German and French brands stand to suffer

RESTON, VA: French and German companies operating in the US need to begin emphasizing their ties to the American economy to prevent a consumer backlash against their governments' decision not to support the US against Iraq.

RESTON, VA: French and German companies operating in the US need to begin emphasizing their ties to the American economy to prevent a consumer backlash against their governments' decision not to support the US against Iraq.

That conclusion comes from a survey done in late March by Fleishman-Hillard and Wirthlin Worldwide.

In the telephone poll of 1,003 US consumers, 64% of respondents said they were much or somewhat less favorable toward French companies and their products. In addition, 46% said they were very or somewhat likely to try a substitute product for a French one, and 29% said they were more likely to boycott or avoid purchasing French products.

As for German products, 52% of respondents said they are much or somewhat less favorable to German companies or products. And 19% said they are likely to boycott or avoid buying German products.

"It seems that there's a clear idea of who our allies are," said Dee Allsop, CEO of Wirthlin. To overcome growing hostility in their countries of origin, Allsop noted, French and German brands need to emphasize their ties to the US economy.

Companies that appear most vulnerable are major German automakers, Allsop noted. "If I were a German auto manufacturer, I would be actively doing something," Allsop said.

The survey found that about half of Americans can name, unaided, a German brand or company. Only 25% can do the same for a French company.

In the current environment, "lack of awareness of French brands is probably a good thing for them," Allsop said.

Rather than boycotting specific French brands, American consumers may lash out against French commodities like wine and cheese, he said.

Companies in allied countries may benefit, the survey found: 60% of respondents feel more favorable to British brands.

The survey also asked consumers how they're behaving during the war, and "found patterns like what we saw post-September 11," Allsop said.

Consumers are delaying major purchases such as home, auto, or major appliances.

About one-third of respondents said they find the idea of planning a vacation less appealing.

The airline industry has been hit hard by the recession and the war.

The survey found that 44% respondents said they are less likely to fly now, which can be attributed more to the poor state of the economy than to security concerns, Allsop explained.

"The uncertain economy is the dominant factor," he said, so airlines that stress security measures they take will not reach reluctant flyers, he advised.

AMERICAN CONSUMER SENTIMENT

HOW US CONSUMERS VIEW GOODS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES

FRANCE

64% less favorable to French companies and products

29% likely to boycott French goods

25% able to name, unaided, a French brand

GERMANY

52% less favorable to German companies and products

19% likely to boycott German goods

50% able to name, unaided, a German brand

HOW US CONSUMERS ARE FEELING

44% find commercial flying less appealing

41% find buying a home less appealing

33% find making a major purchase less appealing

30% find planning a vacation less appealing

46% find spending time with family and friends more appealing.

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