Exposure to Cultural Activities and Opinion Leadership

E. Langeard, University of California, Berkeley
M. Crousillat, Universite d'Aix-Marseille
R. Weisz, Universite d'Aix-Marseille
ABSTRACT - Consumer services have recently been subjected to systematic research at both conceptual and empirical levels (4,8). This paper focuses on a service activity which objects very much to the use of marketing terminology and concepts and even more so when it is located in the European environment. However, cultural activities and, among them, performing arts have serious attendance problems and difficult communication channels with both their actual and potential audience. Several studies have already been made of attendants' behavior, taking into account usual socio-demographic characteristics (5,6,9).
[ to cite ]:
E. Langeard, M. Crousillat, and R. Weisz (1978) ,"Exposure to Cultural Activities and Opinion Leadership", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 606-610.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 606-610

EXPOSURE TO CULTURAL ACTIVITIES AND OPINION LEADERSHIP

E. Langeard, University of California, Berkeley

M. Crousillat, Universite d'Aix-Marseille

R. Weisz, Universite d'Aix-Marseille

ABSTRACT -

Consumer services have recently been subjected to systematic research at both conceptual and empirical levels (4,8). This paper focuses on a service activity which objects very much to the use of marketing terminology and concepts and even more so when it is located in the European environment. However, cultural activities and, among them, performing arts have serious attendance problems and difficult communication channels with both their actual and potential audience. Several studies have already been made of attendants' behavior, taking into account usual socio-demographic characteristics (5,6,9).

The objective of this paper is to study the phenomenon related to interpersonal communication within groups of consumers more or less exposed to cultural activities. The first part is devoted to an analysis of the communication process which is predominant for cultural or artistic services. The second part presents the research methodology and the set of hypotheses, and the statistical findings of the survey made the third part. Finally managerial implications that might be drawn from the survey are given.

INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION AND ATTENDANCE OF CULTURAL SERVICES

The decrease of attendance has been a major concern for the last ten or fifteen years in many countries. Several surveys of live theaters' and movies theaters' attendance have been made. From them it is known that in 1974 63% of the total French population have been at least once a year at a movie theater and 69% of the U.S. population of 12 major cities (12, 14). Also in 1974, 22% of the total French population have seen at least one amateur or professional theater play and 31% of the U.S. population of 12 major cities (12, 14). The data do not provide us with information only on attendance levels but also give us clues about why attendance levels are so low. Take the example of theater attendance. Pricing is not a major issue, at least in France where tickets from subsidized theaters are not much more expensive than movie theater tickets. Theater attendance is a highly socialized process. Willingness to go to theaters is related to education level and social status. Translating willingness to go into actual attendance requires the support of a group providing key-information, companionship, and a discussion platform. When people who do not go anymore to theaters are asked why, the reason they give most often is they have been cut off from the group with whom they attended or their new companions do not like to go to theaters. Sixty percent of the population which is not exposed to theater performance give as a main explanation the lack of guides, of "persons who know" among relatives and friends (12). Interpersonal communication has a strong influence on theater attendance and the lack of funds for mass communication which generally prevails increases even more this influence. Mass communication media are more widely used in other performing arts such as films. Reading as a cultural activity is more and more under the pressure of huge advertising campaigns. In both cases, word of mouth has still devastating or highly positive influence. Therefore, it is necessary to have a better understanding of the consumer search and communication process in the area of cultural services.

From prior research, a conceptual framework has been built which can be applied to many different types of service situations (3). Facing services, consumers have a problem of confidence. It's difficult to test or try services without the occurrence of an excessive cost. Without experience of the service and because its image is unclear, consumers do not know if it fits their needs or not. Finally, the performance and the quality of many services vary unexpectedly. These three remarks apply to cultural services. Potential customers try to sustain their confidence through an active search process of information from those who know, those who have experience the services. It creates optimal conditions for the existence of personal influence.

METHODOLOGY AND HYPOTHESES

The self-designated method has been chosen for this survey, with the use of three questions based on Katz and Lazarsfeld (7) and Rogers and Cartano (11) researches. Identifying opinion-leaders by self-report has been validated (2,10,13) although some accuracy is sacrificed for economy and expediency (1).

In a large city of the south of France, three consumers' groups have been investigated in relation with the most important Repertoire Theater Company performing in the city on a permanent basis.

The first consumer group is made of subscribers to yearly programmed events. They agree in advance to attend a minimum number of shows at specific dates. They are given a fifty percent discount on ticket prices.

The second consumer group is made of non-subscribers, paying full price for a show they chose to attend.

The third consumer group is made of a sample of the general population, with quotas based on the repartition of the subscribers' group among occupational categories.

The questionnaire has been sent by mail to the subscribers. A stratified sample of 1,200 people has been used out of 6,000 subscribers. 529 answered the questionnaire which gives a 45% response rate. The questionnaire has been administered by interviews to 202 non-subscribers when attending a show. The sampling method introduces a bias and the probability was high to get a bigger share of "heavy-users" among nonsubscribers. The general population sample has been interviewed at home. 205 persons answered the questionnaire, half male, half female. In the two other samples females represent 60% of the total, and the males 40% only.

