The multidimensionality of identities and emotional engagement

 

The Case of Italian Week in Australia

 

 

Cav. Alessandro Sorbello – New Realm
Dr. Eliane Karsaklian – LARGEPA – Sorbonne University Paris
 
 
International Journal of Strategic Management®, 16(1), 105-119.

 

ABSTRACT

 

Consumer Identification has been extensively studied as being a condition for creation of communities and for shaping consumption patterns. However, no research has been conducted to explore the effects of experiential meaning on consumer identification and their consequent emotional engagement in Festivals. We outline a model for emotional engagement (The Emotional Engagement Model – TEEM) which provides a general framework to understand the impact of experiential meaning in stimulating consumer identification with the culture. A qualitative study generated key factors leading respondents to establish emotional engagement with Italian culture which were then used in an online survey. Our results demonstrate the ability of Italian Week in creating emotional engagement thanks to the fusion of three different types of identification – self, social and cultural – which we called Multidimensional ID.

 

Key words:  Cultural Festival, Emotional Engagement, Consumer Behaviour, Consumer Identification, Experiential meaning

 

Introduction

 

This paper relates to cross-cultural 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, which we explore here as a case study (Hede and Kellett, 2011, Uroševic, 2012).  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 which triggers identification of the attendees with the Italian culture  through experiential meaning, which in turn creates emotional engagement with Italian Week

 

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’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 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.

 

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 attitude 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 (Fest-Vibe) triggers high involvement from all participants independently on their initial level of involvement when arriving in the event. We define the festival’s general feel, attitude and ambiance as ‘Fest-Vibe’. Fest-Vibe is what creates emotional contagion and sets the feel-good stage for festival-goer’s enjoyment. As a matter of fact, the Fest-Vibe creates an environment able to generate engagement from all participants through emotions.

 

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

 

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 which is triggered by three types of indistinctive identities: self, social and cultural.

 

Petty and Cacioppo’s (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 because they already identify themselves with Italian culture which makes Italian Week appealing to them (central route. Some other attendees might not be part of the Italian community because they don’t identify with Italian culture. 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).

 

However, during the festival, attendees from both routes experience meaningful situations and emotions leading them to some level of identification which by the end of the experience become indistinguishable.

 

Based on the above, we state the following propositions:

 

P1. Italian Week relates to three different yet inseparable types of identity

P2. Experiential meaning is a catalyst of attendees’ identification with Italian culture

 

 

Much work has been conducted on the experiential meaning of brands and its impact on consumer behavior, however to the best of our knowledge, little or no research has been conducted on how an event’s experience, such as a festival, can have similar impact on consumers. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to study the impact of Italian Week on consumer identification through experiential meaning and emotional engagement. Our research was composed of a qualitative study based on 32 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.

 

Conceptual Background

 

1.      Italian Immigration in Australia

 

 

From early history, Italians and people of the country which would become known as Italy have travelled and migrated in search of new worlds and to explore new frontiers. The Romans travelled extensively through Europe, Asia and Africa establishing colonies. During the Renaissance, Italian adventurers and explorers sailed in search of new worlds. Amerigo Vespucci, along with his fellow Italian explorers like Marco Polo, are remembered by history as founders of discoverers of foreign lands.

 

Mass Italian migration once again occurred during the 18th and 19th century where in the 100 year span of 1870 and 1970, over 26 million people left Italy in search for a new life (Gabaccia, 2006). In Australia, Italian immigration commenced with the beginning of English colonisation. Two Italian explorers were on board Captain James Cook’s Endeavour and Italians migrants are recorded in the first Census collated by the New South Wales Government in 1828. Between 1947 and 1976, over 360,000 Italians migrated to Australia (Rando, 2000)and Australia now has the third highest level of foreign population (Frost et al., 2009). Today, Italian culture is deeply rooted and strongly present in modern Australia (Pyke, 1948), and in Queensland there are over 100,000 people of Italian origin. There are 27,000 Italian speakers, and 15,000 Italian Citizens in Queensland, making Italians one of the largest ethnic groups in the State (Arrighi, 1991).

