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Negative symbolic aspects in destination branding: Exploring the role of the ‘undesired self’ on web-based vacation information search intentions among potential first-time visitors

01 Nov 2010-Journal of Vacation Marketing (SAGE Publications)-Vol. 16, Iss: 4, pp 323-330

Abstract: Tourist destination choices depend, among other factors, on the match between the destination’s personality image and consumers’ self-concept, in line with self-image congruence theory. Motives also mediate this relationship, yet tourism research largely neglects the influence of avoidance motives. This study applies the product-based construct of undesired congruity, or consumers’ tendency to avoid undesired stereotypical images, to the context of web-based vacation destination information search intentions among potential first-time visitors. Undesired congruity relates negatively to willingness to search for destination-related information online and serves as an additional predictor, beyond established relevant factors for pre-visit choice contexts. Moreover, it overrides the influence of established, telic, approach motive constructs, which implies its principal role in early destination-related decision making. The findings have practical implications for market research in tourism, as well as for d...

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Negative symbolic aspects in destination branding:
exploring the role of the 'undesired self' on web-
based vacation information search intentions
among potential first-time visitors
Bosnjak, Michael
Veröffentlichungsversion / Published Version
Zeitschriftenartikel / journal article
Dieser Beitrag ist mit Zustimmung des Rechteinhabers aufgrund einer (DFG geförderten) Allianz- bzw. Nationallizenz
frei zugänglich. / This publication is with permission of the rights owner freely accessible due to an Alliance licence and
a national licence (funded by the DFG, German Research Foundation) respectively.
Empfohlene Zitierung / Suggested Citation:
Bosnjak, M. (2010). Negative symbolic aspects in destination branding: exploring the role of the 'undesired self' on
web-based vacation information search intentions among potential first-time visitors. Journal of Vacation Marketing,
16(4), 323-330. https://doi.org/10.1177/1356766710380885
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Academic Paper
Negative symbolic aspects
in destination branding:
Exploring the role of the
undesired self on web-based
vacation information search
intentions among potential
first-time visitors
Jo urnal o f Vacatio n Marketing
16(4) 323-330
© Th e A uth or(s) 2010
Reprints and permission:
sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav
D O I: 10.1177/1356766710380885
jvm.sagepub.com
®SAGE
Michael Bosnjak
Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy
To urist destination choices depend, among other factors, on the match between the destination’s per
sonality image and consumers self-concept, in line with self-image congruence theory. Motives also
mediate this relationship, yet tourism research largely neglects the influence of avoidance motives. This
study applies the product-based construct of undesired congruity, or consumers tendency to avoid
undesired stereotypical images, to the context of web-based vacation destination information search
intentions among potential first-time visitors. Undesired congruity relates negatively to willingness to
search for destination-related information online and serves as an additional predictor, beyond estab
lished relevant factors for pre-visit choice contexts. Moreover, it overrides the influence of established,
telic, approach motive constructs, which implies its principal role in early destination-related decision
making. The findings have practical implications for market research in tourism, as well as for destina
tion branding.
K e yw o rd s
destination branding, pre-visit information search, self-congruity, telic self-concepts, undesired self
Introduction
Just as they do commercial brands (e.g., Shavitt,
1990; Sirgy et al., 1991), consumers evaluate
vacation destinations according to their expected
functional attributes (e.g., availability of certain
services, offers), as well as on the basis of their
symbolic, value-expressive characteristics (e.g.,
images; Sirgy and Su, 2000). Considerable
empirical research (e.g., Beerli et al., 2007;
Chon, 1992; Kastenholz, 2004) reveals that both
pre- and post-visit constructs depend on the
match between a tourists self-concept (or per
sonality) and the destinations image (or person
ality). According to the self-image congruence
hypothesis (Sirgy, 1982; Sirgy and Su, 2000),
tourists should hold favorable attitudes toward,
tend to choose, and revisit destinations they per
ceive as similar to certain aspects of their own
self-concept.
Virtually all applications of the self-image
congruence hypothesis stress positive, desirable,
C o rre sp o n d in g a u t h o r:
Michael Bosnjak, School of Economics and Management, Free
University of Bozen-Bolzano, Piazza Universitä n. I, 39100
Bozen-Bolzano, Italy
Email: michael.bosnjak@unibz.it; Website: http://www. bosnjak.

