Marketing Modernity: Italian Advertising from Fascism to Postmodernity

Marketing Modernity: Italian Advertising from Fascism to Postmodernity

Marketing Modernity: Italian Advertising from Fascism to Postmodernity

Marketing Modernity: Italian Advertising from Fascism to Postmodernity


In Marketing Modernity , Adam Arvidsson traces the development of Italy's postmodern consumer culture from the 1920s to the present day. In so doing, Arvidsson argues that the culture of consumption we see in Italy today has its direct roots in the social vision articulated by the advertising industry in the years following the First World War. He then goes on to discuss how that vision was further elaborated by advertising's interaction with subsequent big discourses in Twentieth Century Italy: fascism, post-war mass political parties and the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Based on a wide range of primary sources, this fascinating book takes an innovative historical approach to the study of consumption.



Autumn 2001 at my local Sainsbury’s supermarket had an Italian theme. According to The Observer’s food columnist, Nigel Slater, who wrote the copy for the accompanying campaign brochure, the purpose was to introduce Brits to the rich regional variety of Italian food, beyond the now familiar vocabulary of ‘pizza, pasta, espresso’. Such lesser-known regional dishes are authentic, we were assured, but ‘none of this means that Italian food is stuck in a time-warp’, Nigel Slater admitted, showing his awareness of the ‘floating’ or ‘contested’ status of culture and identity. ‘It is simply that they [Italians] have a respect for their traditions that other countries may have lost’. Soon, Slater hoped, this ‘love of good food will be as much ours as theirs’.

It is not just that Italian food tastes good. As stressed throughout Sainsbury’s publicity drive, it stands for something that Brits, or at least Brits of the middle class, Observer, Sainsbury’s, New Labour kind, appreciate: authenticity, tradition, a sense of quality and, of course, individual creativity. (Sainsbury’s was eager to point this out: to cook an authentic Italian pasta meal it is not enough to mix the ready-made pasta with the ready-made sauce. One must also ‘get creative, raid the fridge’, add something of one’s own.) Italy is not just another more or less exotic ‘Other’ to consume, as in the case of Sainsbury’s range of Thai, Japanese or African food; it is an ideal to imitate. Indeed, at the ‘Italian’ bar, Café Nero, that has opened in the market square a couple of hundred yards from my local Sainsbury’s branch, the main selling pitch is the make-believe Italian environment. Employers are even instructed in how to ‘behave Italian’ behind the counter and there is a tendency to hire only dark-haired staff. To those of us who remember Nino Manfredi’s immigrant worker in the 1973 film Pane e cioccolata, trying desperately to colour his hair blond, such inverted cultural hierarchies are definitely quaint. As late as the mid-1980s Italian friends would routinely suffer racist slurs and sometimes violence when inter-railing to London. Today their attackers are probably at home cooking up a Stracotto al Chianti.

The international image of Italy has definitely changed since the 1980s. This is not only because the country has progressed from relative poverty to relative prosperity, demonstrated in 1988, when the Italian economy overtook the British in GNP per capita. And it is not only because the country has . . .

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