and conditions under which it is likely to operate. Past research findings are then reinterpreted within this framework to provide an alternative explanation of foreign product bias with greater explanatory power. A summary of previous findings and research questions left unanswered provide researchers with several avenues for further research.

Theoretical Background

National Identity

In marketing, there have been several studies on national identity and consumption; however, most have concentrated on demonstrating how consumers express their ethnic identity through product purchase and consumption (e.g. Halter, 2000; Hirschman, 1981). In terms of national identity and in-group/out-group research, the focus has been overwhelmingly on exploration of in-group biases e.g. consumer ethnocentrism (Shimp, 1983; Shimp and Sharma, 1987), consumer patriotism (Han, 1988; Frank, 1999), and consumer animosity (Klein, 2002; Klein et al., 1998). More recently, attempts have been made at understanding a more general openness to foreign products (Cannon and Yaprak, 2002; Douglas et al., 2000; Balabanis et al., 2000). This stream of research, however, is in its infancy.

To date there has been little attention given to consumers who have out-group orientations (foreign preferences) and in-group derogation. That is not to say that such behavior has not been well-documented. A stream of country-of-origin research has documented instances where consumers demonstrate a bias for foreign products and against domestic ones (e.g. Zhou and Hui, 2003; Batra et al., 2000; Ger, 1999; Batra, 1997; Bilkey and Nes, 1982; Li et al., 1997; Belk, 1985; Okechuku and Onyemah, 1999; Lall and Streeten, 1977). This phenomenon has most often been explained in terms of negative country of origin image and stereotyping about product quality or features (Peterson and Jolibert, 1995; Samiee, 1994; Maheswaran, 1994; Papadopoulos and

Heslop, 1993; Tse and Lee, 1993; Roth and Romeo, 1992; Johansson and Nebenahl, 1986; Bilkey and Nes, 1982).

Country of origin stereotyping, however, taps mostly the cognitive component of national identity (what we know or believe we know about the quality of the product or products emanating from foreign countries). Consumer xenocentrism, like consumer ethnocentrism, patriotism, and animosity, taps mostly the affective component of national identity (emotional attachment, intensity of attachment, sense of belonging, importance place on membership, commitment to nation, etc). Cognition is most often associated with stereotypes, however, attitudes and prejudice are typically shown to be associated with affect (Banaji, 2002). Though there is a mutual interrelationship between affective and cognitive components, cognition and affect are conceptually separable and, though closely associated, they are not necessarily fully congruent (Brewer and Kramer, 1985). Indeed, throughout the psychological literature, the behavioral effects of the cognitive component have been shown to be mediated by the concomitant affective component (Walker and Pettigrew, 1984). Johansson (1988) and Johansson et al. (1985) have used the example of Jewish consumers’ high evaluation of German products but reluctance to buy as an example of the affective component overriding the cognitive one. Research on consumer ethnocentrism (Shimp and Sharma, 1987) and consumer animosity (Klein et al., 1998) show similar results.

In much of the business literature, researchers have tended to focus on the cognitive

aspects of foreign product preferences and have given very little attention to the affective aspects; this is a critical omission. Okechku and Onyemah (1999) noted in their study on Nigeria that the ever-present desire to be seen wearing, driving, or using foreign products meant that local manufacturers there were no further ahead even when they invested in improving product quality. Consequently, if consumer xenocentrism is prevalent, the challenges for domestic producers would be greater than merely

overcoming quality concerns, giving price reductions and/or changing promotional strategies.


Most national identity research has been centered on nationalism and other in-group biases, however, early on Kent and Burnight (1951) noted that there were those who are nationals of one group but who psychologically and emotionally identify with a foreign group. The authors went on to define xenocentrics as those who “prefer a society other than their own and who rate and scale everything in reference to it and not their own” (Kent and Burnight, 1951; p.256). The authors emphasized xenocentrics do not simply have an out-group bias, there is also a corresponding derogation or hostility of their in- group; in contrast to ethnocentrics who see national virtues where none exist, xenocentrics see faults where none exist (p.257).

