Consumers’ feelings towards foreign countries affect shopping habits

Erik Bertin Nes, Ragnhild Silkoset

Consumers are happy to buy products and services from countries they love. They avoid buying products from countries they strongly dislike.

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: International marketing

Some people simply love Italy. Others make no attempt to hide their Francophile bent. There are also those who adore the United States, while others have a taken a strong dislike to the same country.

People often form an opinion, either positive or negative, about foreign countries.

What is it that makes us love a foreign country? What makes us take a strong dislike to a foreign country? Will such love/hate relationships to other nations affect our purchases of goods and services?

Professors Erik B. Nes and Ragnild Silkoset at BI Norwegian Business School have, in cooperation with Professor Rama Yelkur at Saginaw Valley State University, conducted an extensive study to find out what makes us love or dislike a foreign country. The study was conducted among over 1,200 consumers in Norway and the United States.

Four factors that make us love

The researchers identified four key factors that may make us love a foreign country:

  • The country’s culture and scenery.
  • The country’ people and their mentality.
  • The country’s music, language or entertainment of this country.
  • The country’s politics.

When the Norwegian participants were asked what foreign countries they appreciated the most, their most frequent responses were: Denmark, the United States, Sweden, England, France, Spain and Italy.

The US participants had the following list of favourites: England, Canada, Germany, Italy, Australia, Ireland and Mexico.

The researchers also wanted to find out whether strong feelings (positive or negative) for a country have any impact on our buying or not buying products from this country. The answer, in brief, is yes.

“When you are fond of a country, you want to associate with that country emotionally. That can be achieved by consuming products from there,” explains Professor Erik B. Nes. 

A Francophile might for example express this side of his personality, both to himself and others, by choosing French products.

The study shows that people who are fond of French culture and music, drive French cars to a higher degree than others. The owners of American cars are more positive to American politics than others, and they also have a greater appreciation of Americans and their mentality.

Four reasons to dislike 

How about the reverse side? What makes us take a strong dislike to a foreign country?

The researchers identified four key drivers that may make us dislike a foreign country:

  • War/military operations.
  • Economic exploitation and influence on other countries.
  • The country’ people and their mentality.
  • The country’ politics.

If you have a strong dislike for a country, you prefer not to purchase products associated with that country. A person who has no sympathy whatever for American politics, is unlikely to drive a Chevrolet.

“Disliking a country does not affect your views on the quality of products from that country; you just don’t want to buy from them,” says Nes. 

The study shows, not surprisingly, that a country’s economy or participation in war/military operations rarely or never makes consumers love a country.

It is either of no significance, or it leads to a strong disapproval of the country.

Culture, scenery, music and entertainment, on the other hand, are factors that rarely or never make people dislike a country.

The market researchers identified two factors that can affect people’s perception of a country in both a positive and a negative direction: The people and their mentality, and the politics of the country.

Competing to be liked

Most countries are eager to be well liked around the world. This is the first study that documents a positive connection between this type of views (love/hate) on foreign countries and consumer behaviour. Being well liked abroad is good for both the economy and competitiveness.


Nes, E. B., Rama Yelkur og Ragnhild Silkoset. 2014. Consumer affinity for foreign countries: Construct development, buying behavior consequences and animosity contrasts. International Business Review. Volume 23, Issue 4, August 2014, Pages 774–784.

This article is published in the online news service ScienceNordic on August 18, 2014.


Text: Audun Farbrot, Head of Science Communication, BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 2. September 2014

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