In both practical marketing management and marketing scholarship the concept of County-of-Origin has been widely employed the last couple of decades. Despite the ubiquity of country-of-origin references in contemporary marketing there are conceptual blind spots in our understanding of the concept. In this article the theoretical perspective of country-of-origin is discussed using the empirical example of Swedish fashion to illustrate how marketing related to the notion of place is al- ways contingent on the various mythologies always already present. Departure is hence taken in the notion that an under- standing of contemporary Swedish fashion cannot be decoupled from an overall understanding of Sweden's role in popular culture. This base in popular culture, together with the partic- ular historicity of Swedish fashion, forms a basis of different versions of Swedishness on which contemporary fashion brands —both Swedish and foreign—can build. A number of different ways in which Swedish fashion brands relate to these available mythologies of Swedishness, as well as other place myth- ologies is outlined. On a theoretical level the paper addresses calls for more research on the symbolic aspects of coun- try-of-origin.
To argue that the place where something “comes from” is important for the success of a market offering is by no means a novel thought. In mainstream marketing country-of-origin is typically seen as a cognitive cue, i.e. “an informational stim- ulus about or relating to a product that is used by consumers to infer beliefs regarding product attributes such as quality”. Culturally influence marketing researchers have critiqued this notion and added that country-of-origin is not merely a piece of information that goes into making decisions, rather coun- try-of-origin might link a product to a rich product-country im- agery, with sensory, affective and ritual connotations. Furthermore, since contemporary production and branding proc- esses are rather complex, oftentimes encompassing multiple lo- cations, the designation product-country image is sometimes used rather than country-of-origin to signal that it is rather the place that something is associated with that matters, rather than where something is produced.
Brands are important for consumers for several reasons. In the view of McCracken, consumption objects as well as brands represent bridges to displaced meanings, i.e. properties of our personality that we cannot attain in the here and now. The lack of these properties, we are led to believe, is what pre- vents us from being realized as a better version of ourselves. By the magical whims of advertising it is as if these proper- ties come to reside in the consumption objects. It is in this light that the notion of Swedish fashion, or any other place connected to a product group, needs to be thought about. Brand owners who try to connect their brand to a particular place trust that consumers will value this positively, and con- sumers value the place branding activities since they help them both in making decisions and in constructing a coherent life narrative. Country-of-origin might influence consumer product evaluations in three principle ways: cognitive, affective and normative. Cognitive means that country-of-origin is used as a cue for product quality, e.g. consumers might hold beliefs that garments sown in Italy are of high quality and garments sown in Turkey are of low quality. Affective means that coun- try-of-origin has symbolic and emotional value to consumers, e.g. consumers emanating from a particular country might be emotionally attached to certain brands and products from that country. Normative means that consumers might hold social and personal norms related to products from certain countries, e.g. some might not want to purchase products produced in sweatshops in which worker safety cannot be assured and oth- ers might want to purchase only locally produced products in order not to affect the environment with unnecessary shipping costs.
In order to discuss the use of Swedishness in the marketing of Swedish fashion the potential marketing positions related to place can be structured according to the two dimensions Intended Market and Place Marketing Approach. Intended Market refers to whether a brand caters to the Intranational (Swedish) Market alone or whether they are also aspiring to a broader International audience. Place Marketing Approach refers to whether a company is leveraging the mythologies rooted in the Intranational (Swedishness) in building their brand or whether a company are using the mythologies the International, which might encompass both other places and no place at all. These two dimensions create four possible positions: provincial, national, pseudo-international, and cosmopolitan. One important insight from this article is that the possible meaning positions that a company can take is not limited to the factual location of the company; either a national or an international marketing approach can be taken by Swedish or international companies.
A Swedish company leveraging a Swedish marketing approach could be said to have an indexical connection to the place. They can, in some way, claim lineage to the country of Sweden either because production takes place there or because the company in some other way is based in Sweden. Other companies might also leverage the mythologies of Swedishness but they then merely have an iconic connection to the place. There is a resemblance between the expression of the company and that of the available mythologies of the place, but no gen- uine physical connections. The same reasoning goes for the companies adapting a pseudo-international approach; they have an iconic connection to the places from which they draw their mythologies. By thinking about marketing based on coun- try-of-origin in this way we decouple the available strategies from the physical location of the companies and instead view various country-of-origin mythologies as cultural resources that can be leveraged by companies in their brand building activities. Depending on the intended market companies will need to adapt the way in which they perpetuate the available mythologies. This is especially the case for companies with a strong position on the local market but with aspirations to go global. These companies might then oscillate between a provin- cial position on the Swedish market and Swedish position on the international market.
Taylor & Francis, 2011. Vol. 2, no 4, 223-234 p.