A number of important early researchers also describe the concept without using the

xenocentric term. Fishbein (1963), for example, termed those oriented negatively

towards their own (national) group as “autonomous non-members“; Singer and Radloff (1963) called them “renegades”; “alienated” is the term used by DeLamter et al. (1969); and in Geutzhow's (1955) book, these members are termed “disaffected nationals”. After reviewing twenty years of Latin American research findings, Montero (1986) applied the term ‘altercentrism’ to describe the widespread and consistent over- evaluation of the U.S. culture and under-evaluation of Latin Americans’ own. Swartz (1961) similarly describes the great esteem for a foreign material culture and the poor evaluation of one's own as “negative ethnocentrism”. Indeed, Hyman and Singer (1968), in their seminal anthology of reference group readings, summarize that ordinary language is rich in terms used to describe individuals who are positively oriented to an out-group and negatively oriented to their own group; however, neither the authors nor their colleagues offered a collective term to describe the particular phenomenon.

Though identified over fifty years ago, the study of xenocentrism remains under- researched and disjointed despite it being detailed throughout the social sciences in a number of national settings; a similar trend can be seen in the marketing literature. This is somewhat surprising as much of the theoretical research, though conducted within a socio-political psychology orientation, has often used members’ preference for foreign products and the material culture of other countries as examples of xenocentric behavior (e.g. Kent and Burnight, 1951; Swartz, 1961; Montero, 1986; Beirstecker, 1978; Barber, 1996; Lall and Streeten, 1977; James, 1993; Aleksic, 2002).

The Socio-psychological Explanation of Xenocentrism

Over the last several decades, social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1986), including theories on self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1965), collective self-esteem (Luhtanen and Crocket, 1992), reference group (Merton and Rossi, 1950; Hyman and Singer, 1968), counter-culture (Roszak, 1970), and relative deprivation (Runciman, 1966) have been used by researchers worldwide across disciplines to explain in-group and out-group orientations and behaviors; these theories have also been applied fruitfully to explain national identity phenomena. Within this context, a parsimonious explanation for xenocentric behavior is that all individuals strive for positive self-image (esteem). While self-esteem is dependent on a number of psychological and environmental factors, a significant proportion of one’s self-esteem derives from group membership, the status of one's in-group, and (favorable) inter-group comparisons. The more positive the feelings about one’s group (one’s collective self-esteem), the higher one’s personal self-esteem. On an individual level, low personal self-esteem can result in personal attempts to overcome such feelings by becoming obsessive with status and power and over- identification with the national group (Rokeach and Restle, 1960). When the status of a member’s own group is low, members may feel frustrated and, most commonly, members will restrict inter-group comparisons to lower status groups or seek to leave the group and join higher status groups i.e. “pass”; less frequently members of the group will also collectively protest their relative deprivation (Grant and Brown, 1995). Importantly, members value group loyalty and favorable attachment to the group and those that question or challenge the group’s values are considered deviant and disloyal (Druckman, 1994).

Reference group theory (e.g. Merton and Rossi, 1950; Hyman and Singer, 1968) has consistently demonstrated that an individual’s attitudes are often related to or anchored in one or more social groups, including out-groups (Kelley, 1968). In forming attitudes, several groups may be employed, each with limited jurisdiction over some specialized attitude sphere; rarely does one group become the referent for all values of aspiration (Eisenstadt, 1968). A superior rating for a foreign country on some specific trait, therefore, does not necessarily mean that there is a general devaluation of all domestic traits (Kent and Burnight, 1951; Swartz, 1961). Swartz’s (1961) research, for example, found that the devaluation of one’s own country’s material culture and the overestimation of that of a foreign culture did not necessarily extend to a general devaluation of all domestic traits; consequently, there are no “ideal” or “pure” xenocentric types (Kent and Burnight, 1951).

Kent and Burnight (1951) describe several different types of xenocentrics: the aesthete who completely abandons his own native culture for foreign ways which he may know little about; first generation nationals (normally immigrants) who reject their native culture for their new national culture; and some second and third generation progeny who idealize the land of their forefathers and set up the culture as the supreme arbiter for all other cultures. The authors hypothesized that, in America, the number of xenocentrics was relatively small. When originally conceptualized, the primary sources of xenocentrism were thought to be: personal frustration at being rejected by the group; social isolation because the individual is unable to feel a part of the group; or inferior social position within the group (Kent and Burnight, 1951). According to DeLamter et al. (1969) those negatively oriented to their own national group will often call for a “higher” loyalty to some other system. Age may also be factor as Kent and Burnight (1951) note that younger members often reject their own group as an expression of independence and emancipation; though later in life it is normal for these members return to the group. Research on counter-culture shows similar results (Roszak, 1970).