                                                         

Operating successfully since 2007, Italian Week provides benefits to the State, an Italian Festival provides the opportunity to promote and highlight the composition of ethnic backgrounds, cultural panorama and adopted traditions (McKercher et al., 2006).  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.

 

Like many ethnic festivals they develop for economic reasons after the Italian community begins to assimilate and disband. 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.

 

Commencing with a strategy designed to satisfy the hedonistic and utilitarian needs of the events audience and safe in the knowledge that future collaborations would continue to do so, the festival shifted its focus to developing ‘emotional engagement’. Such emotional engagement rests on the Australians’ identification with Italian culture, as quoted by one participant: … it makes me feel quite special, when you have both nationalities, it is more exotic to say that you are European straight up.

 

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.

 

The emotional and rational experiences provided by the festival evokes identification and 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. As a matter of fact, 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).

 

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 event encourages and inspires 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.

 

Self- identification

 

As consumers do not enter the world with self-identity, the self is created through the narrative presented through behaviour and consumption (Schembri et al., 2010). According to Usborne and Taylor (2012), the characteristics that compose an individual’s personal identity are relative because they compare themselves to a clearly defined normative template. Such identification enables the individual to know what they should value and how they should behave. In other words, such understanding is used to shape their personal existence. Through this identification, individuals can understand how to interact in a social context.

 

Beyond rational decision making, people use signs and symbols as a social tool to communicate the self, and brand consumption is a powerful social tool that consumers employ in their quest for self-identity. Consumers use brands to negotiate identity concerns (Holt, 2002). While Fournier (1998), states that brands are active relationship partners, Ahuvia (2005), points out that relationship with products and brands expresses connection to other people. The common denominator which links people who may have previously been unknown to each other is shared interests.  If we assume that this is true about goods and brands, then it may also be true about events such as festivals. By creating a suitable environment for people to identify with a common denominator such as Italian culture, participants can connect with others who share their interests. Italian Week creates the opportunity for ephemeral immersion into Italian culture, whereby Italy becomes the link among people who may have previously ignored each other. Consumption of culture is then a way of communicating the self to others and identifying with others.

 

Social- identification

 

Social psychological analysis of the self in a group or social environment developed into social identity theory (Hogg, 2006)suggests that humans organise themselves into social categories to aid self-definition within social structures (Ashforth and Mael, 1989). Social identification is the seeming connection to groups and affects individual identity (Ashforth and Mael, 1989, Tajfel, 1979). An individual’s identification with a group or entity such as a club or group of consumers enables self-definition (Mael and Ashforth, 1995). This group identification has a direct effect on individual and group behaviour. Within brand communities, consumers intention to repurchase the brand other members purchase results from identifying with the group (Dholakia et al., 2004). Brand community is defined by (Muniz Jr and O’guinn, 2001), as a specialized (around a branded good or service), non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand. Like other communities, it is marked by a shared consciousness, rituals and traditions, and a sense of moral responsibility.

 

This powerful connection with others and the resulting effect on consumption patterns exists not only within brand communities but into environments where there is no formal membership (Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2006). Consumers, sports fans, employees of companies and concert goers can be affected by social identification (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003, Gwinner and Swanson, 2003).  Individuals may view companies as social groups with which they perceive to belong to and interact. In order to establish meaningful and enduring relationships with their customers, companies engage in activities designed to increase consumers’ identification with the company (Marín and de Maya, 2013). As stated by Bhattacharya and Sen (2003), consumers may be able to partially meet their self-definitional needs by identifying with a company whose products and/or services they consume. In such cases consumers not only stay loyal to the company but also promote it and bring new consumers to it. (See footnotes under references re this one - Marin and Ruiz (2013) state that to the extent that a company can constitute a social group, individuals may derive part of their social identity through the establishment of cognitive links between themselves and a company. Identification leads to consumption, which leads to satisfaction, which leads to sustained long term preference.