324 Journal o f Vacation Marketing 16(4)
or telic self-concept facets. A particular emphasis
addresses the implicit comparisons between the
self, as currently experienced, and an imagined or
desired end state. For example, Sirgy (1982,
1985, 1986) differentiates among four self-
congruity types that affect consumption-related
constructs: actual, ideal, social, and ideal social.
Actual congruity refers to the match between how
consumers see themselves in terms of a set of attri
butes and how they see a stereotypical user of a
brand with respect to the same set. The other con
gruity types involve the closeness o f a typical
brand user to consumers view of themselves,
whether their ideal vision, how they believe signif
icant others regard them (i.e., social congruity), or
how they prefer to be seen by significant others
(ideal social congruity). All four congruity types
result from specific, approach motives, such as the
need for consistency, which influences actual con
gruity. Similarly, the need for self-esteem deter
mines ideal congruity, social consistency motives
drive social congruity, and the need for social
approval influences ideal social congruity.
Although self-image congruence theory explicitly
is open to both approach and avoidance behaviors
in principle (e.g., Sirgy, 1982, 1986), approach
behaviors have been the primary focus of previous
empirical research, which has largely ignored
avoidance tendencies and deliberate anti-choice
behaviors (see Hogg, 1998; Hogg and Banister,
2001).
Another example of a one-sided orientation to
approach behaviors appears in Aakers (1997)
brand personality concept, which provides a
scale for measuring both brands and people
according to a set of personality attributes. The
scale therefore offers a generic basis for operatio
nalizing the self-image congruence hypothesis.
Yet the procedure recommended by Aaker
(1997) deliberately excludes negatively valenced
attributes, which can contribute to the portrayal
of negative brand-related images. To justify this
exclusion, Aaker (1997: 350) states, Primarily
positively valenced traits were used, because
brands are typically linked to positive (versus
negative) associations and because the ultimate
use of the scale is to determine the extent to
which brand personality affects the probability
that consumers approach (versus avoid) prod
ucts. The first assertion, that brands are linked
primarily to positive associations, lacks empiri
cal grounding; the second reflects the intended
use of the concept - namely, to influence con
sumer behaviour by stimulating and aligning
approach motives - and ignores avoidance
tendencies. In other words, Aakers concept
focuses on (positive) aspects o f brand personality
associations, which are of interest to marketers,
but disregards the negative brand-related asso
ciations that consumers likely hold. Because
Aakers scale and development also have served
as a blueprint for developing tourism scales, the
conceptual restriction of addressing only positive
brand personality perceptions remains in
destination-related measurement instruments
(e.g., Ekinci and Hosany, 2006; Hosany et al.,
2007; Murphy et al., 2007).
But what is so wrong with this common prac
tice of focusing primarily on approach behaviors
and their motivational antecedents? First, by
focusing on approach motives, most applications
of the self-image congruence hypothesis fail to
provide a full range of actionable insights into
the mental models of consumers, who may hold
a multitude of destination-related beliefs, includ
ing positively, negatively, and ambivalently
valenced ones. A positioning strategy developed
on the basis of such limited models thus may fail
to balance the closeness o f a destination to desir
able symbolic meanings with its distance from
negative ones and thereby result in suboptimal
destination brand strength. Second, psychologi
cal research demonstrates that the perceived dis
crepancy between the self as currently
experienced and imagined but undesired end
states offers an additional and sometimes even
stronger predictor of satisfaction and well-being
than does closeness to desired end states (e.g.,
Heppen and Ogilvie, 2003; Ogilvie, 1987).
Recent qualitative (Banister and Hogg, 2004;
Hogg and Banister, 2001) and quantitative
(Bosnjak and Brand, 2008; Bosnjak and
Rudolph, 2008) research suggests that a similar
mechanism affects consumers (anti-)choices.
Therefore, there are both practical and theoreti
cal reasons to explore what drives destination-
related (anti-)choice tendencies from a symbolic
consumption perspective. We outline pertinent
research issues pertaining to undesired self
related end states in tourism research next.
Theoretical background and
previous research
Ogilvie (1987) introduced the undesired self as
a least desired identity that represented the sum
of negatively valenced traits, memories of
dreaded experiences, embarrassing situations,
fearsome events, and unwanted emotions a per
son is consistently motivated to avoid. He further