While some xenocentrism may draw attention to weak points in societal structure and may be conductive to positive change, the continued functioning of society demands that xenocentrism be kept to a minimum (Kent and Burnight, 1951). The person who belongs in the group, but remains outside it, by his mere indifference and non-affiliation, positively harms the group by reducing the power of the group and by threatening its norms (Merton, 1957); this member also becomes a living symbol of the inferiority imputed to the group. Indeed, Guetzkow (1955) argues that once the chain (of national loyalty) is broken, there is a very rapid diminution of loyalty. Consequently, members who derogate and distance themselves from the group in order to protect their personal self-esteem, often do so at the expense of collective self-esteem (Tajfel and Turner,


Much of the national identity research has been conducted using high status (i.e. economically advanced) nations. With lower status groups, comparisons favoring the in- group might be difficult as these groups are inferior on many evaluative dimensions e.g. wealth, educational achievement, etc.; positive inter-country comparisons would be more difficult (Grant and Brown, 1995). Guetzkow (1961) describes some minor evidence of this with regard to smaller, less powerful, and less prestigious nations. The over-valuation of a foreign culture (usually Western) and corresponding under-valuation

of one’s own national culture is a common theme of essays dealing with the uneven development of emerging market economies and, specifically, in essays pertaining to colonization, dependency economics and cultural and/or media imperialism. A common argument used in these studies is that colonization leads to a social psychology based on presumed superiority of the colonizers and inferiority of the colonized where colonial subjects have learned to internalize images, ideas, and traditions of the colonizing country while disregarding or devaluing their own (e.g. Aleksic, 2002).

After reviewing a range of findings from Latin American research, Salazar (1983) did uncover a pattern that suggests where socioeconomic and cultural development had been conditioned by other more powerful nations, members had learned to compare and devalue themselves. A similar mental conditioning has been described in Africa (Belk, 2000; Kier, 1992; Prah, 1999), the Caribbean (Lowenthal, 1972), and parts of Asia (Gerth, 2003). Indeed, Kent and Burnight (1951) describe the Westernization of large areas in the Far East, where members irrationally gave up parts of the own culture as backward and imitated western ways, as typifying xenocentric behavior. Not all xenocentrics, however, are members of low-status groups or non-western nations. Kent and Burnight (1951) used the members of the American Communist Party being irrational in their attachment for the Soviet Union as an example of xenocentrism. Likewise, there is much in the literature about members from high status nations almost completely identifying with other national groups. There are historical references, for example, of missionaries, colonists, and other international travelers as “going native”. From the historical literature, it is clear that this phenomenon was a known risk when sending members abroad.

A Theoretical Framework

A Definition of Consumer Xenocentrism

In his seminal work, Sumner (1906) defined ethnocentrism as “a view of thing in which a group other than one’s own is the center of everything, and all others, including one’s own group, are scaled and rated with reference to it” and used the ethnocentrism concept to explain favorable evaluations of the in-group and unfavorable ones of the out-group. Shimp and Sharma (1987) subsequently applied Sumner’s (1906) ethnocentrism concept (and definition) to the consumer sphere to explain why some consumer’s are biased towards domestic products (and against foreign ones) even when foreign products are qualitatively similar or better. Kent and Burnight (1951) originally noted that little attention had been devoted to the counterpart of ethnocentrism and, by paralleling Sumner’s (1906) ethnocentrism definition, the authors developed their own theory and definition of the xenocentrism concept to explain those who have an out-group bias rather than an in-group one. Bowing to tradition, we build upon the definitions and concepts developed by the aforementioned researchers to define a consumer xenocentric as “a person who prefers products from a country (or region) other than their own and who rates and scales products in reference to the foreign country and not their own”. Consumer xenocentrism, we argue, can serve as an intervening mechanism which results in a preference for foreign goods even when domestic products are qualitatively similar or better.

Whether termed American, Western, or Global 1 , the bias for foreign products and against domestic ones appears to be prevalent in many countries, especially emerging market countries (e.g. Holt et al., 2004; Batra et al., 2000; Alden et al., 1999; Shein, 1999; Batra, 1997; Ger and Belk, 1996; Friedman, 1990; Sherry and Carmogo, 1987). Bilkey and Nes (1982), for example, describe a Puerto Rican shoe manufacturer which shipped its entire production to New York City and back and advertised those shoes as being from New York because domestic consumers would more readily buy foreign shoes than domestic; this situation, the authors argued, is widespread in developing countries. Belk’s (1988) extensive research in emerging market countries shows that western brand favoritism often supplants local products even when local products are objectively superior in quality and lower in price.

The bias towards foreign products cannot always be credited to superior product attributes or functionality; rather, consumer bias often results because foreign products better represent an ideal or value with which a consumer can identify or aspire. In particular, previous research suggests that many consumers, especially those in emerging markets, are oriented to foreign products because of underlying socio- psychological factors that automatically accord statuses of prestige and/or modernity to foreign countries and, by association, their products. In other cases, foreign product bias may reflect an identification with political or economic ideals in opposition with ones own national system (Howes, 1998; Drazin, 1991; Belk et al., 1982; Bar-Haim, 1987). Importantly, consumer stereotypes about superior product quality of functionality cannot fully account for foreign product bias; neither consumers’ fascination with novelty or exotica explains this predisposition. Research findings, for example, show that foreign products, even broken ones or ones that cannot be used because consumers lack the knowledge or means (e.g. electricity) to use them are bought not for quality or functionality but rather, it is their foreign-ness that conveys status (e.g. Philbert and Jourdan, 1998; Ger and Belk, 1996). The popularity of low cost, low quality counterfeit foreign brands, an important sector in many emerging markets, has been used by James (1993) to demonstrate that foreign products are purchased for underlying social reasons unrelated to quality or price.

Consumer Xenocentrism and Status

People often substantiate status by consuming a ‘style of life’ in agreement with or in opposition to others (Hamilton, 1977; Weber, 1968). There is a significant amount of research that suggests the purchase and consumption of foreign products or brands is a socio-psychological phenomenon related to improving status and enhancing self-worth (e.g. Batra et al., 2000; James, 1993; Friedman, 1990). Importantly, the fact that foreign goods bestow such high social status to their possessors is significant because it tells

1 Frequently the literature references a consumer orientation on the much broader “Western” or “Global” consumer culture. Indeed, the theme of a universal ‘Western” consumer culture is common throughout the literature even if, as Sklair (1991) suggests, it is an inaccurate label because so many goods are from Japan or other Asian sources. The term “global” suffers from the same sort of ambiguity since all of the “global” brands and products stem from the same few wealthy regions (Hall 1992; Lall and Streeten 1977; Hamelink 1983; Bierstecker 1978). Despite the term used, in many countries and studies, the term “western”, “global” or “foreign” is used as a direct contrast to ‘domestic”.

that what is most highly regarded originates outside of the country (Bar Haim, 1987). A review of literature suggests that consumer xenocentrism may be more prevalent in emerging markets and, especially, in former colonies. Many attribute this bias to the legacy of the colonial experience and the socio-economic conditioning of the local elite that has resulted in a poor self-image of their own country and over-identification with the west (Gerth, 2003; Belk, 2000; Norberg-Hodge, 1999; Comarof, 1998). While most often applied to contemporary emerging markets, Breen’s (1988) research demonstrates that the American colonies encountered the same sort of conditioning. The phenomenon is so commonplace that Breen (1988) terms the standardization of taste in colonies as “colonization of taste”; Bierstecker (1978) terms it “taste transfer”.

Some research suggests that socio-economic change may exacerbate consumer xenocentrism. As Hamilton (1977) notes, changing socio-economic conditions can increase uncertainty of one’s status and can accentuate the use of material symbols and brand names to mark status. Heyman’s (1994) research suggests, for example, that when societies move from having rigid social classes, popular classes use foreign products as a visible referent that their social standing is changing (Heyman, 1994). Gerth (2003) describes this phenomenon in China: once the imperial examination system (the primary road to wealth, power, and status for one thousand years) was abolished, Chinese consumers increasingly turned the consumption of foreign products as a way to express and reinforce their social standing. According to Batra et al. (2000) the same is true today; foreign product purchase allows those in contemporary emerging markets to buy upward in the class system.

Importantly, this type of consumer xenocentrism cannot be explained fully by traditional prestige-seeking consumer behavior (see Lester, 1999 for a review) or even conspicuous consumption (Veblen, 1899) because the status accorded foreign goods is not simply due to scarcity or high price (e.g. Bar Haim, 1987). Likewise, research has also shown that the preference for foreign goods extends past those that are conspicuously consumed (e.g. Zhou and Hui, 2003). Indeed, researchers have documented the preference for a range of foreign goods preferred over qualitatively or functionally similar or better domestic goods that are often less expensive such as processed foods, infant food formula, toothpaste, cereals, clothing and footwear, soaps and detergents, cosmetics, footwear, building materials, and pharmaceuticals (e.g. James, 1993; Bierstecker, 1978; Norberg-Hodge, 1999; Sinclair, 1987; Bilkey and Nes,


Consumer Xenocentrism and Modernity

Consumer xenocentrism has also been attributed to the acquisition of a taste for modern goods (Lozada, 2000; James, 1993; Alden et al., 1999; Van Eltern, 1996). In

descriptions of foreign product bias, the local material culture is often contrasted as “backwards” (e.g. Garth, 2003; Classen, 1998; Hannerz, 1990). According to Ger and

Belk (1996) the "clash of foreign elegance and local roughness

cosmopolitanism" is prevalent in many emerging countries and this attitude biases members towards foreign products. In China, the decision of officials to reject the Manchu-style dress in favor of Western-style dress was done because many believed Manchu-style dress embodied China’s backwardness while Western-style dress was a

between rusticity and

conspicuous symbol of modernity (Gerth, 2003). Though many Chinese argued that the traditional dress was equal or superior in all objective aspects (protection from the elements, comfort, modesty, and ornament) and better suited to the climate and life of China, the government ultimately agreed with the local elite, foreign diplomats, and students returning from studying abroad in rejecting traditional dress in favor of the western-style. This type of rejection of traditional-style dress as backwards in favor of Western dress can be seen in many Asian and African countries.

While there appears to be no generally accepted operational definition of modernity (see Amer and Schnaiberg, 1972; McClelland, 1976), in the context of consumption, a review of relevant literature suggests that the term ‘modernity’ or ‘becoming modern’ takes on the symbolic meaning of rationalization, a more cosmopolitan view (rather than local), an openness to technical change, a focus on individual wants and needs, and independence from the traditional. Within this frame of reference, some have found that there is a consumer group that buys foreign brands because they embody the political and economic values of freedom and choice i.e. that foreign goods symbolize a system tuned to the preference and needs of individuals (Gajendar et al., 2003; Howes, 1998; Van Eltern, 1996; Bar Haim, 1987). While conducting research in Eastern Europe, for example, Bar Haim (1987) found that youths used the multitude of foreign (western) commercial items, which formed a central category, to assemble a personal style and to display individual taste - something locals felt domestic goods could not do.

Consumer Xenocentrism and Oppositional Buying

A smaller stream of research documents how consumers use the purchase of foreign products as a way to express civic disloyalty or disagreement through oppositional buying. Belk et al. (1982), for example, report that the American purchase of Swiss- made Volvo’s during the 1970s was a symbol of opposition against US Vietnam War policy and support for Sweden’s policy criticizing the same. Oppositional buying was also documented in Eastern Europe during the communist regime. Howes (1998), for example, argues the region’s conspicuous consumption of western goods was a way members demonstrated opposition to the communist system and support for political ideology and economic values different to their own i.e. foreign products were used as a way to convey a clear statement of what members stood against (Bar-Haim, 1987; Drazin, 1991). More recently, Muslim girls in the Middle East have been using the headscarf (or lack of one) to mark their separate identity and show rejection of rule imposed by an oppressive majority (The Economist, 2003). Conner (2002) argues similarly that the world-wide popularity of Hip Hop is due to its association with the African Diaspora and, to listeners, it represents resistance to the mainstream national culture. In the US and other countries, Rastafarian hairstyles, music, and dress by non- Jamaicans seems to serve the same purpose.

Consumer Xenocentrism and Ethnic Identity

Other researchers have shown how consumers use foreign products to materially demonstrate their identification with a minority ethnicity in opposition to the national majority (Halter, 2000). The wearing of headscarves by the Muslim minorities in France, for example, have been used by national minorities there to demonstrate a preference

for religious values in opposition to the predominantly Christian national in-group (Auslander, 2000).