 

By bringing Italy admirers together, Italian Week creates a community based on common values and expectations which can lead to the increased consumption of Italian products and brands. Furthermore, the growing community created by Italian Week is reflected in the loyalty of attendees returning each year and bringing new participants along.

 

2.3.3 Cultural-identification

 

According to Jameson (2007), the term cultural identity refers to an individual’s sense of self derived from formal or informal membership in groups that transmit and inculcate knowledge, beliefs, values, traditions, and ways of life. The authors suggests that cultural identity is just one part of a larger concept of individual identity, which is decomposed of two parts: objective identity (nationality and country of residence) and subjective identity (a person’s sense of who he or she is as a human being). Thus, a collective identity includes both cultural and social aspects. Cultural identity involves historical perspective whereas social identity is often anchored in a particular moment in time. Cultural identity is an internal state that depends on self-perception.  As stated by one respondent: 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.

Often, cultural communities are known as Diasporas. Diaspora is comprised of ever changing representations which provide an imaginary coherence for a net of flexible identities (Hall, 1990). Thanks to globalization, members of Diasporas often have dual attachments, as quoted by one respondent … as children of Italian born parents, we are brought up the Australian/Italian way NOT the pure Italian way.  They are home away of home. They live in some place (here) as they have a connection with their cultural roots (there). Briefly said, members of a diaspora draw on cosmopolitanism as an identity resource (Ziemer, 2009).

 

In the specific case of the study we analyse in this paper, ‘here’ is Australia and ‘there’ is Italy. But the beauty of this Festival is that it bridges the two cultures by bringing both Australia and Italy together to the same place that is ‘here’. Attendees forget about the 16,000 km separating them from the ‘mother country’ and enjoy its best flavours from the city they actually live in. As quoted by one of the respondents … the Italian Week is a special time of the year when Italy comes to Australia.

 

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.

 

Research Method

 

This research aims at understanding the ability Italian Week has in generating attendees’ identification through experiential meaning which in turn creates emotional engagement. Previous research has been conducted based on visual documentation for analysis of one single brand and its ability to build a community (Muniz Jr and O’guinn, 2001, Cova and Pace, 2006).  In our research, we take Italian Week as the independent variable, which influences the creation of three types of identities – self, social and cultural which are our dependent variables, through the moderating influence of experiential meaning.

 

Our research uses photos, videos and interviews to understand the emotional engagement generated by a single festival, and Italian Week’s impact on consumption of Italian brands as part of community belonging. Schembri and Boyle (2013), state that key events provide a lens through which to view a culture, because cultural symbols and language indicate what the culture entails and the visual documentation reflect the cultural experience. The interpretive approach to this research is appropriate for both analysing the experiential meaning of the festival and its role as a service provided to people attending it in Australia whether they have Italian origins or not, and its ability to trigger a shift in attendees’ buying patterns.

 

We chose to analyse Italian Week as a case study for several reasons.  First, it has been running successfully for eight years and luring more and more participants every year. Second, participants having attended once, developed a high level of loyalty to the festival and not only attend it every year, but also bring friends along who, in turn, become loyal attendees of the festival in the following years too. Third, one of the researchers is Executive Producer of the festival and perfectly knows its objectives, measures its evolution at each edition of the Festival and has access to the participants to conduct the research.

 

Our research methodology 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. The method chosen to conduct the first phase was based on narratives. 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). This exploratory phase of our qualitative study led was followed by 32 in-depth interviews of past participants of the Italian Week Festival. According to Schembri et al. (2010), consumers’ identity is apparent within the constructed story or narrative they present to others by making sense of who they are. By citing Ahuvia (2005), the authors suggest the emergence of the role of possessions in the construction of a coherent identity narrative. Finally, we conducted a quantitative online survey to evaluate further changes in participant’s consumption patterns due to their identification with Italian Week and Italian culture. The survey sought to measure the changes in consumption of specific brands, services and products and of Italian products in general.  

