Fun, culture and emotional engagement increases sales

 

The Residual Effect of Italian Week in Australia

 

Cav. Alessandro Sorbello – New Realm
Dr. Eliane Karsaklian – LARGEPA – Sorbonne University Paris
 

 

European Journal of Management™, 16(2), 113-126.

Abstract

 

The proliferation of Festivals around the world can be attributed to the fact that they are highly profitable in a short time. However, few measures have been taken about the residual effect of these events generated by the emotional engagement. In this research we outline a model for emotional engagement (The Emotional Engagement Model – TEEM) which provides a general framework to understand the impact of emotional engagement on both participants with high and low involvement in Italian culture. Our research studied the residual effect caused by emotional engagement in the Italian Week Festival in Australia through a qualitative study based on 32 semi-structured interviews which generated key factors leading to establish emotional engagement with Italian culture from which a structured questionnaire designed for an online survey with 282 respondents was conducted. Results indicate that Italian Week is able to generate emotional engagement which in turn enhances the residual effects on post-festival consumption behaviour.  

 

Keywords:  Emotional Engagement, Fest-Vibe, Consumer Behaviour, Central and Peripheral Route, ELM, Italy, Culture, Profitability

 

Introduction

 

 

 

People attend events like Festivals to have fun, spend a joyful time with family and friends, and to learn something about other countries and practices. They willingly spend time and money, doing so because the positive feelings that the Festival conveys to them are worth the monetary and non-monetary efforts for an ephemeral pleasure.

 

Because Festivals last few days, their profitability is directly linked to the favourable conditions given to participants to spend as much money as they can during this limited period of time and a whole industry benefits from that. However, few measures of the residual effects of these Festivals have been taken so far. As a matter of fact, measures of Festivals’ efficiency have been purely quantitative and short term focused. Our analysis transcends the financial profitability of Festivals during their celebration; we analyse the residual effect of Italian Week in Australia in which participants are emotionally engaged and continue consuming Italian products after the Festival is finished, which increases benefits for the whole industry for an extended period of time.

 

Models to measure Festivals’ success in financial terms exist (Rao 2001), yet the effects of emotional engagement are largely excluded from evaluations conducted so far as the strong sentimental and emotional pride linked to Festivals is currently not taken into consideration. Research indicates that emotional stimulation and motivation affect consumer habits and behaviour (Lee, Lee, and Choi 2011, Karsaklian 2000)and this in turn can impact not only Festivals’ economic benefits but also consumption habits of attendees. We argue that measuring the impact of Festivals without taking into account the extended consequences of emotional engagement leaves their assessment incomplete. We propose that measuring the ability of a Festival in creating emotional engagement and its consequent residual impact on consumption behaviour is critical to a better understanding of the powerful marketing tool that are cultural Festivals.

 

Consistently, a review of literature about this topic indicated that emotional engagement created by Festivals is not well documented in academic research. Indeed, contemporary literature reveals little recognition of the role of a cultural Festival in engaging a community emotionally. The existing literature stops short of explicitly exploring the value of emotional engagement and its impact on Festival longevity. To fill in this gap, the purpose of this research was to study the impact of emotional engagement created by Italian Week on consumption habits.

 

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 on 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 is the consumer involvement, the higher the likelihood to elaborate. Conversely, the lower is 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 which might not invest time and effort in cognitively processing the information they are exposed to.  

 

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. Conversely, 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, which cannot be predictive of consequent behaviour. 

 

Our research model rests on ELM as the overarching construct to understand consumption habits change as a consequence of Italian Week as a catalyst of message processing. Our findings demonstrate that although consumers get 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 with the consequent change on their purchase behaviour. 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.

 

As a matter of fact, 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 (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.

 

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 consumption habits are changed.

 

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With this article, we attempt to contribute to a better understanding of how cultural events stimulating strong emotions can bring recognizable and measurable benefits to the industry involved. We present our findings in a narrative, conversational format, illustrated with quotes from the participants. We focus on emotional engagement and the attachment attendees have to the Festival and follow-up with managerial and research implications. We conclude our work with a general conclusion and limitations of our research.

