Gaetano De Marco
Chief Strategy Officer
Over the last 30 years, Italy has lived under 20 different governments. Demographically, we are the oldest country in Europe with 21.4 percent of our citizens aged over 65. In fact, the only country with an older population is Japan. We see growth in both immigration and emigration, high rates of youth unemployment, a blurred role in the EU economy, and we are the third-to-last country in Europe in terms of digitalization.
Yet the label “Made in Italy” continues to pull our economy forward. It is a brand in itself, thanks to its strong economic value as well as the iconic and evocative meaning it represents. But the real question: what is the role for brands in Italy and what are the challenges that they have to face in the complex Italian environment?
Surprisingly, the low level of trust in government, the uncertain and wobbly socio-economic situation and general corporate scepticism hides a huge opportunity for brands. This confidence gap is an important cultural challenge and a gap that brands in Italy can truly step into. There is space to reclaim institutional roles, to move beyond being a commercial player and to become social and cultural champions for the Italian system as a whole.
The challenge is to move beyond traditional market principles and actually create the market, not just having a point of view but being a point of reference within reality. Not settling for production, distribution and communication of products, but standing for the production, distribution and communication of ideas that have real impact and a strong connection with cultural, social and local dynamics.
The aim is not to gain a new space within Corporate Social Responsibility, nor is it to find more original storytelling for the brand’s ethical dimension. The challenge is not to choose whether to put money into an institutional campaign to increase the brand’s equity and symbolic meaning or not. The challenge is turning brands into economic makers, digital makers, cultural makers – game changers. And this will require investment.
“Make in Italy” can bring about a strong competitive advantage in the gaining of new relevance for brands in Italy. But what does it mean, in practical terms?
Here are two examples where actions spoke louder than words:
Fighting the digital divide: Vodafone as a maker
The digital divide in Italy is both a technological and cultural issue. Four out of 10 Italians don’t have access to the internet, and more than a half of all Italian grandparents are unable to have a conversation with their grandchildren as they aren’t able to utilize the digital channels that this generation prefers.
Vodafone took on the problem, being a story-maker rather than a story-teller and pressing beyond their role as a simple telecom provider. They made huge investments to bring broadband to over 1,000 Italian cities and towns, with support for people aged 55+ taking the form of bespoke training materials and content delivered by hundreds of young university students.
Real-world action spoke louder than any words or marketing. We saw a brand move beyond a basic commercial role to enable genuine connection and communication – thus enabling people to write their own stories.
Creating a cultural movement: Sky as a maker
The football industry in Italy is going through some fundamental changes in order to keep up with more competitive countries in Europe such as Spain, England and Germany.
As the most followed and played sport in the country, football can be a major means to convey positive behavioral examples to new generations. Football can influence people’s mood and dreams beyond the sporting discipline itself.
In this context, Sky is not only enhancing sporting entertainment but it is also bringing a new movement to life as it leads the new Italian football renaissance. How? By shining a light on young emerging talent and investing into the improvement of sports practice at its very core – in suburban playgrounds.
Renovating football fields in city suburbs where children play and dream for the first time reaches into the heart of the sport. This cultural movement draws attention not just to the brand as a commercial leader but also as a guide for the socio-economic development of the country through sport.