Costa Coffee: Country of origin effects

Costa Coffee, the UK’s favourite coffee shop (if you believe one of their more memorable advertising campaigns), is a British company which plays upon its Italian heritage. Founded by Italian brothers Bruno and Sergio Costa in London during the 1970s, Costa Coffee has grown rapidly enough to see its 1,000th store open in 2009. Whilst ownership changed hands to British hotel and restaurant operator, Whitbread, Costa Coffee has always retained its association with Italy such as through its tag line “Italian about coffee”.

This can be explained by the ‘country of origin (COO) effect’ theory – whereby consumers’ evaluation of a product is driven by the product’s home country. Marketers want to exploit any favourable impact the COO has on its brand (as well as minimise any potential negative impact) in order for their brand to be held in the highest esteem. In the same way that German-car manufacturers highlight their nationality to enjoy to positive association of Germany with craftsmanship and engineering, Italy has a strong heritage when it comes to coffee.

Coffee first arrived in Europe via Venice in the sixteenth century, brought from the Islamic world, and Italians have had a love-affair with it ever since. Coffee is an art to Italians and many believe it is the standard against which all coffee should be measured. Therefore, for Costa Coffee to position itself and become associated with this elite is a benefit, particularly when consumers are positioning it against proud-American, Starbucks, in their minds’.

Interestingly however, I recently discovered on a city-break to Warsaw that this association with Italy isn’t a global strategy for Costa Coffee. Country of origin effects are still utilised, but very differently – as demonstrated through a couple of outdoor ads I spotted:

Polish Costa Coffee Billboards

This translates to “Coffee shops with a London heart. In the heart of Warsaw”. Seemingly in Poland (and possibly some other markets), Costa Coffee is emphasising it’s British roots, without explicit mention of the product quality or Italy.

To Polish nationals, London and the UK is viewed as a place of aspiration and success. Since Poland joined the EU in 2004, skilled workers and graduates have increasingly seen London as an opportunity to a better life for themselves and their families – creating a positive association of aspiration and London, which Costa Coffee is using to its benefit through local advertising.

This is common practice in the advertisement of low-involvement products, like coffee. Your average consumer doesn’t have enough time in their day to enter into a complex buying process for every purchase and weighing up the pros and cons of each brand. Instead, we rely on peripheral cues to make these associations in our minds in order for us to make a quick, but good decision. For a basic product like coffee, the clear positive association that Costa Coffee is attempting to cement through its advertising campaigns could be the difference between choosing their brand over its competitors at the point-of-purchase.

Final thoughts:

There’s countless great examples of the country of origin effect theory in action for companies across many industries, but rarely do you see a brand play upon different COO associations across its different markets in the way Costa Coffee has. In an ever-increasingly globalised world where firms are entering more and more distant markets, reflecting on the connotations of the home market locally could serve up an opportunity to adapt global marketing strategies toward more localisation, with various degrees of COO emphasis, and potentially resulting in different focal points for product differentiation by market.


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