Bosnjak 325
suggested that the dominant implicit standard
people use to assess their well-being is their dis
tance from a subjective similarity to their most
negative self-image, that is, the undesired self.
People thus tend to keep track of their everyday,
actual self by implicitly referring to their unde
sired self, because without a tangible undesired
self, the real self would lose its navigational
cues (Ogilvie, 1987: 380).
Recent research confirms the important role
of the undesired self in evaluations of life satis
faction and the regulation of emotional experi
ences. For example, Carver et al. (1999: 785)
describe the feared self as the set of qualities
the person wants not to become, but is concerned
about possibly becoming’. The accompanying
ideal and ought selves reveal positive and nega
tive dejection- and agitation-related emotions.
Specifically, the actual/ideal self and actual/
feared self discrepancies correlate with
dejection-related emotions (i.e., depression and
happiness), though the latter provides the stron
gest predictor of emotion. Similar results involv
ing the undesired self have been reported as well
(Cheung, 1997; Heppen and Ogilvie, 2003;
Ogilvie and Clark, 1992).
In turn, to understand both approach and
avoidance tendencies and anti-choice behavior,
Hogg and Banister (2001; Banister and Hogg,
2004) introduced the undesired self into the field
of consumer behavior. They presented the first
empirical evidence of the relevance of consu
mers propensity to avoid undesired stereotypical
images, which can lead to negative brand/prod
uct evaluations and rejection. Their evidence,
from the clothing sector, encompassed small-
scale, exploratory qualitative studies with focus
and discussion groups and revealed that the con
sumption activities of the majority of consumers
... seemed to be predominantly informed by the
motivation to avoid consuming (or being identi
fied with) negative images, rather than reflecting
attempts to achieve a positive image (Banister
and Hogg, 2004: 859). Since this important first
step, incremental contributions regarding consu
mers tendency to avoid undesired stereotypical
images have corroborated and quantified the
findings in both high- (cars; Bosnjak and Brand,
2008) and low- (cigarettes; Bosnjak and
Rudolph, 2008) involvement product categories.
These quantitative studies indicate a substantial
and incremental effect on consumption-related
attitudes (though not directly on purchase inten
tions), beyond those of established functional
and telic self-congruity constructs. These studies
highlight the largely neglected role o f avoidance
motives in consumer behavior contexts and pro
vide initial evidence about their operation and
value in consumer decision making.
Knowledge gap, basic research
question, and hypotheses
Previous research in the product sector thus has
shown that consumers tend to avoid undesired
stereotypical images in general, which can even
lead to negative evaluations and rejection
(Bosnjak and Brand, 2008; Bosnjak and Rudolph,
2008). We draw on this research to offer two
extensions. First, we focus on an early stage in the
vacation destination choice process, namely, will
ingness to search for more information about a
specific destination. We seek evidence about
whether undesired congruity operates during early
decision-making stages. Second, we investigate
how undesired congruity functions in the service
sector and specifically tourism, an area that prior
research has not covered, to the best of our knowl
edge. Thus, we explore the range of applicability
of the undesired self construct.
As our basic research effort, we attempt to
determine the contribution of undesired self-
image congruence (in short, undesired congru
ity), beyond the effects of established functional
and symbolic factors, to pre-visit destination
choice behaviors. Undesired congruity in this
context refers to the closeness of the personality
imagery associated with a specific destination to
an undesired personality image. We test the fol
lowing two hypotheses:
HI: Undesired congruity relates negatively to
the intention to search for information about a
travel destination. Greater undesired congruity
related to a specific destination makes consu
mers less likely to search for further informa
tion about it. Conversely, lower undesired
congruity makes consumers more likely to
search for further information about the specific
destination.
H2\ Undesired congruity significantly con
tributes to predictions of intentions to search for
information about a specific travel destination,
beyond the effect of established congruity
facets (i.e., functional, actual, ideal, and social
congruity).
Whereas H I specifies the existence and direc
tion of the influence from a bivariate perspective,
H2 expresses our expectation that the undesired

