by Tjaša Škamperle and Enrico Maria Milič
Abstract: There is a perception that consumer products are a direct offshoot of the stereotype that surrounds the products’ countries of origin. “If the product comes from my area I like it more”. These are some of the results of research conducted exclusively for Euregio by SWG and Valicon on Euroregional patterns of consumption
A set of data collected by the Ljubljana-based market research company Valicon, working with SWG in Triest, and commissioned exclusively for ‘Euregio’, provides us with an initial idea of how, within the Euradriatic area, the contents of shopping trolleys are linked to a national identity. Euregio has been able to analyse the questionnaires completed by about 1500 respondents, a representative sample of the citizens of Carinthia (Austria), Slovenia, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia (Italy).
Not only did we investigate the perception of the Euroregion under construction and the conflict between national and regional identity in Central Europe (see page 15, next article) but we also asked these border citizens to tell us how they behave when faced with a choice between a consumer product from their own State or one from a neighbouring country. The main fact that emerges from the research concerns the perception of the “product” and the most reliable, for these Central European people, is still the product originating from the State in which they live (see table “Nationalism and stereotypes within consumption”, also below).
As Diego Martone, a market analyst who works with SWG and other financial institutions in Italy, puts it: “Quality is attributed to products from their own country and not attributed to those of neighbouring countries. A sort of social dynamic of in-group out-group or, if you prefer, of “national pride”.
Through an apparently similar set of dynamics one can reproduce consolidated stereotypes or prejudices that any national group holds against other groupings beyond the border of the State.
If the Austrians are considered reliable people, so their products often benefit from such an assessment. If the Slovenes are considered by their foreign admirers as tireless workers but not yet as well-off, rather like their neighbours from beyond the former Iron Curtain, so their stereotypical portrait is re-echoed in products from Slovenia which are judged as having a good balance in terms of quality and price. If the Italians seem refined from an image point of view, they are, however, considered rather unreliable, and this is reflected in their products. Rok Šunko, a researcher working for Valicon, reflects: “Yes, Slovenian products are cheap, quite logical when one takes into account the standard of living in the individual countries. The Italians and the Austrians go to Slovenia for shopping, to eat and to have fun. Italian products are well-liked and generally seen as articles to admire, but there are fluctuations in terms of quality. This said, they are always well-advertised and prestigious. Šunko concludes: ‘Austrian products are seen as reliable and of good quality and the Italian consumer considers them cheap, unlike the Slovene who views them as expensive.
Some anthropological studies have already theorised that it is not only the media and State institutions but also the patterns of consumption that contribute to the formation of an individual’s national identity. However, for consumers of our piece of Central Europe, the picture is not so black and white, but suggests a set of contrasting dynamics. We asked Rok Šunko what the link between knowledge of a product and the brand might be. The interviewers noted that some consumers can recognise, for example, that a certain type of product is Austrian, without recognising the brand. Amongst the most popular Austrian products in Italy are undoubtedly the fabulous chocolate and the Sachertorte, a recipe of Viennese origins. «Many Italian consumers associate certain products with Austria within a particular category. This is less frequent in the case of trademarks. This is because some of the brand names they know that are linked to Austria, are, in fact, global brands – Red Bull and Gösser for example». Šunko continues, «The interviewee finds himself in difficulty. He can associate a particular product with Austria, but does not know whether the brand itself is Austrian, or belongs to a multinational». So, in the consumer’s mind a brand name seems almost to have become detached from the territory and to have become part of a global “riverbed” of trademarks that do not have a clear territorial or national connotation.
This overview of consumption within the Euroregion merits further analysis. Loredana Ferenaz and Alessandra Dragotto from SWG compared the profiles of the consumers targeted for Euregio with those found in research carried out last year by SWG for Coldiretti, the national association of agricultural businesses in Italy. The research was conducted using a sample of Italian consumers and another representative sample of Europeans from outside Italy. When asked, «What characteristics do you associate with Italian food?», 57% of a sample of Italians replied, amongst other things, “security”. In other words, more than half the Italians interviewed saw their national products as reassuring, reliable and not harbouring unpleasant surprises. The sample of Europeans, however, had very different ideas in this respect. Whilst acknowledging that most Italian products had “taste” (a nod to the stereotype of Italian aesthetic prowess?), only 5% of Europeans viewed goods produced in Italy as “secure”.
In short, the image of the Italian, artistically-gifted but an incurable pasticcione (bungler) was not only transferred to products consumed along the borders with Slovenia and Austria. It cannot be regarded as merely the product of the hatreds and the tragic emotions experienced over the past century around the Northern Adriatic. In short, we probably think that the global media send out a certain image of Italians which then rematerialises in the products arriving from Il Belpaese.
The interpretation of the research by Valicon and SWG can be analysed in greater depth if one examines how the data change as one separates out groups of respondents between those living close to the State borders from those living further away. The data on consumers residing in Italy once again represent a useful generalisation. In the Veneto, a region that incorporates only a small segment of the Italian border with foreign states, only 5.6% of our respondents were able to name a Slovenian brand; only 21.7% could name an Austrian product. In Friuli Venezia Giulia, a region that shares a long border with both Slovenia and Austria, the numbers change significantly. 35.3% of respondents were able to name a Slovenian brand-name and about 40% an Austrian trademark. Two scholars of border areas, Donnan and Wilson, wrote: «border people are part of social and political systems unlike most others in their respective countries». So, too, it would seem, are their patterns of consumption.
METHODOLOGY AND ACCESS TO THE ORIGINAL DATA
The research carried out by Valicon and SWG was conducted using a representative sample of citizens of Slovenia (855 respondents via telephone and the web), the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia Regions (respondents via telephone and the web) and 125 Austrian citizens from Carinthia (via the Web). For more information please contact the management of Euregio at firstname.lastname@example.org.