Country of Origin Effect, on Emotional Engagement


An Analysis of Italian Week in Australia based on ELM

Cav. Alessandro Sorbello – New Realm
Dr. Eliane Karsaklian – LARGEPA – Sorbonne University Paris
 
 
European Journal of Business Research®, 16(1), 63-72.  DOI 
 
 

Abstract

 

We studied the COO effect on emotional engagement in the case of Italian Week in Australia. We outline The Emotional Engagement Model (TEEM) which provides a general framework to understand the impact on COO on the creation of emotional engagement for participants with high and low involvement in Italian culture. A qualitative study generated key factors in establishing emotional engagement with Italian culture. Results from this research indicate that thanks to COO, Italian Week is not only able to generate emotional engagement but also generate positive COO to attendees with low involvement.

 

Key words: Country of Origin, Cultural Festival, Emotional Engagement, Consumer Behaviour

 

Introduction

 

The general premise that consumer behaviour is influenced by country of origin of products has been studied since the first article published in the mid-1960s by Schooler (1965). According to Samiee (2011) over 1,000 published papers represent a collective judgment by numerous scholars regarding the relative importance of COO (or the ‘Made in …’ as it is also know) . Despite the over 1,000 published COO contributions interest in the topic has not subsided very much. However, Magnusson, Westjohn, and Zdravkovic (2011), posit that despite abundant evidence of a COO effect and ongoing marketing practices, the COO phenomenon has come under increasing scrutiny. In effect, a conflicting research stream has emerged, which suggests that most consumers care very little about the origin of products. Despite the significant number of articles already published on the topic of COO and its influence on consumer behaviour, it is surprising that no research focusing on the power of cultural festivals in triggering consumption thanks to COO has been conducted. In order to fill this gap, this research conceptualizes an unstudied area of COO by relating to both cross-cultural marketing and cultural art marketing through the analysis of two cultures, Italian and Australian, from the perspective of a cultural event represented by the Italian Festival in Queensland known as Italian Week.  

 

The Festival conveys Italian culture in a broad sense of the word culture: nationality, country, arts, language and food to mention just a few. It can thus be defined as a ‘Cultural Festival’; a mix of amusement, education, and cultural interaction. Italian culture, like any prominent and well known culture is rich with stereotypes, and we seek to identify these stereotypes and investigate the impact of the Country Of Origin (COO) effect in generating emotional engagement by using a case study approach (Hede & Kellett, 2011; Uroševic, 2012). We particularly aim at contributing the understanding the relationship between COO and consumer involvement in a country and its culture.

 

To do so, we follow the lead of Petty and Cacioppo (1986) with their Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM). The ELM stipulates that in some situations, consumers are more likely to spend time elaborating messages because the message seems relevant to them whereas in other situations, the same consumers’ likelihood of elaborating messages is much lower. Petty and Cacioppo (1986)’s explanation to this difference is based on consumer involvement. The higher the consumer involvement, the higher the likelihood to elaborate. Conversely, the lower the consumer involvement; the lower is the likelihood to elaborate.

 

The ELM determines two routes to persuasion – central route and peripheral route - when consumers are exposed to marketing communication. The central route implies consumer high involvement in the message with consequent cognitive information processing, while the peripheral route is taken by consumers with low involvement of the information they are exposed to and which might not invest time and effort in its cognitive processing.  

 

The central route paves the way to attitude formation and change through several steps of a process that can be interrupted if the elaboration likelihood is low. First consumers need to be motivated and able to cognitively process the information, which implies that the information is relevant to them and that they have the needed ability to process it (prior knowledge, message clarity…).  Next, consumers develop enduring favourable or unfavourable thoughts about the message which lead to the formation of positive or negative attitudes, respectively, towards the object of the message which can be predictive of consequent behaviour. When consumers are unlikely to elaborate on the message via central route, the message is redirected to a peripheral route which leads to temporary attitude formation and change. This route leads to an attitude which is not predictive of consequent behaviour. 

 

Our research model rests on ELM as the overarching construct to understand attitude change as a consequence of a festival as a catalyst of message processing. Our findings demonstrate that although consumers gain access to the festival through the two separate routes - central and peripheral – the festival’s vibe (Fest-Vibe) triggers high involvement from all participants independently on their initial level of involvement when arriving in the event. We define the festival’s general feel, attitude and ambiance as ‘Fest-Vibe’. Fest-Vibe is what creates emotional contagion and sets the feel-good stage for festival-goer’s enjoyment. As a matter of fact, the Fest-Vibe creates an environment able to generate engagement from all participants through emotions.

 

The Fest-Vibe creates an environment able to generate engagement from all participants through emotions. By celebrating Italian culture thoroughly, Italian Week captivates all participants by both their senses and reason. The emotional engagement created by the event has a transformational effect over initially low involved consumers, at the same time as it consolidates positive attitudes towards Italy amongst initially high involved consumers.

 

The research presented here is part of a bigger research project which encapsulates the stages of Petty and Cacioppo’s (1986) model as applied to a cultural festival. Our model (The Emotional Engagement Model – TEEM), looks into the effect of country of origin and stereotypes as antecedents of cognitive information processing and at the experiential meaning of the festival as an influencer of consumer (self, cultural and social) identification. These variables generate emotional engagement. Consequently, emotional engagement reinforces positive attitudes to Italy amongst highly involved participants as well as it stimulates positive attitude formation to the low involved consumers. These results enable us to state that whichever the route to persuasion undertaken by participants to the festival, their interaction with the Fest-Vibe harmonizes their level of involvement with the festival and with the country it celebrates thanks to emotional engagement.

 

Insert Figure 1. Here (The Emotional Engagement Model – TEEM)

 

While ELM has been used to understand attitude formation and change as a consequence of exposure to marketing communications efforts, this is the first research applying the same model to a festival. The cornerstone of our research is emotional engagement through which attitudes towards COO are formed and changed.

 

Country of Origin

 

Researchers have conducted numerous investigations into the impact of culture on consumer habits (Sapienza, Zingales, & Guiso, 2006). Country of origin (COO) is recognized in the literature as an important tool for marketers to influence consumers' perceptions towards brands, behaviour and intention  (Agrawal & Kamakura, 1999). The importance of a brand’s Country of Origin was first recognized by Dichter (1962); who argued in favour of the “tremendous influence on the acceptance and success of products'' (p. 116) based on the perceptions consumers hold toward that country (Sapienza et al., 2006). Investigations conducted by (Schooler, 1965)found that identical products differentiated simply by the ‘made in’ label resulted in significant differences in consumer relationship to the product. Consumers were found to attach emotions to products based simply on the country of origin (Verlegh & Steenkamp, 1999). Research indicates that country of origin influences product evaluation to create preferences and make purchasing decisions, as it evokes emotions, feelings and fantasies about the country which makes the product (Askegaard & Ger, 1998; Papadopoulos & Heslop, 2002). Memories, pride, experiences and perceptions of the country were all tied into the experience of differentiating one brand from another. Furthermore, country of origin is a cue for identity, pride and self-identification thus memories and the emotive and symbolic significance transfer to ‘expressive’ or ‘image’ characteristic  (Botschen & Hemetsberger, 1998).

 

Bilkey and Nes (1982), focused their research on approaching country of origin as a product. Taking the concept of the ‘made in (country)’ their research found that the country of origin resulted in a significant influence of consumer’s perceptions of a product. Similarly, researchers are calling for investigations into identifying not only products, brands and categories, but how country of origin affects consumers perceptions and influences decisions about the entire offering of the country (Balabanis & Diamantopoulos, 2004). Beckwith and Lehmann (1975) and Holbrook (1978) claim that beliefs can have an impact on consumer attitudes and directly influence consumption behaviour. These beliefs about country of origin products and services has also been called the halo effect and may indeed influence attitude (Erickson, Johansson, & Chao, 1984). In a recent article Balabanis and Diamantopoulos (2011)  based on the works of Bloemer, Brijs, and Kasper (2009),  explain the “halo effect,” as a phenomenon which occurs when “consumers rely on COO cues to infer and form salient beliefs about the attributes of a product; in this case, “additional product information is disregarded” (p. 68) in the final product evaluations.” Similarly, the “summary construct effect,” occurs when “additional product information is not explicitly taken into consideration anymore because it is already summarized by the COO- cue” (p. 68).

 

The ‘halo effect’ relates to Italian Week as the country image has a positive impact on product beliefs which entails positive brand attitude. In other words the image of Italy conveys a positive image to the Italian products which can be found within the festival, which in turn will generate positive attitudes towards Italian brands in general. The summary effect relates to Italian Week as well, because the positive reputation of Italian products reinforces the positive image of the country which in turn generates positive attitudes to Italian brands in general. In addition to its role as a quality cue, country of origin has symbolic and emotional meanings to consumers and thus governments and marketers are concerned about managing the image of their countries to enable differentiation, increase tourism, inward investment and exports (Lopez, Gotsi, & Andriopoulos, 2011).  A festival named after a country such as is the case with Italian Week, can hugely influence participants’ perception of the country of origin.

 

Although, Magnusson et al. (2011a), findings suggest that consumers’ perceived COO of a brand, regardless of accuracy, affects brand attitude, Samiee, Shimp, and Sharma (2005), argue that brand origin information plays a role whether or not consumers actually know where a brand originates.  Usunier (2011) argues that the true effects of COO are when in fact the country is in no doubt, and when linguistic barriers don’t make brand perception fuzzy and involves guesswork. Italian Week removes any of these challenges by being genuinely Italian. Indeed, a Festival named after a country such as is the case with Italian Week, set our research apart of that discussion as the Festival can hugely influence participants’ perception of the country of origin, by the simple fact that consumers have no doubt about the COO of products and brands commercialized in the Festival. Italian Week brings the Italian culture as well as it products alive to Australian participants. All that is part of the Festival is genuinely Italian. Consumers do not need to elaborate on the COO to trust brands because they ‘know’ that they are Italian.

 

Although J.-C. Usunier (2011) and Samiee (2011) consider the topic somewhat outdated and no longer relevant in a globalized economy, cultural festivals represent a very specific way of affirming COO for products by encapsulating them within a whole structure specially organized for the purpose of promoting a specific culture and its products. J. C. Usunier and Cestre (2008), state that it is increasingly difficult for consumers to know where a product is actually manufactured. Therefore, consumers tend to rely on brand-related cues. A cultural festival goes far beyond giving country-related cues; it asserts brands’ COO. Furthermore, J.-C. Usunier (2011) states that in COO research, it is never clear what is being measured, whether country image, product image, or consumer attitude because origin image is an intersection construct, a crossroad concept between countries, products, and consumers. A Festival such as Italian Week represents such cross road by bringing the country, its products and consumers interested in the Italian culture together.

 

Stereotypes

 

As a consequence of the COO effect stereotypes create marketing implications as beliefs about products can be attributed to some degree to influences created by attitudes toward the country of origin. Therefore, marketing and promotions can be directed at highlighting the positive stereotypes of the country of origin instead of the product itself (Obermiller & Spangenberg, 1989). According to Grønhaug and Heide (1992), stereotypes are related to category-level attributes ascribed to specific groups and phenomena stored in memory. Such attributes may be constructed from the behaviour of group members, but they may also be learned from various socializing agents such as family, peers and advertising. Stereotypes are used by consumers because they are easily accessible information stored in memory and often used as information high in predictive utility. Cultural stereotypes are widely shared and far reaching, one research found a very positive effect on hedonic products for French sounding perfume brand names whilst at the same time a much less positive effect on utilitarian consumer goods like French motor vehicles and technology. The true power of these idiosyncratic beliefs is revealed when, even as products and consumer goods are tried by purchasers the effect of country of origin persists. The beliefs that consumers have about product experiences are rich with the general impressions of the country of origin (Leclerc, Schmitt, & Dubé, 1994).

 

Italian Week in Australia

 

Italian Festivals are broadly celebrated around Australia and the influence of Italian migration on the Australian lifestyle landscape has created increased diversity of understanding (Rando, 2000).  Starting with 2000 visitors in 2007, the festival has grown to accommodate over 55000 people in 2015.  The Italian Week festival has worked with leading cultural and educational partners, along with business leaders. These partners allow the festival to create and deliver a program of event which showcases the Australian/Italian connection contained within the state and supported by international acts. Strategic collaboration has included leading cultural organizations such as the Queensland Orchestra, Multicultural Affairs, Brisbane City Council, Opera Queensland, the Gallery of Modern Art and many more.  These high level strategic partnerships ensure that both utilitarian and hedonistic needs of festival attendees’ are met. Over the first two year of the festival, focus was placed on satisfying these fundamental elements. Once the event producers were satisfied that the festival had established a format which satisfied both utilitarian and hedonistic needs, they turned their attention to creating a new and deeper form of engagement. 

