China accounts for a significant proportion of the revenues of major US brands, yet a new survey suggests the ongoing trade dispute between the two countries has triggered a marked hardening of sentiment among Chinese consumers.

Support for US companies is declining, with just 58% of Chinese consumers saying they now have a favourable impression of them compared to much higher scores for companies from Germany (93%), France (89%) and the UK (87%).

That ranks US companies on a similar level to those from Japan (57%) and South Korea (53%) – two countries that have had longstanding rocky relationships with China.

According to Brunswick Group, the international advisory firm, more than two-thirds (68%) of Chinese consumers also say their opinion of US companies has worsened because of the trade dispute.

These are some of the key findings from its US-China Trade Tracker report, which was published last week shortly before the G20 summit in Japan, where the issue of US and China trade was tipped to dominate the agenda.

Based on responses from 2,000 Chinese and American consumers in early June, the survey also found that 56% of consumers in China have avoided buying a US product to show support for their country.

The report said this posed a “significant bottom line risk” to US companies because around three-quarters (77%) of Chinese consumers say they often buy products from them.

At the same time, US consumer opinion of Chinese companies is worsening with just 41% having a favourable opinion of them – a drop of six percentage points since October 2018. And over the same period, trust in Chinese companies “to do what is right” dropped 12 percentage points to just 44%.

Commenting on the findings, Peter Zysk, director of Brunswick’s China practice, told Jing Daily: “Chinese consumer sentiment toward US companies has taken a turn for the worse.

“The fact that American companies are now ranked in a similar tier [to Japanese and Korean companies] should worry US businesses.

“This is a challenging time for American companies. [However] Chinese consumers hold a substantially more positive image of American companies than of the US government … US firms must carefully consider the role they play in trade tensions.”

Sourced from Brunswick Group, Jing Daily; additional content by WARC staff