Consequences of Consumer Xenocentrism

Not all products have social meaning and, in western countries, where consumer xenocentrism is less common and where consumers purchase thousands of products annually, the effects of consumer xenocentrism would be minimal and are often unnoticed. Indeed, it is natural for people and groups to admire and emulate successful out-groups. Much foreign product bias can be attributed to the quest to having higher quality (or better performing) goods and services. Foreign product favoritism can even be healthy as it highlights weaknesses in the domestic system and spurs domestic companies to produce better and more market oriented products. In less economically advanced countries, where there seems to be proportionally more consumer xenocentrics, several important negative effects have been noted. Research findings suggest, for example, that the purchase of more expensive foreign products is often done at the expense of food, health, and education and, consequently, contributes to a decline in living standards (Human Development Report, 1998; Ger and Belk, 1996; James, 1993; Hamelink, 1983; Mitalart, 1983). There has been some research that suggests that due to vulnerabilities arising from illiteracy and poverty, the lack of experience with consumer goods, and absence of controls on marketing, those in developing world are more vulnerable to marketing practices (which bias consumer towards foreign goods) used by those in developed countries (Aguaya et al., 2003; Taylor, 1998; James, 1993; Sinclair, 1987; Bierstecker, 1978).

Consumers who derogate and distance themselves from domestic purchases in order to present a different and more prestigious self, by their very actions may help reduce confidence and pride in local manufacturing which can lead to the loss of local industries (e.g. Bayly, 1986; Okechuku and Onyemah, 1999; Norberg-Hodge, 1999), a decline in purchase choices, especially among traditional products or even a dependency of foreign ones (Ger, 1999; Heyman, 1994; Dholakia et al., 1988; Belk, 1988; Sinclair, 1987). United Nations studies (Toepfler, 2002), for example, partially blame the rising dominance of Western values and traditions for a loss of local culture and knowledge and, consequently, the treasure trove of indigenous products, including many drugs, crops, and industrial products with superior properties, that have vanished from the market.

Ironically, significant consumer xenocentrism is likely to generate a “protection of the herd” mentality. Hannerz (1987) and James (1993) have described how foreign competition and discrimination can lead to a greater sense of unity and solidarity and result in a greater material identification with their own national group - in a sort of renaissance of the traditional. After an initial obsession and fascination with foreign products in East Germany and Hungary, for example, consumers flocked back to products reminiscent of their former selves in a phenomenon known as “ostolgie” (Blum, 2000). Nationalistic backlash via consumer ethnocentrism (Shimp, 1983; Shimp and Sharma, 1987) or consumer animosity (Klein et al., 1998) are other well-established reactions to consumer xenocentrism. Bayly (1986) summarizes a number of historical examples whereby natives in Asia and Africa eventually rejected European products and

refused to produce European crops in collective protest against colonization and destruction of the local culture. Gerth (2003), Hamelink (1983), Bullis (1997), and Batra (1997) relate cases of resurgent economic nationalism and chauvinism that resulted in a backlash return to local goods. According to Soyinka (1999), social history is replete with examples of nations that deliberately close their doors to foreign ideas, tastes and objects because they fear that there will be an erosion of confidence in or appreciation

of one’s own.

A less commonly discussed consequence of referencing higher status groups, rather

than one’s own, is that if the high promise of change is not met, feelings of relative deprivation result (Runciman, 1966; Hyman, 1968). Applied to the consumer sphere, mass dissatisfaction and feeling of being left behind relative to what consumers see on

television can create civil or political turmoil, even revolution (Sinclair, 1987). According

to Ger and Belk (1996), the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union

were as much about consumer longing and frustration as it was about political longing and frustration. Harmon’s (1998) research in China shows that the exposure to a new way of life and higher standard of living (especially as portrayed in Western media) has resulted in increased expectations that are not being met; the result has been protest marches, demonstrations, and assemblies (overwhelmingly in the rural areas) and even deaths related to the protests.