 

Festivals profitability and emotional linkages

 

According to Getz and Theobald (1995), festivals are described as themed, public celebrations, which celebrate an event or occasion within a community and have been created to provide a platform for people to share, rejoice, learn and celebrate shared pride. Festivals can be art forms and narratives, performances designed to entertain and enchant. They (festivals) can be a way that a story of a culture of community is recalled about themselves.

 

Since the dawn of history humans have celebrated special occasions. People have gathered for cultural celebrations, ritualised ceremonies and triumphs of the human spirit. These events provide an opportunity to share collective stories represented by beliefs and culture (Arcadia and Witford 2007).  Ancient traditions have long created occasions for people to celebrate their commitment to ways of life, beliefs and ideology. Carnivals and Festivals that celebrate religious, artistic and folkloric events are deeply rooted in humanities past and form an integral part of our civilization. These events can often stir the community to emotional peaks (Rearick 1977). Lunar festivities, harvest celebrations and religious gathering have formed a cornerstone to civilization, facilitating the transmission of beliefs and cultures through the millennia. Unique and elaborate social gatherings, rich with cultural meaning and affecting social life, date back to the carnivals of Europe (Waterman 1998). Their appeal comes from an innate uniqueness of events (Nicholson and Pearce 2001), distinguishing them from fixed attractions and thus elevating them above ordinary daily life (Derrett 2000). 

 

Worldwide, Festivals are considered to be a significant and fast growing sector of the entertainment, tourism and leisure market (Long and Perdue 1990, Van Zyl and Queiros 2009)creating important economic, social, political and cultural impacts  (Arcadia and Witford 2007). Major events such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnaval in Brazil (Lee et al. 2008)draw huge audiences with visitors travelling internationally to attend; research estimates indicate that 37% of all international tourism can be accounted to cultural tourism. Around the world people dedicate their time and money to participate in Festivals and cultural events (Silberberg 1995, Crespi-Vallbona and Richards 2007, Kim, Cheng, and O’Leary 2007). Internationally, competition has greatly increased amongst different cities and states for organizing, arranging and hosting Festivals which attract potential visitors, events which can have significant impact on a city’s image and economy  (Grappi and Montanari 2011). From the commercial sectors’ perspective, Festivals are widely recognized as a fast growing cultural tourism attraction (Crompton and McKay 1997)bringing benefits to communities, cities and countries. The business of Festivals has been widely researched with economic impact studies of Festivals becoming popular internationally (Long and Perdue, 1990).  It is no surprise that Festivals have engendered strong support and much interest from Governments, cities and nations, as from the perspective of host communities, Festivals can bring new life to an area or region (Carlsen and Taylor 2003)and generate economic benefits as well as stimulate tourism (Long and Perdue 1990). Moreover, a Festival can reposition and even enhance a region’s image (Prentice and Andersen 2003). 

 

Cultural Festivals in particular, promote and highlight the composition of ethnic backgrounds, cultural panorama and adopted traditions which form the stories of a society (McKercher, Mei, and Tony 2006). Providing corroboration, Xie (2003) proposes that Festivals are an effective method of enhancing or preserving local culture and history. These Festivals and special events are increasingly sought after by visitors as unique offerings (Litvin and Fetter 2006)affecting the local economy in the short term (Boo and Busser 2006).

 

While there are a number of scholars working on developing valid models to determine the economic impact of Festivals on host communities (Long and Perdue 1990, Dwyer et al. 2000, Anderson and Cairncross 2005), there is a shortage of academic studies with focus on the social, cultural, and emotional impacts of Festivals and events (Witford 2007). Early research conducted by Getz (1991) and Ryan (1998) examined the economic benefits of Festivals and events.  Researchers including Jago and Dwyer (2006) and Dwyer et al. (2000) investigated the limitations of purely focusing on economic benefits of Festivals and events. According toLee et al. (2008), under the current method of evaluating Festivals, the human perspective is lost and the personal meaning and understanding is incomplete. This is supported byLee, Lee, and Choi (2011) who suggest that events creating positive emotional experiences for consumers will yield rewards well beyond the immediate economic and social benefits to the host community.  The social role of Festivals is not to be neglected as they leverage success and loyalty to these type of events by their ability to create communities held together thanks to emotional linkages. Indeed, when investigating the role of emotions, Sinha, Ahuja, and Medury (2011) describe emotion as both a psychic and physical response which gives rise to the body being prepared for immediate action. Admittedly, our assumption that there is more to measure in a Festival’s efficiency than immediate financial figures is supported. Consequently, the profitability of the Italian Week Festival largely rests on its residual effect thanks to its ability to create emotional link with its visitors. The following quote from a participant illustrates this statement: It’s like a football club, the same.  If you are emotional about it, you have to keep following your club every match, every day because you are emotionally involved.  You want no change in allegiance, that sort of thing continues on.

 

Conditions for Emotional Engagement to Occur

At the core of Festivals and events are people aiming at satisfying both utilitarian and hedonic needs and motivations (Gursoy, Spangenberg, and Rutherford 2006), however predominantly, people attend Festivals for enjoyment (hedonistic) motives rather than functional (utilitarian) needs. These authors found that hedonic dimension can be created from the symbolic meaning and emotions aroused and evoked. The Festival  program, ambience, conditions, layout, entertainment, general location and a pleasant atmosphere positively affect emotions (Grappi and Montanari 2011). This implies that a fundamental ingredient for consumer satisfaction is the satisfaction of hedonistic desires (Voss, Spangenberg, and Grohmann 2003).  Of equal importance to complete consumer satisfaction is meeting the functional or utilitarian preconditions consumers expect and need for enjoyment (Childers et al. 2002). These include meeting requirements such as safety, cleanliness, orderlyness, ease of parking, disability access, and a sense of ‘flow’. Yang, Gu, and Cen (2011), researched Festivals from the emotional and behavioural perspective and found that Festival-goers seek emotional satisfaction, with the ‘experience’ being the main motivation for attending. Grappi and Montanari (2011),  research into social identification and hedonism found that transmitting pleasure and delight increases social exchanges which, in turn can attract and retain consumers,  as well as change consumption habits, we would add.

 

Accordingly, emotional engagement can occur when both utilitarian requirements and hedonistic pursuits are satisfied. From a utilitarian point of view, a pleasant environment, efficient and pleasant staff, clean facilities, and a generally well-functioning operational venue are critical to satisfying Festival visitors’ experience. Good quality food and beverages, adequate seating and services for the elderly and those requiring additional assistance with mobility are key generators of satisfying utilitarian needs. This perspective is supported by the work ofLee, Lee, and Choi (2011), who identified hedonistic and functional values as antecedents of emotional value and explained the role of emotional value as intrinsic to satisfaction. This argument supports early research (Babin, Darden, and Griffin (1994) which indicated that evaluating only the hedonistic and functional value of Festivals is overly simplistic in capturing the holistic emotional dimension contained within an event. Investigations conducted by (Holbrook 1994), suggest that emotional value is critical to understanding the consumer experience and in enhancing the overall customer satisfaction.

 

The term ‘Festivalscape’, coined by Lee et al. (2008), encompasses the satisfaction of both utilitarian and hedonistic desires of patrons to Festivals. Creating an atmosphere where functionality and appeasement of desires are satisfied, increases positive emotions and social identification (Gursoy, Spangenberg, and Rutherford 2006). Subsequent research undertaken by Lee et al. (2011) suggests that hedonistic or emotional value represent a clearer and more concise understanding of Festival attendance then utilitarian or functional value. According to Yang, Gu, and Cen (2011), Festival organisers and producers who create an enhanced level of emotional experience increase the perception of value which motivates positive behaviour. This positive behaviour translates into engagement in Festivals where attendees consume products and services and promote their satisfaction to family, friends and the community they associate with. We agree with Arcadia and Witford’s (2007) statement that the current limitations of examining Festivals as primarily sources of economic development falls short in utilizing Festivals’ potential for the enhancement of important social benefits. From an economic perspective, developing a greater understanding of Festivals’ ability of creating and fostering emotional engagement reveals the promise of commercial benefits as a consequence. Points of differentiation from other events and Festivals include a strong line-up of entertainment with uniqueness and fun factor (Lee and Arcodia 2011).

 

The power of emotional engagement

 

In examining the relationship between value perception, emotions and behaviour Yang, Gu, and Cen (2011) identify a disparity between relatedness of emotion and perceived value. 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 et al. 2008). Emotions are important predictors of behaviour (Grappi and Montanari 2011), affecting social and emotional satisfaction, which in turn affects social identification. 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, and Rutherford 2006)which builds trust and sense of belonging. This suggests that understanding how consumer perceptions affect the appraisal of Festivals is paramount for organisers of Festivals (Gursoy, Spangenberg, and Rutherford 2006)to deliver emotionally satisfying and fulfilling experiences as illustrated by the following quote from a participant:

 

I think the community has come on board.  We are certainly getting more support from local businesses, local community.  I think we have stepped outside of the just the Italian community and I think we have gone to a broader community now and it’s not just the Italians that are celebrating.  I think Brisbane’s community as a whole is actually coming together for Italian Week so that Italian Week has really expanded.  It’s just not me celebrating being Italian, it’s my friends who know me and I’m Italian and anyone who loves anything Italian is involved and I think it’s an opportunity for us to share in our beautiful culture and I think it’s intoxicating for all who, once they’ve shared it, want to be involved again.”

 

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.

 

Emotional experiences are the primary driving element in consumers visiting Festivals or events with the Festival program being the anticipatory of value. Visitors come with the promise of being entertained or engaged in the event and whilst at the event, receiving positive satisfaction and emotions as a result of their participation (Yoon, Lee, and Lee 2010). 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 is deeper than transactional engagement and 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. In the context of this research, emotional engagement is viewed as a vector for stimulating consumption of products relating to the Festival and extending the emotional experience beyond it.

 

Italian Week in Australia triggers emotional engagement

 

In 2007, upon the request of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italian Week was created to celebrate Italy’s culture and way of life which is reflected in many different domains including art, fashion, gastronomy and manufacturing. The first edition of the Festival back in 2007 attracted 2000 attendees and the figures went up to over 55,000 people in 2015. It has rapidly grown to become an anticipated and significant cultural festival in Queensland and is supported by the Brisbane City Council and the State Government. A clear outcome of the Festival since its first editions, has been the emotional attachment triggered by it, as illustrated by the following quote:

 

Well, I guess if we are looking at Italian Week, the lighting of the bridge made me feel warm and energised and the food was great, and the music was fantastic and it obviously resonated some pride of being Italian with me. It’s intoxicating, we have a beautiful culture and I think more and more people are aware of it and want to be associated with it and want to experience it.”

 

Italian Week brings the best of Italy to Queensland during the Festival in a controlled environment where visitors’ utilitarian and hedonistic needs are fulfilled 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 -- it makes you feel sort of warm, there's just a warm cultural or family oriented people and I just love it!”

 

The quote above clearly illustrates the emotions triggered by the Festival in the words memories, warm, family, love. Emotional engagement appears as being one of the pillars of the Festival instead of a consequence of it. Attendees go there to experience emotions more than anything else. Ultimately, non-Italians and tourists experience only the positive feelings of ‘Italianness’ without the shock or inconvenience of total immersion in a foreign culture (Ireland 1981), as stated by some respondents: … you can immerse yourself in the Italian culture without leaving Brisbane. …. It is like being in Italy, while being in Australia. And you can know a lot of people from different parts of Italy, or just people who like Italian culture.

 

In phase with Hirschman and Holbrook (1982), who define consumption as a holistic expression of symbolic meanings, hedonic emotional responses, and sensory pleasures, Italian Week provides participants with satisfaction at all these levels thanks to a large array of activities spread throughout the week:

 

I encourage others to come and enjoy the different events and entertainment Italian Week offers. Guests are friendly and everyone is welcomed with traditional Italian warmth. They’re missing out if they don’t come along and partake. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of diversity, they really need to be part of it!”  

 

Here again, the words friendly, warmth, fun demonstrate the emotional linkages between attendees and the Festival. Therefore, and because participants are emotionally attached to this taste of Italy, we assume that emotional engagement leads to an increase in consumption of products, goods and brands from the country of origin. Indeed, Italian Week evokes emotional responses such as joy, delight, excitement, change of scenery, as cited by some respondents: … Italian food is joyous food; … it’s a lot of fun, I go to celebrate Italian culture with my friends; … it feels like family.

 

 Faules and Alexander (1978), posit that humans develop and rely upon the interpretation of symbols for social interaction and understanding.  An entirely individual and interpretive understanding emerges for each person based on deciphering the images and symbols found within each person’s individual reality (Karsaklian 2007). Cultural Festivals carry multiple symbols which are meaningful to attendees and most of them relate to emotional linkages with the country being celebrated by the Festival. Italian Week in Australia brings Italians, Australians with Italian heritage and non-Italians together to experience Italian culture and rituals captivated by the atmosphere created by the Festival. The spontaneous willingness to attend Italian Week leads consumers to be part of a community; the community of Italy’s culture. Participants are stimulated by hedonic motivations, that is, by the pleasant sensations they experience in eating Italian food, drinking Italian beverages, listening to Italian music or watching Italian movies and performances. They are also motivated by the need to conform or belong to a community or group. This would imply being part of the Italian community in Australia whether or not they actually have Italian origins. Although their emotions relating to Italy might not be the same because of their different roots, emotions triggered by the Festival is what holds them together as well as the products and brands they consume together during the Festival.

 

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; which makes Italian Week appealing to them (central route). Some other attendees might just have 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).

 

Indeed, people attend Italian Week mainly for the pleasure obtained by the exposure to good food, good shows and friendly environment as illustrated in the following quotes from participants:  

 

“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.”

 

In a less prominent level, conformity motivation (Karsaklian and Fee, 2012) also leads people to attend the Festival. This is the case of people joining in because they heard about the Festival or were brought there by friends, as for example –

 

…the Italian festival, is something that I would want to share with other people, I would want to share that emotion that it brings to me with people of my culture and I would want to share that with them and encourage them to come visit something that I’m really proud of and makes me feel the way I do.  Italian Week evokes positive emotions and I want to be involved with that and be passing that experience on to other people and obviously I’d want to share that positive emotion that I’m feeling.  I’d want other people to share in that sensation as well.”

 

Based on the above, we propose that:

 

P2. Italian Week stimulates purchase of Italian brands thanks to emotional engagement

P3. Italian Week has an impact on loyalty to Italian brands thanks to emotional engagement

 

Being introduced to brands during Italian Week can stimulate consumers to buy them afterwards thanks to brand familiarity. As marketing communication programs play an important role in developing brand knowledge, we assume that brand awareness and reputation can be built during an event such as Italian Week. Brand familiarity reflects the extent of a consumer’s direct and indirect experience with a brand (Joseph and Wesley Hutchinson 1987)  and captures consumer’s brand knowledge structures (Campbell and Keller 2003). Thanks to brand familiarity, consumers spend less effort in processing information as it is more easily retrieved and stored, which makes these brands better liked and preferred (Kent and Allen 1994, Dahlén and Lange 2004). Thereby, familiar brands enjoy more cognitive and affective advantages. Once the Festival is over, the emotional link with the brands can persist and help participants to expand their experience with Italy through the consumption of these brands. Indeed, Italian Week not only creates brand awareness but also increases brand familiarity. Familiar brands then carry emotions linked to the Festival and consuming them after the Festival is finished serves as a way of extending the same emotions and nostalgia for a longer period of time.

 

The Italian Week case study

 

We opted for the analysis of Italian Week in Brisbane as a case study (Hede and Kellett 2011, Uroševic 2012)which provides a dynamic and holistic view of the incident under investigation (Yin, 1989). Usunier (2011) points to the need for simple methods and efficient means of deciphering information about products and brands as consumers are time poor and overloaded with information in excess of their capacity to process and develop into useful tools. Accordingly, our research uses photos, videos and interviews to understand the emotional engagement generated by Italian Week, and combines qualitative data collection methods with a quantitative online survey.

 

The research was conducted in two phases. We first interviewed 32 past participants of the Italian Week Festival to explore their relationship to Italy, to Italian Week as well as their consumption habits of Italian products and brands through in-depth interviews, because interpretation and narratives are key in enabling people to make sense of the symbols, objects, individuals and situations through interaction with them (Schembri, Merrilees, and Kristiansen 2010, McAdams 1993, Shankar, Elliott, and Goulding 2001). This phase of the study consisted of generating a list of adjectives that were used to identify the emotional linkages between attendees and the Festival. Respondents were asked to come up with adjectives that they would use to describe their feelings about Italy and Italian Week.  This method was deemed appropriate to generate a sample of emotions linked to the matter at hand (d’Astous et al, 2006). The following quote illustrates the nature of responses generated by this phase of our study:

 

“If it was a friend that understood a little about how Italians behave and Italian culture, I would describe it as one big family festival where you are going to eat nice food, have a lot of laughs, it’s going to be loud, there is going to be music playing, it’s going to be a high energy environment. So, be prepared to be swept up in that whole process.”

 

Speci?cally, the themes of the semi-structured questionnaire evolved around perceptions of Italy and Italian Week and the emotions attached to such perceptions. Each of the interviews lasted around 1h and observations were also recorded on photos and videos. All interviews were transcribed. Then, transcripts were analysed and coded by each author separately before having them put together to ensure that no misinterpretations occurred. Minor discrepancies were noticed between the two analyses (Yin, 1989).

 

Emotional engagement triggered by Italian Week created a deeper level of involvement with the Italian brands that participants to the study already consumed and stimulated the awareness and consumption of new brands experienced during Italian Week. What became apparent through the qualitative study is that the Festival generates consumption of services as much as of goods. Indeed, after having attended the Festival, participants lean more towards taking Italian language classes, planning trips to Italy, going more frequently to Italian restaurants and spending more time and money in Italian expressions of arts, such as opera, movies, and Italian exhibitions.

 

The second phase of our research was an online survey with a structured questionnaire designed to deepen our understanding of the consumption habits of the Festival attendee’s both from the perspective of consumption of goods and services The questionnaire was composed of 14 questions, 12 of them being of multiple choice and 2 open ended questions. Mail surveys represent 60% of the methods traditionally used in international business studies, the median sample size being 180 (Yang et al., 2006). Our quantitative sample was constituted of 282 respondents who were asked to complete the online questionnaire during the Italian Festival commencing on May 13, 2014 and running until the 3rd of June 2014. Consistently with our research propositions we analysed Italian Week as the independent variable influencing consumption behaviour thanks to the moderating action of emotional engagement. Respondents were asked to provide information about goods and services they purchased prior and after attending the Italian Week.

 

The survey found that 62.87% of the respondents (177 people) had attended Italian week in the past 8 years, which represented our final sample.  Of these, 56.98% of the respondents (101 people) answered to being of Italian origin.