 

Findings

 

The event captivates attendees by generating warm feelings towards Italian culture and thus triggers emotional engagement to the country which would generate interaction with self-identification. As one respondent put it; “…you see yourself through another person’s eyes.” Indeed, through emotions, people would identify themselves as being part of the Italian culture. But the festival is a service instead of a good and as such it involves deep participation from the attendees and an experience that would change their consumption habits either by reinforcing loyalty to already consumed Italian brands and/or stimulating the consumption of new Italian brands.

 

Captivated by the Festival, attendees experience Italian Week as a high quality service, which triggers emotional engagement thanks to the aggregation of the three types of identification. Indeed, narratives from the first phase of the study indicated that it was not possible to separate one from another in this specific case. Social, cultural and self-identification are assembled as a unique form of identification in which all three of them merge.

 

On the one hand, this multi-dimensional identification (Multi-Dimensional ID) emerges as a result of experiential meaning which creates emotional engagement which, in turn, leads customers to alter their consumer behaviour. On the other hand, emotional engagement is strengthened by combining self, cultural and social identification. This cycle of identification and emotional engagement created a deeper level of involvement with the Italian brands that they already consumed and stimulated the awareness and consumption of new brands experienced during Italian Week. Once emotional engagement is created, consumer consumption patterns are altered, reinforcing loyalty to already consumed brands or initiating consumption of new brands.

 

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 relevance of intangibility in services in general, and in Italian Week’s case in particular, led us up to dig deeper into the identification respondents have with Italy which would certainly add to their attraction to Italian Week and subsequent interest in Italian products and services. Here is an example of one respondent who was motivated to plan a trip to Italy and, decided to move with her partner to live in Italy, and we quote: Dreams really can come true. Have you ever sat on a balcony somewhere in Italy gazing in awe at the majestic landscape and wondered if it would ever actually be possible for this to be more than a holiday but your home? … It is our own slice of heaven in Italy.

 

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 with a mix of multiple choice and 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. We sought to find out how respondents’ consumption habits changed in relation to goods and services and entertainment as a result of attending Italian Week and to describe their understanding of Italian Culture. The main results obtained by the quantitative phase are represented hereafter.

 

4.1 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) Learning 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. Respondents indicated that they may travel to Italy or perhaps take an Italian language course where probably the teacher will be Italian and the opportunity to speak and hear the language exists. There is the desire to keep the feeling and sensation alive by recreating the experience in activities that assimilate the festival. This is not the sort of thing that a product can do; it can remind you of the situation but can’t recreate the environment. One participant described it like this; I would say that Italian week is just like being in Italy with a huge Italian family, being able to experience the food, the festivities and all the laughter, eating, culture that goes with it.

 

The first phase of the research identified that Italian Week was viewed as a service and generated interest in continuing the experience through services. The questionnaire revealed that the first things that festival participants wanted to do was to extend the experience not by consuming brands but by consuming services of which learning Italian language and travelling to Italy were the most prominent. It looks like services are most appreciated by respondents as a way of extending their experience with Italian Week rather than trying to prolong such experience, thus their identification with Italian culture thanks to the consumption of Italian products. One plausible explanation for that would be the emotional engagement generated by the event, which is partly stimulated by senses, thus being in an environment where the language is Italian, whether it is conveyed by language lessons, by trips to the country, listening to music or enjoying food in an Italian restaurant.

 

Results from our research 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.

 

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.

 

There was also a diversification that they consumed during the event that was not listed with Ninety-four percent of the responses spontaneously indicated that they would attend an Italian food and wine expo if it were held in Brisbane. This result indicates a clear impact on potential changes in consumption of Italian services relating to Italian culture as well as a potential effective diversification of Italian Week.

 

Discussion

 

Bourdieu (1993), stated that art and cultural consumption are used to legitimate social differences. Cultural sociology, however, sees culture as a set of social meaning-making processes with three key analytical focuses: social actors use cultural repertoires to construct strategies of action; culture as a social product situates within producer networks; and the removal of cultural repertoires, text and objects from their contexts for separate analysis.

