Liminality, urban resistance and food festivals: Leveraging social media for local food and drink marketing in the case of EAT Cambridge

Mike Duignan, Sally Everett, Lewis Walsh

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


No product or destination will survive without positive and impactful web presence and continuous investment. A positive food image is crucial in destination promotion and a key factor in the selection of a destination (Beerli and Martin, 2004). Consequently, consumergenerated media is increasingly the most powerful vehicle for destination marketing which is challenging and disrupting traditional approaches. Social media and the internet have helped businesses galvanise the potential for promoting regional tourism, given they are relatively inexpensive compared with other advertising media. It is acknowledged that an effective website or social media presence can help products reach global audiences; accessible all day, from anywhere in the world. For tourists, the multimedia and interactive nature of social media is now fundamental, adding a new dimension to destination and product marketing. Findings are presented from a two-year study of the historic city of Cambridge. It is a city which has increasingly become regarded as a ‘clone town’ where alternative food producers are forced to occupy a periphery physical location because of the exorbitant cost of retail space in the heart of the city (a not uncommon situation for historic touristic cities). In this paper we present findings from a research project of the city’s main food event, the ‘Eat Cambridge Festival’ (#EAT). Eat Cambridge is a not for profit festival showcasing the city’s independent food scene. In 2014, a survey of 29 food traders and two interviews with key gatekeepers was undertaken to explore the impacts of the event. In 2015 the research was expanded to include 52 in-depth interviews with the event’s Director and all the producers trading at the event. Using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, #EAT supports local producers and provides a vehicle for celebration, collaboration and networking via its physical site and its online presence. This paper highlights the increasingly important role that social media has in marketing alternative food markets and for generating business. Moreover, the paper suggests that social media and the fostering of ‘digital capital’ is vital in helping local food producers resist the influence of powerful commercial interests in line with theoretical frameworks such as Chalip’s (2004) ‘event leverage model’. We found that #EAT is an example of an organisation using social media to disrupt ‘core’ food and drink offerings in the form of subtle resistance against powerful and economic forces. This paper presents rich and insightful qualitative and quantitative data to theorise how social media is being used to transcend core/peripheral spaces. The paper firstly draws on concepts of resistance (and specifically notions of ‘creative resistance’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987) and the transcendence of third spaces to explain the situation for local producers in the city. Secondly, #EAT is presented as an example of an event that provides a physical ‘in person’ catalyst to generate a long term relationship and nurture social media engagement, and helps solidify existing networks, whilst providing other alternative events that small businesses can benefit from. Finally, we argue that social media offers a vehicle of ‘traceability’, allowing consumers to literally ‘follow’ the producer and the food throughout the year; #EAT offers an ongoing digital presence and a ‘core’ position long after the temporary physical event is over.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventAssociation for Tourism and Leisure Education and Research Annual Conference 2016 - Canterbury Christ University, Canterbury, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Sept 201615 Sept 2016


ConferenceAssociation for Tourism and Leisure Education and Research Annual Conference 2016
Abbreviated titleATLAS
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Food festivals
  • Leveraging
  • Micro and small food producers
  • Clone town
  • Urban development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)


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