 

Italian Week as a vector of consumption habits thanks to emotional engagement

 

Evidence from our research showed that people wanted to extend the experience by (1) Learn to speak Italian, (2) Travel to Italy, (3) Cook Italian food or learn to cook Italian Food, (4) Engaging in activities linked to art such as music, films, opera, and art exhibitions. During the Festival, consumers are captivated by the environment of Italy and want to extend the experience and related emotions by consuming Italian products. An open ended question in our questionnaire requiring a list of the top 10 products or brands respondents used to purchase prior to attending Italian Week generated 1277 responses. These responses were split into 7 categories including; Food (865 responses), Beverages (224 responses), Fashion (128 responses), Motor (16 responses), Home wares (22 responses), Body Care (10 responses), Entertainment (12 responses). We then asked participants to choose among 23 brands and products having been part of Italian Week they were now purchasing. We obtained 2185 responses broken down as follows; Food (979 responses), Beverages (1048 responses), Fashion (158 responses). In addition, we gathered that Italian Week had stimulated an increase in the consumption of services and entertainment represented by 59% of respondents enjoying Italian Films at the Gallery of Modern Art.

 

Results indicate that consumption increased as a direct result of Italian Week  (52.97% of the respondents) as illustrated by one quote: I am now buying more Italian goods, services and brands as a result of attending Italian Week or seeing its promotional activities. We were able to measure the change in consumption habits by asking respondents an open ended question listing the top 10 products or brands they purchased prior to attending Italian Week and comparing it to a list of answers about which products they were now buying as a direct result of Italian Week. The brands and products listed were all brands promoted and exposed during the Italian Week Festival. As an example, around 100 respondents stated that brands like Merlo Coffee, Vittoria Coffee and Di Bella Coffee were now purchased as a result of Italian Week.

 

The power of emotional engagement in Festivals – managerial and research implications

 

          Evidence from our research demonstrate the ability Italian Week has to trigger emotional engagement as stated by one participant:

you actually meet people that have fallen in love with Italy and it's really lovely seeing that part -- you know that connection that they've made and the love of Italy and Italian food even though their heritage is totally different. You actually see it through another person's eyes which is lovely because you actually get used to so many things about being Italian that's just part of you and then just actually see someone really appreciate that.”

 

          The fact that Italian Week increases awareness of brands and creates desire for services like travels, language lessons, cooking classes, music and artistic performances and products as well was confirmed by data collected during the event conducted in 2015, as described below.

 

1.      The Fiat Experience

 

          Italian Week 2015 worked extensively with WestPoint Autos who have commenced selling Italian automobiles in Queensland. WestPoint Autos obtained and have held a dealership agreement with Fiat Chrysler Australia since November of 2014. As one of Brisbane's largest car dealerships with 7 locations across the city, the dealership has an annual turnover exceeding 100 Million dollars annually and keeps growing. WestPoint Autos sought to introduce a new brand (Alfa Romeo and Fiat) to the stable of vehicles they sold which includes Jeep, Hyundai, Nissan, Honda, Chrysler and Dodge. According to WestPoint Autos, during the period of November 2014 and April 2015, the company sold on average one Fiat per month.

 

          Two specific targeted events were created and hosted during Italian Week 2015 designed to create market engagement with the Brisbane audience. The car dealer sought to penetrate into the marketplace with an extended product offering, thus selling Italian motor vehicles in South East Queensland.

 

          Together with the Italian Week production team, two events were realised to showcase the brand during the Festival. The first event, ‘Italian Style on the Magic Mile’ consisted of hosting an Italian fashion parade. Accompanied by wood fired pizza, Peroni beer, Italian Music and held inside the showroom of the dealer, using the Fiats as key props during the evening and in the fashion parades. This event had over 200 guests. During the evening of the Fashion event, the car dealer sold two vehicles including an AUD$50,000 Fiat Arbarth.

 

          The second event involved placing the Fiat brand within the context of the ‘An Italian Affair’ street festival which was the centrepiece of the 2015 Italian Week. This street Festival was held in New Farm Park, a traditional Italian neighbourhood and suggestively located on the banks of the Brisbane River in the centre of the city. Attracting an audience of over 50,000 people, the Fiat brand was placed in amongst a classic Italian car exhibition and enhanced the Street Festival where people enjoyed Italian music, food and wine and culture.

 

          One month after the 2015 Italian Week, Nicholas Ball, Fleet Specialist at WestPoint Autos reported: -

 

“Being a part of the festival in 2015 has helped our Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands be recognised in our Moorooka Location. In hosting a small part of your enriched style and culture that has been created allowed us to grow from one or two Fiats sold a month to 3-4 a week (just in the last month and it continues to grow). Brisbane locals now realise that being a part of the Italian family, culture and brands is an enriching and valuable experience. One that needs to be latched onto. The young generation is realising this more everyday as they look to get on board and feel a part of a bigger family. Thank you once again for such a great experience and allowing us to be a part of your family.”

 

2.      The Tastes of Italy feature

        

           During Italian Week, food and wine appreciation workshops were held in conjunction with ‘Tastes of Italy” and the Brisbane Library in the centre of the city. The Brisbane Library has hosted ‘World Kitchen’ events for the past 12 months and were very interested to introduce Italian cuisine and wine into the program. Apart from being three times as popular as any other workshops that they have held with over 150 people filling the Library presentation room to capacity, the course resulted in over 1/3 of the people attending the presentation (55 people), purchasing and subscribing for paid Italian Cooking Courses with the Tastes of Italy organisation. Courses which will occur over the next three months and which were only promoted during Italian Week and mostly at the Brisbane Library event.

 

3.      Italian Language Classes

 

           Italian Week worked with La Bella Figura Italian Language and Culture School extensively during the 2015 festival. The Language School sought to understand the opportunities in shorter courses and diversification into elementary travellers Italian classes and one day workshops. The various classes were promoted during the Italian Week festival and nowhere else. During the course of the festival an in the following month, La Bella Figura had a significant influx of inquiries which in turn translated into bookings for the rest of the year. An increase of over 35% on the previous year for the same period.

 

            These three examples clearly demonstrate the increase in sales, enquires and confirmed bookings directly during the festival and for the period up to and including November of 2015, it is mostly likely that the flow on effect will continue beyond November 2015.

 

Admittedly, the axiomatic emotional engagement generated by Italian Week is transferred to products and brands involved in the Festival. Italian Week creates a community federated by Italian heritage and an interest in Italian culture because it addresses all Italy lovers indistinctively of their origins and of the initial reasons motivating them to attend the festival. As quoted by one participant: … it shows how much non Italians love all things Italian. They embrace our culture more than some Italians do.  Here again, the relationship between attendees and the Festival is hugely based on emotions, represented by the words, love, warmth, family, friends. Italian Week conveys and stimulates these emotions by providing the celebration of a culture which is known for being warm and people oriented; Italian Week is a person-to-person interaction. Italian Week maintains and creates communities around the Italian culture and the residual effect of the emotional engagement triggered by the event is reflected in the purchases attendees do after the event is finished.

 

Conclusion and Limitations of the study

 

Our research propositions were supported by the outcomes of our two studies because emotional engagement triggered by Italian Week appears to have an impact on consumption habits even after the event is finished. In addition to what they consume during the Festival, attendees seek at extending their experience and thus the emotional link with Italy through the consumption of Italian goods and services throughout – maybe the youth that are coming through today are more involved in Italian communities and actually want to explore what being Italian is all about and show the rest of the community, Italian and non-Italian, what we are actually all about.

 

These results are also consistent with the TEEM model which stipulates that whichever the initial motivation of attendees to participate in the festival, the emotional engagement triggered by Italian Week has an impact on their consumption habits and stimulates the consumption of Italian goods and services after the event is over.

 

Although our research propositions have been supported by the results we obtained, our research is subject to some bias due to self-reporting, as validity can be subjective because of the social desirability bias: participants may make it a point in giving desired answers. However, numbers of increased from sponsor companies as testified above partially counter such bias. Nonetheless, our results enable us to state that a Festival can trigger emotional engagement in the limited and specific culture of Italian Week. Although we believe that these results can possibly be extrapolated to other cultural Festivals, further research is needed in order to support this assumption. 

 

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