A Research Agenda

Despite national identity and consumption being a popular subject in anthropology, sociology, political psychology, and other areas of the social sciences, the literature remains surprisingly disjointed. Though there is a considerable amount of research that has consistently documented consumer xenocentric behaviors, most findings have been tangential to other studies. Placing foreign product bias within the framework of consumer xenocentrism offers researchers an alternative way of examining and understanding foreign product bias; it also raises many questions and opens many interesting avenues for future research.

The Universality and Dimensionality of Consumer Xenocentrism

To date, consumer xenocentrism data have been almost exclusively descriptive which has tended to limit the objectivity of the results. Likewise, many are country-specific so comparisons are difficult. Further research, therefore, should be directed at developing quantitative measures that can identify the dimensionality and universality of the construct and test the theoretical premises suggested by others. Of particular theoretical interest would be the relationship between consumer xenocentrism and other more contemporary forms of consumption such as materialism (Belk, 1985; Richins and Dawson, 1992; Ger and Belk, 1996) and modernity (Portes, 1973a; 1973b; Inkeles and Smith, 1974) which appears to share some common dimensions such as openness, individualism, technological advancement, scientific etc. Additionally, it would be interesting to empirically test differences in consumer xenocentrism and other types of out-group orientations such as cosmopolitanism (Yoon et al., 1996; Cannon and Yaprak,

2002), internationalism (Lutzker, 1960; Kosterman and Feshbach, 1989; Balabanis et al., 2001) and world-mindedness (Sampson and Smith, 1957; Douglas et al., 2000).

Demographics and Consumer Xenocentrism

Another area that could be explored fruitfully is whether some demographic variables serve as moderators of consumer xenocentrism and behavior. A number of authors have described that younger members are more consumer xenocentric (Batra et al., 2000; Petras, 1993). In this case, it may be that younger members are, as Kent and Burnight (1951) describe, simply demonstrating their youthful independence. It would be interesting to see whether younger members continue to have a life-long bias towards foreign products or whether they begin to value more their own group and its products as they age. Nam (1998) also offers an interesting observation that foreign product bias may be especially true for women who have been subjugated or live in male-oriented societies. An examination of gender differences, consequently, might yield some useful findings. Likewise, past research has suggested that children of immigrants and ethnic minorities that are economically, socially or politically disadvantaged are likely to be more xenocentric. An investigation of ethnicity and consumer xenocentrism, consequently, would also be of interest to marketing practitioners.

Researchers have also noted economic differences. There is much descriptive research, for example, demonstrating that foreign products are purchased more often by wealthier domestic consumers, especially the local elite who want to demonstrate their status relative to world standards (e.g. James, 1993; Belk, 2000). Indeed, James (1993) argues that in order to maintain the image, consumers must also purchase a set of complementary goods, consequently, to reap that status rewards of foreign products one must have greater financial resources. Similarly since attempts at upward social mobility will be initiated by those disadvantaged group members who are closest to the advantaged group in terms of necessary entrance (e.g. Taylor et al., 1987), it seems likely that a positive relationship exists between income and consumer xenocentrism. Other studies show, however, that the masses, though not wealthy enough to purchase expensive foreign products will, nevertheless purchase less expensive foreign goods and counterfeits as a way to show their status. James (1993) even argues that lower income consumers are likely to get proportionally more benefit from a rise in status that results from foreign product acquisition and, consequently, less affluent consumers might be expected to be more consumer xenocentric.

Several researchers have commented on urban and rural differences with regard to foreign product bias. Bullis (1997), for example, noted that urbanites in India were the first to embrace prestige-enhancing foreign products. Research conducted by Shultz et al., (1994) suggests this may be because older, more rural populations may have more traditional values and modes of behavior which are highly resistant to change (and, therefore, be less likely to prefer foreign products). Urban/rural differences, however, may simply be due to the fact that those in urban areas have more knowledge, exposure, and access (both economic and physical) to foreign products; it could also be that researchers have focused their studies on urban, as opposed to rural, areas.

Research examining urban/rural differences is, consequently, needed to more fully understand the consumer xenocentrism phenomenon.

Collectivism, Individualism and Consumer Xenocentrism

Several researchers have noted the relationship between collectivism and foreign product bias. As collectivistic cultures have strong social hierarchies, members place more importance on social recognition and preserving public image (Triandis et al., 1990); consequently, the symbolic value of consumption becomes more important in collectivistic cultures (Wong and Ahuvia, 1998). Others have suggested that the purchase of foreign goods reflects the progression from a collective society to a more individualized social life where individuals compete with one another for status through the display of foreign (Western) goods (Philbert and Jourdan, 1998). Because there is a high correlation between economic development and collectivism (Hofstede, 1980), foreign product bias may be marked in emerging markets.