 

One of the reasons that Italian Week enjoys this success is the creation of emotional engagement each year, which develops loyalty and ambassadors to the festival. Italian Week makes people feel good because it brings the best of Italy to Queensland during the festival in a controlled environment where visitors’ utilitarian and hedonistic needs are fully satisfied as exemplified by the following quote from one respondent; Friendships, lots of memories. Enjoyed the entertainment, the experience as a whole just makes me want to be more engaged with the Italian culture, community, learn more about the country, experience more of the country that I already have just -- yes, it makes you feel sort of warm, there's just a warm cultural or family oriented people and I just love it.

 

Emotions and emotional engagement

 

The nature of engagement involves activation of the emotions, while the definition of emotion means any stimulation of the feelings, at any level. Emotions are unavoidable and although people might be able to control the expression of emotions, they cannot avoid experiencing them.  Emotions act as a gatekeeper to decisions, bridging rational and non-rational functions of the brain. Engagement begins with a conscious or unconscious emotional response to a stimulus (Heath, 2009).

 

Petty and Cacioppo (1986) ELM stipulates that there are two qualitatively distinct routes to persuasion. The “central route” occurs when motivation and ability to scrutinize issue-relevant arguments are relatively high while the second, or “peripheral route,” occurs when motivation and/or ability are relatively low. It is thus, possible to distinguish persuasion as being primarily a result of issue-relevant argumentation from persuasion that is primarily a result of some cue in the persuasion context. Accordingly, the spontaneous willingness of some attendees leads consumers with high involvement with the country to be part the community of Italy’s culture; they have positive stereotypes of Italy which makes Italian Week appealing to them (central route). Some other attendees might have negative stereotypes of Italy of just no interest in the country and its culture and are thus not part of the Italian community. They have low involvement with the country and its culture and attend the festival mainly stimulated by hedonic motivations, that is, by the pleasant sensations they experience by Fest-Vibe. They can also be motivated by the need to conform to others who would take them to the festival just to spend enjoyable moments (peripheral route).

 

Based on the above, we propose that:

 

P1. COO has an impact on emotional engagement for consumers with high involvement

P2. Emotional engagement is able to create positive COO to consumers with low involvement

 

Research Method and Findings

 

The data collection occurred through 45 minute semi-structured interviews with a combination of 32 Italian and non-Italian participants of the Italian Week festival. The research looked for saturation, whereby there are no new findings in research where found to achieve credible findings (Herbert & Higgs, 2004).  Whilst there is some varied opinions on what is the number of interviews appropriate to achieve saturation. Creswell (2012), indicates that 5 to 25 is a suitable number depending on the subject matter. The interviews provide constant themes suggesting a level of saturation being is sufficient in achieving effective qualitative research.

Our investigation focused on COO as the independent variable which triggers emotional engagement through experiential meaning. Indeed, emotional engagement appears to be a result of the Fest-Vibe created by Italian Week which generates experiential meaning as a moderating variable to the emergence of emotional engagement. The  interview questions were designed to augment conversation through loosely structured interview discussion (Chetty, 1996). The participants came from a mix of Australian and Italian heritage with 40% of the interviewees being of Italian descent and 60% being of Australian descent.

 

Emotional Engagement

 

Arcadia and Witford (2007), argue that within a Festival context, emotions are the singular most important consideration of visitors' behavioural intention. Their findings suggest that a strong relationship exists between visitors to events and emotions, perceived value and behavioural intention. From an economic perspective, the study of consumer behaviour in Festivals is incomplete if it fails to consider the effects of emotions (Lee, Lee, Lee, & Babin, 2008). Yoon (2010), claims that consumer’s psychological experience is affected by emotional satisfaction. The power of this emotional satisfaction or engagement connects consumers who can demonstrate commitment to a community (Gursoy, Spangenberg, & Rutherford, 2006)which builds trust and sense of belonging.

 

Accordingly, Yang, Gu, and Cen (2011) propose that high levels of emotions generated at events will transfer into high levels of intention to return to participate in the activity again. We add that the impact of Italian Week goes beyond willingness to return by stimulating attendees to extend the emotional connection with the Festival by consuming products sold and advertised during the event after it is finished.

