ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (4): 513-527.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.00513

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Hometown is the most reassuring place: The impact of ontological security threat on preference of hometown brands

XU Lan1,2,JIANG Yiran1(),CUI Nan1,2,ZHANG Liuxia1,ZHAO Shuaiqin1   

  1. 1 Economics and Management School, Wuhan University
    2 Research Center for Organizational Marketing of Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China
  • Received:2019-06-20 Published:2020-04-25 Online:2020-02-25
  • Contact: Yiran JIANG


The acceleration of the globalization and the occurrence of trade wars have caused people to be in an insecure state of ontology, that is, people’s ontological security is threatened. Ontological security refers to people’s confidence in the continuity of self-identity and the stability of the surrounding social and physical environment. In the marketing field, some scholars have explored how consumers cope with disruptions when their routine behaviors are disrupted. However, to date, few studies have explored the effects of ontological security threats on consumers’ brand attitudes and the underlying mechanisms. In the current study, we proposed that consumers would prefer their hometown brands when ontological security is threatened. Hometowns can provide people with a sense of security by providing routine daily life and building a personal group identity, thereby recovering their ontological security and increasing the preference for hometown brands. Thus, when people’s ontological security is threatened, they tend to increase their attachment to their hometowns. In addition, we proposed that individuals whose ontological security are threatened can be recovered from natural habitat exposure, and the differences in their hometown brand preferences would be reduced.

One pretest and three formal experiments were conducted to test our hypotheses. In the pretest, we used two scenarios (i.e., economic and cultural globalization) as stimuli to examine whether the scenarios could manipulate the participants’ threat of ontological security. In Experiment 1, we tested the effect by which the threat of ontological security influences consumers’ preferences for hometown brands through a 2 (ontological security: threatened vs. not threatened) × 2 (brand: hometown vs. non-hometown) between-subject design. In Experiment 2, we examined the robustness of the effect found in Experiment 1 and tested the mediating role of hometown attachment through a 3 (threat type: ontological security threat vs. life security threat vs. control) × 2 (brand: hometown vs. non-hometown) between-subject design. In Experiment 3, we investigated the moderating role of the natural habitat exposure by a 2 (ontological security: threatened vs. not threatened) × 3 (exposure: natural habitat vs. non-habitat vs. non-nature) between-subject design.

Results of the pretest and three experiments supported our predictions. Specifically, the results of the pretest showed that the scenarios we selected could successfully manipulate the participants’ threat of ontological security. Therefore, we used the scenarios in Experiments 1 and 3 for manipulations. Results of Experiment 1 indicated that when ontological security was threatened, consumers were inclined to choose their hometown brand (the willingness to visit the hometown tourist destination was higher). In Experiment 2, we found that the influence of the threat of ontological security on consumers’ preference for hometown brands was replicated in another product category (storage box). This effect was found to be mediated by hometown attachment. We also distinguished between ontological and life securities in Experiment 2. Finally, in Experiment 3, results showed that the influence of the threat of ontological security on consumers’ preference for hometown brands was moderated by natural habitat exposure. When ontological security is threatened, in comparison with non-habitat and non-nature exposure, natural habitat exposure helped people build emotional connections with nature, which could be utilized as a resource to cope with ontological security threats. Thus, people no longer need to seek a sense of security from home attachments. Therefore, no significant difference was observed in the preferences between hometown and non-hometown brands.

This study provides some theoretical and practical contributions. First, this study enriches the literature on ontological security by exploring the relationship among ontological security, consumer brand preferences, and decision making. Second, this study expands the literature on brand preferences by focusing on the psychological factors that influence the preferences of hometown brands. Third, we indicate the mediating role of hometown attachment and the moderating role of natural habitat exposure. Moreover, our findings have important practical implications. When the target consumers are individuals whose ontological security is threatened (e.g., immigrants and the elderly), marketers can emphasize the hometown information of the brand, leading to a higher brand preference. Non-hometown brands can use natural habitat contextual cues (e.g., displaying natural habitat-related products and brand images in advertisements) to help consumers build a wider range of place attachments from contextual stimuli, thereby reducing their focus and dependence on hometown brands.

Key words: ontological security, hometown brand, hometown attachment, natural habitat exposure

CLC Number: