Residual impacts of COO in Cultural Festivals

 

A Case Study of Italian Week in Australia

 

Cav. Alessandro Sorbello – New Realm
Dr. Eliane Karsaklian – LARGEPA – Sorbonne University Paris
 
 
Journal of International Management Studies®, 16(1), 45-60.

 

 

Abstract

 

Purpose: Controversial findings in COO research state that it influenced consumer behaviour while others stated the opposite. However, no research has been conducted to explore the effects of emotional engagement on consumer behaviour in Festivals. The purpose of this  research is thus to study COO effect on consumption behaviour thanks to emotional engagement as well as its residual effect in the case of Italian Week in Australia.

 

Design: This research was conducted in two phases. First, a qualitative study based on 12 semi-structured interviews was conducted in order to generate key factors leading respondents to establish emotional engagement with Italian culture. Next, a structured questionnaire based on the findings of the qualitative study was designed and an online survey was applied to a sample of 282 respondents.

 

Findings: Results from this research indicate that thanks to COO, Italian Week is able to generate emotional engagement which in turn enhances the residual effect of the festival and its impact on attendees’ consumption behaviour.

 

Practical implications: 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, impacting consumer behaviour

 

Originality/value: This regarding cultural festivals.

 

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. Despite the over 1,000 published CO contributions interest in the topic has not subsided very much.

 

However, Magnusson et al. (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 not been researched. In order to fill in 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.  Indeed, 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, we seek to identify these stereotypes and investigate the impact of the country of origin effect in altering consumer behaviour through emotional engagement created by Italian Week by using a case study approach (Hede and Kellett, 2011, Uroševic, 2012).

 

The mechanisms of persuasion have been extensively studied for at least 3 decades (Petty, 1977; Petty and Cacioppo, 1978, 1981a).  Petty and Cacioppo’s (1981a) Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) being the most referenced one, led up to the identification of two routes to persuasion and the implications for attitudinal persistence and change. These authors define attitudes ‘as general evaluations people hold in regard to themselves, other people, objects, and issues. These general evaluations can be based on a variety of behavioral, affective, and cognitive experiences, and are capable of influencing or guiding behavioral, affective, and cognitive processes’ (Petty et Cacioppo, 1986, p. 126).

 

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’s (1986) 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 low involved consumers 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 favorable or unfavorable 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 behavior.

 

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 behavior. 

 

Our research model rests on Petty and Cacioppo’s (1986) model as the overarching construct to understand behavioral change as a consequence of a festival 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 triggers high involvement from all participants independently on their initial level of involvement when arriving in the event.

 

As a matter of fact, the Festivalscape 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. In this bigger research project we look 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 (self, cultural and social) consumer identification. These variables generate emotional engagement. Thereby, 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 festivascape 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. Our research contributes not only the understanding of the routes to persuasion leading consumers to attend the festival but also the consequent consumers’ behavioural changes as a result of attitude formation and change.

 

The cornerstone of our research is emotional engagement through which attitudes are formed and changed.

 

In this specific paper, we seek to analyse the effect of country of origin on attendees coming from the two different routes.  We examine how the country of origin effect is reinforced by emotional engagement to attendees who are motivated to attend by the central route, which is they have previous knowledge of the positive stereotype surrounding Italy and its culture.

 

We then look at attendees who attend because of peripheral route without previous knowledge of Italy or the festival. For these attendees, Italian Week, through emotional engagement creates the positive stereotype about the country of origin.

 

Both the central route and peripheral route lead to changes in consumer behaviour as a result of emotional engagement.

 

Part of the five pillars – part of the longitudinal study spanning 10 years

 

To examine our research question How does a cultural festival leverage country of origin effect to create emotional engagement?, within the context of this specific event, we explore the feelings and emotions of the festival attendees’ in generating emotional engagement. In order to analyze visitors’ emotional engagement and consequent consumption behaviour patterns, our research was composed of a qualitative study based on 12 semi-structured interviews followed by a quantitative online survey applied to a sample of 282 respondents.

 

This paper is organized as follows. First we review relevant literature, enlightening the understanding of our research topic. While doing so, we illustrate some of the theory with respondents’ quotes in order to demonstrate alignment between theory and respondents’ inputs. Next we present our research methodology, composed by one qualitative and one quantitative study. After having presented our results, we discuss our findings, highlight both managerial and research implications of our results and describe the limitations of our research before presenting a general conclusion.

 

Italy, Italian Country of Origin Effect and Stereotypes

 

Italy is known worldwide among other things, as a producer of wine, olive oil, pasta, cheeses, automobiles, fashion and is famous for its design, lifestyle and culture. Visited by over 40 million tourists annually, the country is home to iconic architectural structures such as the Coliseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Fountain of Trevi, and the Sistine Chapel, to name just a few. In recent times, Italy’s much loved lifestyle was epitomised by Federico Fellini’s classic film, ‘La Dolce Vita’, and by films such as ‘Roman Holiday’ produced by William Wyler and starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Woody Allen added his beautiful tribute to Italy with ‘To Rome with Love’. The country is well known for its manufacture and design of luxury goods and for its high level of workmanship and style, boasting designers such as Valentino, Giorgio Armani, Prada, Gucci and many others.

                                                         

Country of Origin

 

Researchers have conducted numerous investigations into the impact of culture on consumer habits (Sapienza et al., 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 and 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 and 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 (Papadopoulos and Heslop, 2002, Askegaard and Ger, 1998). 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 and 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 and 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 et al., 1984). In a recent article Balabanis and Diamantopoulos (2011)  based on the works of Bloemer et al. (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 meaning 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 et al., 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 et al. (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 Italian. Consumers do not need to elaborate on the COO to trust brands because they ‘know’ that they are Italian. Such accuracy

 

Although 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 organizing for the purpose of promoting a specific culture and its products.

 

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, 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

 

This halo effect and research on stereotypes create marketing implications as beliefs about products can be attributed to some degree on 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 and 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 et al., 1994).

 

Italian Week in Australia as the experiential meaning of a service

 

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). Italian Festivals in Queensland showcase traditional and historical impacts of immigration, event such as the Australian Italian Festival in Ingham, feature Italian cultural exhibitions dating from the 1890s. Similarly, celebrating its 50th Anniversary in the year 2012, the Sicilian festival known as ‘The Feast of the Three Saints’  held annually in Silkwood, Australia brings people of Italian origin together, in celebration, from all over North Queensland and beyond. This religious event evokes huge emotion within the aging Italian Community.

 

For non-Italians and tourists, the food and activities at a festival can offer a taste of ‘Italianness’ without the shock or inconvenience of total immersion in a foreign culture (Ireland, 1981). Aligning with the stated above is one quote from the respondents: 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! And …. It is like being in Italy, being in Australia. And you can know a lot of people from different parts of Italy, or just people who like Italian culture.

 

In 2007, upon the request of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italian Week was created to celebrate Italy’s exuberance, in the modern context, the culture and way of life which is reflected in many different domains, including art, fashion, gastronomy and manufacturing. All things Italian are showcased to favour their cross-cultural integration providing high quality events and entertainment to the community. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs proposed a reconfiguration and redefinition of Italian festivals, recommending that a high level week-long cultural festival be created in Queensland. Specifically developed to dispel out dated stereotypes regarding Italy and to create a platform for cultural and social cohesion. As an Italian Government initiative, the festival’s conception stemmed from an ideological point of view, which incorporated strong and meaningful collaboration with key Government, institutional and private sector partners.  Over the past 8 years, Italian Week has partnered with organisations such as the Queensland Government, Multicultural Affairs, Brisbane City Council, Brisbane Marketing and Ipswich City Council. These partners were selected based on the alibility of the collaborator to deliver events which satisfied both hedonistic and utilitarian needs of festival participants, once achieved, the festival shifted its focus to developing ‘emotional engagement’.

 

Italian Week has grown from strength to strength over the past 8 years. Starting with 2000 visitors in 2007, the festival has grown to accommodate over 15,000 people in 2013. 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.

 

As stated previously, we assume that emotional engagement leads to increase in consumption of products, goods and brands of the country of origin. Indeed, studies about consumption experience have approached shopping behaviour both from a utilitarian and a hedonic perspective. Shopping experience requires substantial levels of interactions among shoppers, salespeople, and store’s atmosphere. Thus, shopping experience entails sensory, emotional and rational experiences. If atmosphere marketing has enhanced the shopping experience by enabling consumers to use their five senses, a festival like the Italian Week evokes emotional responses such as joy, delight, excitement, change of scenery, among others. 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.

 

Hirschman and Holbrook (1982), 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.  By being a service, the relationship with the customers becomes even more relevant, in fact collaborative: … you can immerse yourself in the Italian culture without leaving Brisbane.

 

Reality is assumed to be socially constructed where consumer and service create the experience together and this is the focus of our research. There is variation in how consumers experience services because of their different priorities and interpretations for particular services (Schembri and Sandberg, 2002). Reaching a genuine understanding of the meaning of that experience to them, is paramount to further understanding of their relationship with brands.

 

Consumers in general switch from passive to active buyers and thus acquire the status of enhancers or creators of new consumer experiences, by proactively taking part in the process of collaborative marketing (Yoon, 2013). During Italian Week, participants interacting with events, go beyond basic consumption, into co-creators of the experience. The events, often encourage and inspire Italians and lovers of Italian culture to express their Italian-ness in a manner that they may not do in a different environment. The nature of the festival is conducive with jointly creating the experience with the consumers rather than simply providing a service to a passive audience.

 

 

The symbolic interaction perspective emerged as a key principal theoretical orientation of the 1920s and 1930s and remains one of the most popular perspectives today (Kuhn, 1964). Symbolic interaction is based on a complex set of symbols people use to give meaning to the world and asserts that people’s actions are a result of beliefs and not simply on what can be considered objectively true. This perspective asserts that society is considered to be constructed socially as a result of individual human interpretation (LaRossa and Reitzes, 1993). Subjective meaning is derived through perception of inanimate objects, events and behaviour, Andersen and Taylor (2012) argue that it is through this perspective that people interpret one another’s behaviour thus giving meaning to the world around them.  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.

 

Italian Week in Australia brings Italians, Australians with Italian heritage and non-Italians together to experience Italian culture and rituals, often, captivated by the atmosphere created during the Festival. The spontaneous willingness to attend Italian Week leads consumers to be part of a community; the community of Italy’s culture. Participants can be stimulated by hedonic motivations, that is, by the pleasant sensations they experience by eating Italian food, drinking Italian beverages, listening to Italian music or watching Italian movies and performances. They can also be 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.

 

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). In our research, the stimulus is represented by Italian Week, which by its captivating environment triggers attendees’ emotional engagement.

 

Motivations to attend the Festival

 

Italian Week is a special event, a cultural event and as such, it provides opportunities for attendees to have memorable experiences, communities to build social capital and for governments to induce new income into their economies through increased tourism and business activities (Hede and Kellett, 2011). The authors state that special events are a unique market offering which can be held in one or many sites, variable in terms of time and duration, be permanent or temporary, and have commercial or non-profit objectives.

 

In consumption situations, consumers encounter choices, alternatives and different motivations that may pull them in different directions (Schembri et al., 2010). Motivation can be defined as ‘why’ an individual or group have behaved or are about to perform an action (Dann, 1981). Theories of motivation suggest that human motives, whether cognitive or affective, are primarily geared towards individual gratification and satisfaction. They provide the theoretical basis for examining underlying reasons for why people shop. Much of the consumerist literature seems to rest on a linear understanding of motivation; that is, awareness leads to concern which leads to action (Davis, 2009).  Consumers may select a product that allows them to communicate a desired social identity while also differentiating within the group, people often assimilate to the behaviour of others.

 

Two main motivations stimulate people to attend Italian Week; hedonic and conformity.  Individuals with hedonistic motivations are driven by the need for individual enjoyment or pleasure (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982), that is, the behaviour allows the consumer to feel good. The behaviour is used to advance the desire for sensory or cognitive stimulation, producing a higher level of enjoyment, novelty, interest or excitement (Karsaklian and Fee, 2012).  Hedonic motivation relates to seeking pleasure, attendees enjoy high quality food and products and high level artistic events, along with the opportunity to practice language skills.