326 Journal o f Vacation Marketing 16(4)
congruity facet has an incremental contribution
in a multivariate context, such as when we take
the influences of factors that are known to affect
pre-visit constructs into account. Because func
tional, actual, ideal, and social congruity have
proven influential in prior tourism applications
(Beerli et al., 2007; Chon, 1992; Chon and Olsen,
1991; Kastenholz, 2004), we focus on these four
factors.
To test both hypotheses and increase the prac
tical value of the results, we explore pre-visit
search intentions among potential first-time visi
tors who have never visited the destination in
question before. We acknowledge that assessing
functional aspects ex ante, before the visit to the
destination, may seem paradoxical. How can
someone who has never visited a destination
assess its functional value (e.g., quality, reliabil
ity, service level)? However, past research on the
factors that influence first-time visitors destina
tion decisions indicates that these consumers
actually express beliefs and expectations about
functional and utilitarian features (e.g., Li
et al., 2008; Snepenger et al., 1990; Vogt et al.,
1998), apparently based on second-hand infor
mation, word-of-mouth effects, and media
reports. Therefore, regardless of the accuracy
and trustworthiness of these functional expecta
tions, they should exert an influence on pre
visit constructs.
Method
Subjects and procedure
The sample came from a larger German access
panel and consisted of subjects who were consid
ering a vacation destination for the upcoming
summer season, with the aid of information gath
ered over the internet. Because our focus is on
potential first-time visitors, we used only the data
gathered from prospective summer vacationers
who had never visited the target destination (in
our case, Croatia). These three selection criteria
(planning summer vacation for the upcoming
season, intention to search online, never visited
Croatia) yielded an overall sample of 280
subjects.
The data collection took place in February
2005, with the aid of a web-based survey instru
ment that was part of a more comprehensive
omnibus survey pertaining to web-based adver
tising, the use of pharmaceuticals, and tourism.
In the tourism portion of the omnibus survey,
respondents were asked about their (a) past travel
behaviors and habits, (b) intention to search for
information on the internet about a set o f 12 sum
mer holiday destinations typically favored by
German tourists, (c) expected functional congru
ity related to a summer vacation spent in Croatia,
(d) self-image congruity (actual, ideal, social),
and (e) undesired congruity related to Croatia
as a travel destination.
Measures
We measured information search intentions with
a 7-point likely/unlikely response scale regarding
the likelihood of searching for destination-
related information on the internet for the
upcoming summer vacation. The set of 12 desti
nations presented provided the likelihood assess
ment for Croatia.
For the measure of expected functional/ser
vice congruity, we used one 7-point agree/dis-
agree item, pertaining to the overall expectation
that a summer holiday in Croatia would meet all
the tourists needs (Croatia will fulfill all my
needs and expectations I have towards a summer
holiday destination).
Self-image congruity facets were assessed
directly, capturing the overall, gestalt-like
impression of self-congruity in single items
(Sirgy et al., 1997). We used a personification
technique, as recommended by Aaker (1997:
350), that asked respondents to think of the
human characteristics associated with Croatia
as a travel destination, to introduce the self-des
tination congruity assessment. The four items
that measured actual, ideal, social, and undesired
self-congruity then used 7-point agree/disagree
response scales: The personality of the holiday
destination Croatia matches ... my own per
sonality (actual congruity), the person I would
like to be (ideal congruity), how my friends and
family see m yself (social congruity), and the
person I definitely do not want to be (undesired
congruity). Table 1 summarizes the intercorrela
tions of these six constructs.
Considering the correlations among the tradi
tional congruity measures, which range from as
low as .40 (social congruity and expected func
tional congruity) to as high as .80 (ideal congru
ity and actual congruity), we find considerable
convergence among the traditional measures.
As expected, undesired congruity is far less cor
related with traditional congruity measures (non
significant, -.06 to -.26) than are the traditional
measures among themselves. Therefore, Table
1 provides strong evidence that the newly

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