Consumers around the world put aside any ill-feeling about U.S. foreign policy when they choose their fast food, soft drinks and sports shoes, a Harvard Business School study has found.
The survey of 1,800 consumers in 12 countries including Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia found that, despite expectations of a consumer backlash against U.S. brands, most people still choose brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's.
About 88 percent of people, a consistent figure across most of the countries surveyed, selected well-known global brands rather than local alternatives when asked which products they would like to buy. There was a rump of 12 percent who did not want to buy such brands, associating them with the U.S. and globalisation.
Professor John Quelch of HBS, who led the study with Douglas Holt, an assistant professor, said that local consumer boycotts following the U.S. response to the September 11, 2001 attacks had proved short-lived. People did not seem to have switched allegiance en masse to new alternatives such as Mecca Cola.
"It appears that consumer interest in new brands was shortlived, and they have reverted back to trusted global products," said Professor Quelch, who presented findings from the study on Monday night at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
He said that global brands, including Nike, were favoured by consumers in developing countries because they represented a guarantee of quality in markets where basic standards were not always guaranteed. Coca-Cola, for example, was seen as being a brand that used clean water in preparing its soft drinks.
Professor Quelch said the study, carried out by Research International last year, just before and during the Iraq war, also found that consumers felt that buying global brands showed that they were connected to global society. They did not regard big U.S. brands as identifying them with America itself.
Companies such as Coca-Cola had already been moving towards greater sensitivity to local markets before September 11, 2001. The backlash against globalization had made them adapt their image, moving away from overt American values. "They managed to inoculate themselves before the war on terror," Quelch said.
He said that large multinationals that worked with local partners in markets around the world were often regarded as a positive force in raising labor and quality standards. Consumers were clearly able to separate their feelings about U.S. foreign policy and U.S. brands more than had been predicted.