 

Secondly conformity may be due to information of normative influence, and being similar to others supports the human need for validation. People also tend to behave similarly to aspiration groups and make choices that are consistent with positive reference groups to construct or express desired identities (Chan et al., 2012). Individuals are motivated primarily by the needs of a group to which they wish to be associated. This motivation stems from the desire to be accepted to the group, and to be perceived as ‘one of them’ as a result of the decision.

 

 

Italians cannot live without our culture especially for foods or clothes. For most of them, it is very important to keep their culture even if you move around.

 

…as children of Italian born parents, we are brought up the Australian/Italian way NOT the pure Italian way

 

…the Italian Week is a special time of the year when Italy comes to Australia.

 

Research Method

 

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 a single festival, and combines qualitative data collection methods with a quantitative online survey. The research was conducted in two phases, we first interviewed 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. Interpretation and narratives are key in enabling people to make sense of the symbols, objects, individuals and situations through interaction with them (Schembri et al., 2010, McAdams, 1993, Shankar et al., 2001). After minor adjustments, the definitive script was applied to 32 informants who were asked to describe their feelings about Italy and Italian stimuli.

The interviewee’s comprised; 1 born in Italy, 7 of Italian parents and born in Australia, 1 born in New Zealand, 3 born in Australia with Australian parents.

What became apparent through the qualitative study, is how the festival, generates consumption of services more so than of products. 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 and final phase of the research was an online survey whereby a structured questionnaire was made available.  282 respondents completed the online questionnaire during the Italian Festival commencing on May 13, 2014 and running until the 3rd of June 2014. 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. The online survey was designed to deepen our understanding of the consumer habits of festival attendee’s both from the perspective of consumption of brands and products and also to further examine the changes in consumption of services. The questionnaire was composed of 14 questions and was a mix of 12 multiple choice and 2 open ended questions. Respondents were asked to provide information about products and services they purchased prior to attending Italian Week and immediate intentions of consumption after attending Italian Week. In the particular case of Italian Week, extending the experience has more to do with consuming services than consuming goods, this is the first thing that consumers think about.  The results 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) Activities linked to art such as music, films, opera, art exhibitions. Consumers are involved in the environment of Italy and want to stay in that environment, after the festival there is the tendency to continue the experiences encountered at Italian Week as an expression of experiential meaning.

 

In our construct we stated that Italian Week had an impact on consumption patterns by stimulating the consumption of Italian products in general. In order to confirm this statement we asked the direct question; ‘Have your consumption habits changed in relation to products goods and services and entertainment as a result of attending Italian Week?” The results indicated that consumption increased as a direct result of Italian Week, 52.97% answered; ‘yes I am now buying more Italian goods, services and brands as a result of attending Italian Week or seeing its promotional activities.” This represented 93 people who had attended Italian Week over the past 8 years. However, 15.98% of the respondents (28 people) answered that they did not remember if they were buying more products as a result of Italian Week. 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.

 

Surprisingly, we noticed a gap between both answers, some of the brands that featured prominently in the second question did not appear in the first question. In fact brands like Merlo Coffee did not appear at all when respondents were asked to list product purchases yet over 100 people said that they now purchase Merlo Coffee as a result of Italian Week. This was similarly true for brands like Vittoria Coffee and Di Bella Coffee. Three possible explanations for this result are that (1) The brands are not recognised as Italian, (2) The brands are not recallable, or (3) They became aware of the brands as a result of Italian Week.  There are marketing implications for each of these 3 possible scenarios.  Firstly, if the brands are not recognised as Italian, the positive country of origin effect is not being used to leverage the reputation of the brand. If the brand is not recallable, it may be of an inefficient marketing communication strategy. If they became aware of the brand as a result of Italian Week, then our argument that a cultural festival has the capacity to increase consumer consumption is plausible.

 

When asked via an open ended question, what the top 10 products or brands that respondents purchased, we received 1286 responses. These responses were categorized 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 which of the 23 brands and products were they now purchasing as a result of Italian week, the question was formed as a multiple choice and included both brands and generic products. The brands and products were across three categories, the categories were broken down the following way; Food (8 categories) 979 Responses, Beverages (12 categories) 1048 Responses, Fashion (3 categories) 158 Responses. We sought to find out how respondents’ consumption habits changed in relation to services and entertainment. Were consumers attending more restaurants and cultural events as a result of attending Italian Week? The questionnaire identified a trend with festival attendee’s to consume culture, films and language. This trend was reinforced by the activities of Italian Week, 59% of respondents attending Italian Films at the Gallery of Modern Art. Moreover 86% of responses stated that they would be willing to attend an Italian film festival after Italian Week.

 

Managerial and Research Implications

 

The coverage of a cultural festival such as Italian Week which has been running for ten years and luring 55,000 people every year 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 stimulating consumption of services linked to Italy. There is a positive country of origin effect which is profitable to companies, brands and services because the emotional engagement created by Italian Week is conveyed in the relationship between customers and products and creates positive brand attitude. As a result the whole industry that relates to Italy benefits from the effect of Italian Week on customers. It not only increases awareness on brands but also creates desire for services like travel, language lessons, cooking classes, music and artistic performances. There is an emotional engagement that transfers to the product or brand generated through the festival.  

 

Italian Week creates a community federated by Italian heritage or an interest in Italian culture. 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 is not what we could call a brand community but a service community instead. Participants to the festival are attracted to the services they can enjoy during Italian Week through which they derive experiential meaning. As a result, instead of increasing their consumption of Italian brands, they are strongly stimulated to extend the experience by consuming services which will put them in the same fascinating Italian environment, such as planning trips to Italy, learning Italian language, giving priority to Italian restaurants and attending operas, movies about Italy and any other art performances stemming from the Italian culture. Attendees seek at feeling the same emotion engaged during the festival. Positive emotions represented by emotional engagement as opposed to emotions such as animosity explain the residual effect of the Festival on attendees’ consumption behaviour. In recent research conducted by 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 analysed in their research far before Spain and Greece. The residual effects of festivals in general has not been investigated thoroughly, this research focused on filling this gap by exploring what happens once the event is finished and festival attendee’s return to daily life. To do so we conducted a study composed of two phases, one qualitative and one quantitative. Among the most relevant variables were cultural, social and self-identification. Despite the fact that literature in marketing describes them as three distinctive types of consumer identification, our findings led us to assemble the three of them into one Multi-Dimensional Identification because they influence consumers equally. Another meaningful contribution of this research is the ability of Italian Week to generate emotional engagement in such a way that consumers will search for products and services beyond the festival.

 

Finally, Magnusson et al. (2011b) suggest that educating consumers of the correct COO can result in a corresponding change in attitude and thus affect consumer behavior as was demonstrated in our research with Italian Week. .  

 

Limitations and Conclusion

                                         

Italian Week is not what we could call a brand community but a service community instead. Participants to the festival are attracted to the services they can enjoy during Italian Week through which they derive experiential meaning. As a result, instead of increasing their consumption of Italian brands, they are strongly stimulated to extend the experience by consuming services which will put them in the same fascinating Italian environment, such as planning trips to Italy, learning Italian language, giving priority to Italian restaurants and attending operas, movies about Italy and any other art performances stemming from the Italian culture. Attendees seek at feeling the same emotion engaged during the festival.

                                         

The research is subject to some bias because of self-reporting, 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.

 

Italian Week is just a re-enactment or more of a reassurance that there is a culture that can continue to strive and be noticed through its cultural means. The preceding quote from a participant very well illustrates the idea of cultural meaning, experiential meaning, community, identity, integration and long lasting emotional engagement with one culture or between two cultures. It also shows that immigrants do no replace their culture of origin with the host culture, but just bring them together to take the best out of both. One of the secrets of the success of Italian Week is also that is sticks to Italian stereotypes so that attendees won’t be disappointed at the same time as it uncovers much about the Italian culture, which is not limited to pizza and pasta as quoted by one attendee:… we are more than pizza, and all things ‘Papa Giuseppe’, we have such style and depth to our culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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