Brands Impervious to Asian Anti-US Sentiment

09 April 2003

In the current worldwide tsunami of anti-American and British sentiment, US brands appear to have held up remarkably well.

In a survey of five Asian nations conducted by the Hong Kong office of Leo Burnett Worldwide, only 24% of respondents claimed to reject US brands – while 65% insisted they bought “the brands I like regardless of where they come from”.

Twenty major brands – including Coca-Cola, KFC, McDonald’s and Pepsi-Cola – were included in the telephone survey carried out in late February – before the US and Britain invaded Iraq. The countries surveyed were China, South Korea, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Most significantly, when consumers in each country were asked about purchase intent over the coming twelve months, every US brand in the survey scored 3 (or better), indicating “same intent to purchase as last year”.

And in an apparent anomaly, while 19% of respondents in the mainly Muslim nation of Indonesia said they rejected US brands, virtually double that number (36%) did so in multi-faith India.

Commented Leo Burnett regional planning director John Woodward: “Brand origin is not the key driver of the purchase decision, because Asian consumers are more interested in lifestyle and social values than politics.”

In an interesting paradox [especially given its highly developed capitalist economy], Woodward reports: “The most difficult country in Asia for global brands is South Korea, because it has strong indigenous brands and there is less need for status that comes from foreign brands. Also, younger people there are more anti-Western.”

North American and European political sentiments are also ignored by Asians when it comes to such icons of global capitalism as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. While widely criticized in the US and Europe, both brands scored highest in the Asian survey when asked which brands “understand me and my needs” and “have my country’s interests at heart”. Woodward believes this unanticipated result reflects long-standing social programs by both companies and heavy advertising.

Most brands surveyed were perceived to be as much global as American, although attitudes to brand origin varied greatly by country. In China, a relative newcomer to Western brands, international origin equals prestige. The driving factors in India and the Philippines are respectively quality and value; Indonesians, on the other hand, favor local brands to support the local economy.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff