How to communicate genius: design and advertising in Italy during the economic boom

They are the years of Italian entrepreneurship, of industrial design, television and advertising: learn how consumption and attitudes of Italians changed in the 60s and 70s.

In the post-war period, the new generations decided to abandon the countryside in favour of the cities, improving their economic conditions. New needs made their way into the lives of Italians and in this new dimension of well-being, advertising played a fundamental role: we are in the early days, in the happy childhood of mass society, consumerism is still a distant problem and buyers are only concerned with having the latest, glitzy model of household appliance advertised on Carosello. 

New entrepreneurial models were emerging and the great Made in Italy brands such as Poltronova, Flos and Gavina were being created, while others that already existed were making their mark on the world stage, such as Olivetti and Cassina

These new entrepreneurs were preparing to revolutionise Italian design, but the means to publicise their works were insufficient or inadequate. In Italy at the time, there were only two types of advertising agencies: local ones, disrupted by the war and linked to outdated methods, and those of the large American multinationals that used increasingly innovative marketing strategies. It is not difficult to imagine which ones were going to impose themselves. 

Following the American model, a new way of advertising was born in Italy where illustrations gave way to modern photography and slogans became simpler and more effective, when they did not disappear altogether, as in the case of Gio Ponti's Superleggera. Produced by Cassina and presented in 1955, the Superleggera imposed itself with its simplicity and, in advertising it, they chose a simple photograph, without slogans: a child holding it up with one hand. The message was clear and obvious, the communication direct and unequivocal. A new way of advertising was born. 

The role of graphic designers, photographers and illustrators was enriched with a strong component of experimentation, new materials such as plastics or resins were tried out and promotional gadgets (such as advertising trays or ashtrays) were born. The relationship with the media also changed. In Italy, from 1957 to 1977, advertising arrived on television with Carosello, a programme consisting of a series of comic sketches with an advertising message attached, filmed like real film productions, with directors of the calibre of Sergio Leone, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini and many others. 

For some, experimenting with advertising was an unwritten obligation. For example, the Poltronova of the 1960s, with its anarchic objects and complex, unique style, could certainly not adopt traditional advertising styles. In the catalogues we find original and amusing seats, such as the Joe armchair which is advertised by means of a girl lying down comfortably, in eccentric positions for the time, to show the adaptability and seating possibilities of the armchair. Or the advertisement for the Ultrafragola mirror, which creates an interesting parallelism between the mirror's undulating motion and the wavy hair of a girl photographed from behind. 

These solutions tell us that advertising at that time was beginning to get closer to people, their needs and everyday life, proposing images in which Italians could naturally recognise themselves. Because no advertising works as well as that which speaks the language of its time.