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Magazines & Newsletters / ASTM Standardization News


May/June 2008

Consumer Product Testing Across Cultures and Countries

A Manual for Research

by Cicely Enright

Manual 55One size does not fit all.

That’s true in many situations, including consumer products and the tests that guide their introduction in different countries. Manual 55, International Consumer Product Testing Across Cultures and Countries, details the many considerations that companies must take into account when conducting product research to expand into new international markets, including the unique situations involved in the design and execution of consumer tests conducted with different cultures or in different countries.

Not paying attention to the specifics about individual international markets, cultures, customs and language can negatively impact results, as Chevrolet learned when introducing the Nova into Spanish-speaking countries. Stories recount that the car sold poorly because Nova means “doesn’t go.” Similarly, Fiat needed to rename its Uno model to sell it in Finland because the word in Finnish means garbage.

Manual 55 gives special consideration to language issues, questionnaire design and test execution based on key cultural differences among countries around the world. The manual discusses relevant topics such as the appropriate times of day to test products, how participants are recruited and the cultural subgroups that may respond differently to tests, among other areas.

A General Principles section covers the issues involved in the planning, design and execution of international consumer product tests across cultures and countries, and the data analysis and interpretation of the results. Also available are 17 specific documents covering Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia, the Philippines, Poland, Spain, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each one contains information about social etiquette, culinary tradition, political and regulatory issues, among others, with such useful examples as remembering that seasons are reverse in countries from one side of the equator to the other and that certain categories of products from some countries are banned in others.

Co-editors Alejandra Muñoz, IRIS: International Resources for Insights and Solutions, LLC, Mountainside, N.J., and Silvia King, McCormick, Hunt Valley, Md., enlisted more than three dozen sensory professionals worldwide to ensure the work’s completion. “This is a truly international effort. It was important that the people who participated had a real global perspective and experience, or were willing to share their expertise and outline all testing–specific information for their particular countries,” says Muñoz.

While all of the content is valuable, if Muñoz had to single out one of the manual’s most significant points, it might be the information on questionnaire design and scales recommended for use and those to be avoided in each nation. “We have a nine-point scale developed in English, based on a lot of research, but what do you use if you go to Japan, for example?” she says. “Our document gives you that specific scale: a workable, acceptable hedonic or liking scale to be used in that country. The manual also gives examples of intensity or attribute diagnostic scales.”

Researchers will find the main issues that they need to deal with when conducting cross-cultural consumer research. “For someone who has never done this before, and wants to be conducting consumer research in a different country or with a different culture, Manual 55 provides useful and comprehensive information,” states Muñoz.