Theater is generally considered as the most accessible of the performing arts outside of the mass media (compared with opera, ballet, symphony). It was decided to compare exposure to theater with other kinds of cultural activities. We selected one which is directly related to mass communication: films in movie theaters, another one which does not require to go out and attend to a specific performance, which is book reading.

The questionnaire has been designed in such a way that provides information about universal leaders versus specialized leaders for theaters, films, and readings, and the overlaps between them. The relationship between the intensity of exposure to a specific cultural activity and the amount of information received and diffused by the people has also been investigated as well as the communication process being used. A set of hypotheses has been formulated in accordance with the primary objectives of the research.

On one hand the research had to verify if characteristics generally associated with opinion leadership would show up when studying cultural opinion leaders (H5, H6, H7); on the other hand it had to explore any relationship between opinion leadership propensity and the willingness to subscribe and to commit oneself to a whole program of cultural events (H2). Besides these two phenomena a third one was added which is the relationship between the extent of overall cultural activities someone has in the three domains (theater, films, reading) and his categorization as an opinion leader and as a theater subscriber (H1 and H3). Last it was expected that opinion leadership overlap would be verified between the three categories of cultural activities (H4).Therefore the set of hypotheses is the following:

H1: Subscribers are not only attending more theater performances than non-subscribers; they are also seeing more films and reading more books.

H2: Subscribers have a greater propensity to be opinion leaders.

H3: Cultural opinion leaders are more exposed to cultural events or more committed to cultural activities than non-leaders.

H4: Opinion leadership overlaps exist between the three sub-categories of cultural activities taken into account in the research survey.

H5: Opinion leaders look more for information in the mass media than non-opinion leaders.

H6: The influence of personal sources of information is stronger on non-opinion leaders than leaders.

H7: Cultural opinion leaders are disseminating more cultural information than non-opinion leaders.

FINDINGS

All hypotheses have been confirmed totally or partially except the one dealing with opinion leadership overlap and the one expecting theatre subscribers to be "heavy users" of performing arts. One of the unexpected findings is the lack of openness of the subscribers' group. This has important marketing implications. This study has demonstrated once more, and after many other researches with similar results, that it did not exist a significant relationship between opinion leadership and socio-demographic variables such as age. sex, occupation, family status or income.

1. Subscribers have a "middle of the road" pattern of performing arts consumption. They are less likely heavy book readers than non- subscribers or the general population.

Table 1 presents selected data for both extremes of no-consumption and heavy-consumption. Chi-square tests have been computed for each consumer group and each type of consumption taken by pairs. All differences are statistically significant (probability .001) except the one about book reading between the non-subscribers' sample and the sample of general population (X2 test value 2.13, d.f. 5).

The sample of general population is heavily loaded with a high percentage of people who do not go out. The same sample has the highest percentage of people who read more than three books a month. Let's remember that this sample is not representative of the total population. It has been built with the same socio-demographic characteristics of the two other samples. For instance, among other traits, the level of education is similar and strongly skewed toward secondary and university education. The level of cultural interest is not the main difference between this sample and the two others. The gap between them is related to time budget, how people allocate their leisure time, are they in favor of going out or do they choose to stay home. More explanation of time budget is needed to get a better understanding of cultural consumption patterns. The two groups of subscribers and non-subscribers differ with regards to their homogeneity. The subscribers' group is very homogenous. Very few people in this group do not go to movies or do not read. At the same time, their theatre attendance does not reach the level of non-subscribers. One explanation might be that a majority of subscribers have their cultural needs fully satisfied with the theatre company performances for which they have subscribed. On the contrary among the very heterogeneous non-subscribers' sample, we have an uncommitted group with a pattern of high cultural consumption and strong desire of preserving their freedom of choice. As it can be expected we have in the same sample another group whom level of involvement with performing arts is very low. Nine percent of the non-scribers' sample declared that their theater attendance was exceptional and due to unusual events.

TABLE 1

2. Subscribers have a greater propensity to be cultural opinion leaders than the general population; however, when their opinion leadership is compared with those of non-sub- scribers no significant statistical differences have been found.

Percentage differences shown in Table 2 are statistically significant between the general population and the subscribers' samples (X2 with probability .0001) or the non-subscribers' group (X2 with probability .05). It is possible that the lack of statistical difference between subscribers and non-subscribers is due to a bias when administering the questionnaires - by mail for subscribers by interviews within the theatre for nonsubscribers. Whatsoever, the second hypothesis - H2 -is not fully verified.

TABLE 2

Twenty-nine percent of the subscribers, twenty-three percent of the non-subscribers and fifteen percent of the general population viewed themselves as exercising some cultural influence on relatives and friends. Based on three distinctive cultural areas such as theatre, films and books, we look at these percentages as a measure of general opinion leadership and influence within the multi-faceted domain of culture.

TABLE 3

As it can be seen in Table 3, subscribers looked at themselves as opinion leaders about films and plays, much more than non-subscribers or the general population. Advice about books infers a similar pattern of influence when the three groups are compared.

3. Cultural opinion leaders are more exposed to cultural events or more committed to cultural activities than non-leaders. This hypothesis - H3 - is fully confirmed. Chi- square tests have been used an all differences (shown on Table 4) between leaders and non- leaders are statistically significant.

TABLE 4

4. Opinion leadership overlaps exist between the three sub-categories of cultural activities taken into account in the research survey. However, this overlap varies greatly among the three groups that have been surveyed.

In Table 5 and for each three samples, the differences between observed dual leadership and estimated dual leadership have been displayed. When their differences are statistically significant, opinion leadership overlap is verified. For the subscribers' group overlap exists in all cases. Overlap is verified only in two cases with the non-subscribers' group. As for the general population sample, not only opinion leadership overlap does not exist, but in one case, movie-theatre leaders and theatre leaders, the observed dual leadership is smaller than the estimated dual leadership. Based on these three samples it seems that opinion leadership overlap is related to the cultural consumption pattern of each group. In the case where the interests of the group is strongly focused on one activity, opinion leadership overlap is unlikely. Once more it brings the question of the existence of universal opinion leaders. This study shows some evidence of the contrary. Opinion leadership overlap is verified when a group of people look at various activities as parts of a common domain. If for another group these same activities have very little in common, the overlap is not going to be verified.

5. Opinion leaders look more for information in the mass media than non-opinion leaders and the influence of personal sources of information is stronger on non-opinion leaders than leaders.

Both hypotheses H5 and H6 are verified. This is a confirmation in the cultural and artistic domain of opinion leaders characteristics which have been well tested elsewhere.

Table 6 clearly shows the differentiation between opinion leaders and non-opinion leaders on what sources influence them most. A usual scenario would be that of an opinion leader reading in magazines the analysis of a film by one or several critics and as an intermediate expert he would transmit and influence other people looking for advice.

6. Cultural opinion leaders are disseminating more cultural information than non-opinion leaders.

This hypothesis H7 has also been verified. From previous research done by many authors on interpersonal communication and diffusion of information, we had to expect such an active behavior of cultural opinion leaders. This behavior has been approached through two questions: last time you go to the theatre, how many people have been told by you of your project? and did you try to decide people to come with you? On Table 7 all significant statistical differences between leaders and non-leaders of subscribers' and non-sub-scribers' samples have been reported.

7. Subscribers appear to live in a closed world. Very few people like to go to the theatre alone. Going out to the theatre is a highly socialized experience. Ninety-three percent of subscribers and ninety-six percent of non-subscribers do not usually go alone to the theatre. However, these two groups of subscribers and non-subscribers rarely met. During their last theatre attendance, only six percent of all subscribers were joined by non-subscribers, and only ten percent of all non-subscribers were joined by subscribers. Finally the subscribers network of personal relations seems more restricted and smaller than the one of nonsubscribers. Sixty-four percent of subscribers told five persons or less about their intention to go to the theatre instead of only fifty-five percent of all non-subscribers.

TABLE 5

TABLE 6

TABLE 7

MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS ORGANIZATIONS

Most services have to be fully experienced before consumers can really decide if their expectations are met. of all consumer services, performing arts are the least standardized and the most influenced by situational variables. Rather than searching and processing complex information on their own, many consumers look for personal help. This explains the importance and the intensity of interpersonal communication which takes place in the cultural and artistic domain.

This situation has to be well understood by any art manager in charge of the design and the implementation of a communication policy. He has to recognize group influence which may very successfully counterbalance the influence of mass communication. Looking for the identification of opinion leaders and some way of communicating with them, is another good reason leading to the implementation of subscription policy, aside of the obvious need for loyalty and fidelity. Information from and to the subscribers is easy to get. This direct two-way of communication should be used more systematically, more creatively and more selectively. A panel of self-designated opinion leaders should be selected in order that no more than 25% of the subscribers data bank would be actively used. Not only should the season program be mailed for once, but systematic reminders of coming events should be done by mail or by phone. Creativity should be applied to both the style and the content of communication.

This communication policy with selected subscribers should be handled by art managers with a clear understanding of its limitations. One of them being the lack of openness of the subscribers' group. Opinion leaders belonging to this group are not likely to spread a cultural influence to a large number of people. It is also unlikely that they will have a natural tendency to recruit new subscribers. So the marketing plan of performing arts organizations has to recognize the existence of a de facto segmentation of subscribers and non-sub-scribers. The marketing mix should be adjusted to each group and specific actions should be taken for communicating with opinion leaders belonging to the non-sub-scribers' is very eclectic and their loyalty very difficult to obtain. However, a two sided, very informative communication should be well received by them and develop a quality image of the organization.

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