 

Duffy and Waitt (2011)  put forward the idea that emotional engagement occurs when people really identify with their environment and activities, when there is an emotional investment in the event they are participating in. Emotional engagement happens when people identify positive feelings with their recreation and are motivated by the desire to enjoy themselves and share common experiences at a deep seated emotional level. Indeed, emotions act as gatekeepers to decisions, bridging rational and non-rational functions of the brain whereas engagement begins with a conscious or unconscious emotional response to a stimulus (Heath, 2009). Creating an environment where the hedonistic and utilitarian needs of Festival patrons are met sets the stage for creating and engendering emotional engagement. Table 4 features the words and expressions having led to the concept of emotional engagement.

 

Managerial and Research Implications

 

This research explored an unstudied field of COO effect by analysing the impact of COO in services, specifically regarding cultural festivals. The coverage of a cultural festival such as Italian Week which has been running for eight years and luring over 55,000 people in 2015 is a powerful marketing tool for all companies wishing to target Italy lovers. The increasing numbers of attendees year after year demonstrates the appeal and efficiency of its concept and the ability of Italian Week in generating emotional engagement. The initial positive COO effect amongst attendees with high involvement was visible through their quotes as much as it was reinforced by the emotional engagement created by Italian Week. Italian Week creates a community federated by Italian heritage or an interest in Italian culture among attendees with both initial high and low involvement with the country. It addresses all Italy lovers indistinctively of their origins.  As quoted by one of the participants: … it shows how much non Italians love all things Italian. They embrace our culture more than some Italians do.  Italian Week creates a community thanks to emotional engagement.

 

Researchers have conducted numerous investigations into the impact of culture on consumer habits (Sapienza et al., 2006)and country of origin is recognized in the literature as an important tool for marketers to influence consumers' perceptions towards brands, behaviour and intention to buy (Agrawal & Kamakura, 1999). The importance of a brand’s nationality was first recognized by Dichter (1962) who argued in favour of the “tremendous influence on the acceptance and success of products'' (p. 116) based on the perceptions consumers hold toward that country (Sapienza et al., 2006).  Accordingly, consumers were found to attach emotions to products based simply on COO (Verlegh & Steenkamp, 1999)because country of origin is a cue for identity, pride and self-identification via emotive and symbolic significance (Botschen & Hemetsberger, 1998). The following quote illustrates such type of attachment:

 

I think it’s, to me, probably the gregariousness of being Italian and the way of life and the joy of living and the joy of food and the joy of wine.  I think that’s the emotion it evokes in me.  Just all things Italian, yes, just the way of living and people’s attitude towards life I think and the simple things.  It’s our Italian community and our spirit I think that people connect too. …the festival is a place that I am attracted to because growing up Italian, I am used to a lot of people eating, drinking, being loud, that sort of high energy is what you grow up with. You do have big families. I can remember having thirty to thirty five people at Christmas or Easter at my mums place, and that was just immediate family. And it was always high energy, and the festival reminds me of that, so you have the individual table going off, the guys playing music, so it gets you in the mood that it’s very Italian. Normally these are terrific nights, they are great fun nights.

 

Our findings support our two propositions and demonstrate that Italian Week is a powerful marketing tool for all companies wishing to target Italy lovers as there is a positive country of origin effect which is profitable to companies, brands and services because the festival creates emotional engagement. In recent research, Riefler and Diamantopoulos (2007) demonstrated that COO is not neutral when it comes to Italy as Austrians respondents had more affinity with Italy than with any other country far before Spain and Greece.  

 

Our contribution to the marketing field is to shed some light on the controversial findings in COO research which state both that it does and does not influence consumer behaviour. Our findings contribute with a construct that demonstrates that thanks to COO, Italian Week is able to generate emotional engagement with the ability of enhancing positive COO within consumers with high involvement with Italy and of creating positive COO among attendees with low involvement in Italy.

 

Limitations and Further Research

 

Because of self-reporting data collection, validity can be subjective for a number of reasons: participants may not tell the truth, give desired answers, exaggerate, and respondents may have some confidentiality issues. Lastly, the research is limited to and specific to one culture in one festival in one country and the results may not apply or be transferrable to other festivals within other cultures or studies conducted in another country which may or may not have a different cultural normative. Future research should address these limitations.

 

 

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 Figure 1. The Emotional Engagement Model - TEEM

 

 

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