 

Additionally, the work undertaken by McCracken (1990) has been central to the study of meaning-making through consumption. However, his research was limited to goods and possessions. It does not apply to services, in which there is no ownership but through which consumers can make sense of their experiences, mainly thanks to hedonic satisfaction. The unavoidable participation of customers in services production and delivery make them even more sensitive and demanding about the quality of the service and the meaning of the experience. In the specific case of a festival such as Italian Week, the service itself in conceived to provide customers with pleasant situations in a controlled environment, meant to captivate participants with music, shows, meals, lights and any other relevant stimuli able to address attendees’ senses. Customers are highly involved in the success of the festival by being part of it. During Italian Week, participants are both ‘here’ and ‘there’ at the same time. They are in Italy without having left Australia. In other words, Italian Week participants feel like being tourists in Italy.

 

Tourism can be defined as an opportunity for cultural and social contact, communication and cultural exchange with other individuals and cultures. This interaction is stimulating and creative among different lifestyles values and identities (Uroševic, 2012). It is a two pronged way of acculturation: Italian Week brings Italy to Australians and back to Italians who have been living in Australia for several generations. People travel because they are looking for new experiences which will teach them something about others but also about themselves. Italian Week represents an experience in which participants interact with both cultures: Italian and Australian. Italian week does not only promote Italian culture, it creates an Italian experience. By experiencing Italy without traveling to Europe, Australians with or without Italian roots, enjoy the Italian lifestyle and all the best that the country can convey to Italy-lovers. Not only is the festival a service but it also integrates several services like meals, shows, performances through which attendees make sense of what Italy represent to them.

 

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.

 

In sum, the main finding of our research is that Italian Week not only relates to three different types of identification but unifies them. Indeed, the activities, situations and emotions experienced by attendees are so powerful that the three types of identification are merged into only one. Such strong identification with Italian culture for both attendees with and without Italian origins, implies a strong emotional engagement with the Italian culture. The multidimensional identification generated by Italian Week stimulates consumers to buy increased number of Italian products and services in order to extend their experience with Italian Week

 

5. Managerial Implications

 

Italian Week promotes Italian culture, Italian brands, Italian services and everything that stimulates attendees’ closeness and attachment with Italy. Thanks to its sponsors, Italian Week displays brands, products, services, locations, and public institutions. The coverage of a cultural festival such as Italian Week which has been running for 9 years and luring 50,000 to 65,000 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. This statement is illustrated by one respondent’s quote: … you actually meet people that have fallen in love with Italy.

 

Italian Week celebrates the influence of Italian culture, the exuberant lifestyle of Italians and the dolce vita approach to food, wine and living. As we discussed in the introduction, Italian mass migration has seen aspects of the Italian way of life exported around the globe. The products and brands are internationally recognized and appreciated for their style, design and high quality. The festival is unique because it runs over a full week and highlights the best of Italy, from food to films, from fashion to fast cars. The gamut of areas strongly recognized and appreciated by Australians and Italians alike. Italian Week brings a taste of Italy to Australia, a country that is so far removed, both geographically and culturally. Italian lifestyle is celebrated in a controlled and safe environment and all the best parts of Italy are on show for all to enjoy.

 

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. It creates an extremely positive attitude towards everything that has to do with Italy and by giving meaning to what attendees experience during the festival it increases the potential of the target market for all companies and institutions. 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. A willingness to extend the experience of the festival through the consumption of goods and services. The attraction of Italian Week is so powerful that even people that have never attended the festival because of geographical or time scheduling challenges, follow the event on social media which represents a broader target for the brands that are involved in the event. Indeed 33% of the respondents in the online questionnaire were people that had not attended Italian Week but had experienced the extensive promotions and marketing through social and contemporary media.

 

The qualitative phase of the study revealed more than 20 attributes relating to Italian culture and lifestyle, the results were spontaneous and all the attributes were positive. These attributes were derived from word association between Italy and its representation to respondents. The most salient ones were then submitted to respondents in the quantitative phase, they were; Food, Tradition / History / Architecture, Big family / Sense of belonging, Italian way of life, Great gelato, Lifestyle / Style / Elegance, Good friends / Friendly environment, and Love / Romance, and they all reached high scores of approval and identification with the culture.

 

6. Research Implications

 

We extended the ELM model to emotional engagement created by a festival. We created a construct that helps understand the itinerary leading festival attendees from curiosity about the festival altered consumption patterns. The construct we present here is a framework to understanding the underlying variables for any marketing activity based on culture.

Extensive literature exists on consumer consumption habits during festivals, researchers have examined how to increase consumer spending and enhance the festival experience to increase revenue. However not much research has been conducted on the impact of cultural festivals on consumer behaviour past the expiration date of the actual event. 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. The methodology applied to the research enabled us to create and refine a construct which represents the variables influencing consumer behaviour in such a way that they can extend the experience of the event once it’s finished for the year.  Among the most relevant variables were cultural, social and self-identification. Despite the fact that literature in marketing describe 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. Social identity is defined as the way an individual relates to others by being part of their group. Self-identity refers to the consciousness an individual has of him/herself when compared to others. Finally, theory about cultural identity stresses the fact that people identify with people belonging to the same culture as theirs. Results demonstrate that consumers are able to recreate the festival ‘feel’, environment and meaning by the consumption of services and brands such as learning language or purchasing products and brands they encountered during the festival.

 

Italian culture federates all attendees which identify with the Italian culture with differing intensity, but they do identify with it (cultural identity). However, the Festival aggregates people from several and different backgrounds who get together as if they were part of a big family, just as it happens in Italy. They eat, drink, sing, dance and enjoy themselves together, and even people with no Italian origins identify with such a captivating environment (social identity). Finally, each individual constructs itself by comparing to that culture and the environment created by the festival. They are more aware of who they are and who they want to be (self-identity). As quoted by one of the participants: … Italian Week creates a fusion between Australian culture and Italian culture. This illustration might be one of the plausible explanations for our inability of separating the three types of identification. Thus researchers might consider that these intrinsically interwoven identification variables that we have defined as ‘Multi-Dimensional ID’ can be transposed to other types of festivals, situations and events in general.

 

Another meaningful contribution of this research is the ability of a cultural festival such as Italian Week to generate emotional engagement in such a way that consumers will search for products and services beyond the festival. This enables them to extend the experience by recreating aspects of the same environment in their daily lives. The power of emotional engagement is enhanced by its interaction with the Multi-Dimensional ID, emotions associated with identification on three levels have higher impact on consumer choices among brands.

 

7 Limitations

 

For this research, we chose to combine qualitative and quantitative approaches to answer to our research question. The qualitative phase was deliberately constrained to 20 face to face interviews in order to dig deeper into attendees experience and emotions towards Italian Week.  The qualitative sample represented a cross section of Italian Week attendees. Included in the interviews are a number of current and past sponsors, entertainers and media experts who have attended the festival on at least 2 occasions as well as several members of the public who participated in 2 or more editions of Italian Week.

 

The quantitative phase was operationalized through an online questionnaire which gathered 282 completed responses. Although randomly recruited, all respondents had a link and knowledge about the Festival and were thus able to provide us with meaningful data.

 

However, 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. Moreover, respondents might not have paid special attention to their buying patterns changes year after year. With studies that rely on participation on a voluntary basis, care must be taken to limit and or avoid bias due to interviewers and their demand characteristics (Fan et al., 2006, Austin et al., 1998). We argue that some elements of self-reporting bias have been eliminated or reduced and the findings are supported by the rigor in our method thanks to the combined qualitative and quantitative approaches to investigating the subject matter. 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.

 

8. Conclusion

 

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 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. This is the main role of Italian Week. Bringing together two cultures through a cultural festival. Italian Week is a temporary piece of Italy placed in Brisbane which warmly welcomes Australians whether they have Italian origins or not. It is a matter of blending two cultures which might share some common values and habits, but which are not always revealed. 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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