'Born in the USA' Not As Important As You Might Think

Despite the lingering wounds of 9/11 still present in the American psyche and the shaky economic recovery currently pushing ahead, a new study by Arnold Worldwide says Americans place less importance on supporting American-made products than in previous years.

In the latest "Mood & Mindset" survey titled "Made in the U.S.A." conducted by Arnold Worldwide, 1,000 nationally balanced participants were asked questions designed to measure how important buying American is to the contemporary consumer. Arnold's study also aimed to learn who cares most about this issue, when they care, and why they care. Keeping in mind the nature of globalization, which tends to blur the lines of where a product is manufactured in general, 67 percent of the respondents said they think buying American is important, with 57 percent saying buying an American car is important. Lastly, 44 percent stressed the importance of buying American-made sporting goods.

"All this would argue that, as an abstract principle, buying American strikes a chord with many consumers, but as a practical approach to shopping for particular goods, it rapidly begins to loosen its hold," said Dr. Andrew Lynch, cultural strategist and Mood & Mindset founder, Arnold Worldwide. Many Americans wrote of the importance of buying U.S.-made products in order to keep jobs on our soil and maintain a healthy economy. Many others made the case that there are no longer clear definitions of what "made in the U.S." means.

"Ford vehicles are assembled in Canada; Nissan vehicles are assembled in Tennessee. There is no such thing, in my opinion, as a foreign or domestic brand car anymore," one respondent commented in the latest Mood & Mindset study by Arnold Worldwide.

The divergence when it comes to the significance of buying American is largely based on age, Lynch said. The poll showed that 45 percent of 18- to-34-year-olds claimed it was important that clothing was made in America, whereas the number of 45-year-olds and higher is more than 65 percent. The story of regional differences is easily told. In areas of the United States generally accorded more traditional values and lifestyles, there is a greater tendency to place importance on whether something is of U.S. origin. Thus, on the West Coast, the number of consumers who believe that it is very important that an automobile be made in the United States is 25 percent; in the Midwest that number swells to 40 percent. That pattern generally holds for the rest of the categories as well.

The notion of a product's provenance in the decision-making process of consumers is only one factor, said Andrew McLean, global chief client officer for WPP Group's Mediaedge:cia.

"Consumers make their decisions based on a raft of information that includes quality and reputation, price, packaging," McLean said. "Where something is made is one factor, and more often than not, it isn't the most salient one. Most companies don't market themselves as a symbol of a country. They market themselves as a brand. And that's what registers with consumers. Placing too much emphasis on a company's place of origin is dangerous because it plays into the xenophobic stereotypes that sometimes rears its head in times of stress or turmoil. The bottom line ought to be: let's not mix politics and commerce."

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