Purpose: The international marketing field has witnessed many studies related to “country of origin” (COO) effects or the “made in” concept over the past few decades. Yet COO research is deeply rooted in the so-called “production-related” approach, which mainly accounts for production- or technology-based factors. Barely considered is the “consumption-related” perspective, which reflects consumers' proclivity to base their buying decisions on foreigners' product choice. In this paper, we propose the “country of reference” (COR) concept, in which consumers deliberately imitate the product choices of consumers from another country, to whom the former (i.e. the imitators) attribute superior or more prestigious personas. Design/methodology/approach: Unlike the made in concept, which emphasizes favored product qualities from superior manufacturing countries, we believe product preferences may arise from cross-border benchmarking or “cross-country referencing.” Pivoting on the optimal distinctiveness theory, this paper suggests a COR framework that incorporates the system justification theory and the self-discrepancy concept, along with decision heuristics and mental simulation effects. The proposed framework aims to explain consumers' inclination to “buy what certain foreigners buy.” Findings: We suggest critical propositions related to the COR concept, discuss its marketing implications, and pinpoint further research issues. Originality/value: COR may become a coping strategy through which low-status consumers perceiving themselves as less privileged than their high-status counterparts can narrow this gap by means of decision mimicking.
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