The Product-life Cycle and Consumer Xenocentrism

Consumer xenocentrism might also be studied fruitfully within the broader context of economic globalization and globalized societies. Certainly, globalization has resulted in greater flows of products and people between countries. When emerging markets first open to foreign goods, foreign products and brands may already be well-known and highly sought-after (Arnold and Quelch, 1998; Amine et al., 2005). Some of the competitive advantage may be lost, however, as consumers become more familiar with the products (Batra, 1997) or when the product loses its ‘foreignness’ (Zhou and Hui, 2002; Batra et al., 2000). Likewise, as the overall status of a country improves, consumers may become less consumer xenocentric. In emerging markets, the product lifecycle (PLC) might resemble a j-curve or some other variant of the traditional bell- shape. If this is the case, marketing strategies will have to be changed accordingly.

Foreign Propaganda, Media and Consumer Xenocentrism

Kent and Burnight (1951) originally suggested that foreign propaganda, which presents a distorted view of a foreign society, is one external pressure that generates xenocentric feelings. Guetzhow (1955) also noted that infrequent contact with an out-group presents little opportunity for testing the reality of stereotypes and this can reinforce false stereotypes. Indeed, Zhang (1995) reviews that it is commonly thought that those in developing countries have less abundant information and purchasing experience with foreign products and this might bias them towards foreign products. This is supported by Schultz et al.’s (1994) review of marketing studies in less developed countries which did find that powerful images of Western or American consumption and the good life from exposure to seemingly wealthy tourists, travel to neighboring countries, advertising, and mass media contribute to the development of a false stereotype about Western advancement on a number of dimensions. Theories on western media imperialism and the unilateral power of western companies and imbalanced resources have also been offered as evidence that Western ideals are promoted disproportionately (e.g. Shiller, 1976; Ewen, 1998). Though there is considerable debate as to the validity of such

theories, a meta-analysis conducted by Ware and Dupagne (1995) did find some (limited) support for these theories.


This paper introduces the socio-psychological concept of xenocentrism to the consumer sphere and presents it as an alternative explanation for foreign product bias. A consumer xenocentric is defined as a person who prefers products from a country (or region) other than their own and who rates and scales products in reference to the foreign country and not their own. The authors hypothesize that consumer xenocentrism may underlie at least some foreign product bias. The evidence of consumer xenocentrism in different national settings suggests that the phenomenon is universal, however, consumer xenocentrics appear to be found in proportionally larger numbers in emerging market countries. The concept of consumer xenocentrism may provide insight into the development of international marketing strategy, outlining alternatives in countries or regions where marketers have tended to stress improving quality, reducing prices, and/or changing promotion strategy in response to bias against foreign products.

Past research shows that people and groups will admire and emulate successful out- groups. Much of buying behavior, as it relates to foreign products, can simply be attributed to the quest to having better goods and services or improving one’s life. Foreign product favoritism can be healthy as it highlights weaknesses in the domestic system and spurs domestic companies to produce better and more market oriented products. It may also give people access to technological and symbolic resources for constructing with their own identities. A deluge of foreign products might also give rise to an enhanced appreciation of one's own traditional products and services. While there can be positive outcomes from consumers referencing products from other countries, the negative consequences of significant consumer xenocentrism can be severe and can disadvantage local firms even when their products are of equal or even superior quality. Significant consumer xenocentrism may also spark a backlash in consumer and economic nationalism and consumers’ feelings of relative deprivation may result in political and social unrest.

Understanding consumer xenocentrism and the context and conditions that give rise to such ideological tendencies is important for academics, practitioners, and policy-makers. The lack of focus on xenocentrism in general has left us with little understanding of how consumer xenocentrism can be reduced or even under which conditions foreign products or firms move from being a positive frame of reference, stimulating domestic companies to be more competitive, to being perceived as a threat not simply to domestic industry but to the basic norms and values of the country. The paper has outlined a research agenda, identified the theoretical framework for consumer xenocentrism, and addressed some of the discrepancies and conflicts within the national identity and consumption literature.


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