or a fleeting second it appeared that Italian advertising had taken that daring leap towards irony, humor and, well can I say it?… good taste. Scratch that. Anyone who owns a TV and watches more than three minutes of programming a day will know what and whom I am talking about when I say “catch-me-I’ll-marry-you” Adriana, the protagonist of TIM’s (Telecom Italia Mobile) latest ad campaign teetering somewhere between a take off of the film “Catch Me if You Can” and “Sex and the City.” A puffy-mouthed, sure-to-be-future showgirl kicked off the mini-commercial series by responding to a marriage proposal, “se mi prendi, ti sposo.” — If you catch me, I’ll marry you. Thanks Adriana. Lucky you that Diego even bothered to pay the bill when you ran out of the restaurant episode one.
Then, the deluge. A series of banal excuses for mixing telephony and steam.
Episode 2, Adriana cat-walking by Would Be Spouse Diego dressed as a flight attendant — with some wicked shades — and boarding a flight to Miami. Next, Ms. Couldn’t Care Less lounging on a boat, pouting into a mobile phone lens with a Santa hat as her friend coos “Oh, we’ll send this to everyone.” But not to her man Diego, who barely manages to pull up in time to give her a quick underwater squeeze before she zooms off again on his water get.
Now I’ve heard of playing hard to get, but this really does take the cake. Or sell the phone.
So what’s my gripe?
When I first set foot in Italy some 16 years ago, I was bowled over by how easy it was to advertise almost anything. Commission a pair of knockers, add a touch of leg and some toosh and voila! you’ve got your ad. Everything from roofing services to ice cream took the sexy approach. If my idea of feminism was not offended, then what little modesty I claim to have was. How on earth can I blush at 2 p.m. in the afternoon over a shower gel commercial?
But since then, the new-generation ad firms have been reeling out more creative and quality advertising for the last five years now. Things were looking up.
That’s why Adriana and what she’s selling is such a huge letdown.
To wax recent-historic, Italy had a full-powered feminist revolution that gained momentum and results quickly: right to divorce, one of the first countries to recognize the woman’s right to vote, pro-choice despite the Vatican casting its shadow in a massive way.
But it seems that feminism has become a dirty word that no respecting Adriana would utter. And if the word is so repulsive, the approach to life, society and the other sex that it promotes is even less appealing. What sells is sex, not brains. And money.
Far from the generation of “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.,” today’s society is one where 30 percent of graduating high-school girls ask for some sort of plastic surgery as a gift; where an over-concentration of tanning booths has blown out the power in some neighborhoods; where looking good means as much, if not more, than intelligence; where young men buy expensive cars that they can’t afford the insurance for.
What does that have to do with our sex-pot protagonist and more importantly, her producers? Take the latest episode — Adriana looking spicy in a convertible. Mr. Romance is back at the restaurant where he first proposed. He calls, she answers on her picture phone. “Recognize this,” Diego says smiling (what, is this man a glutton for punishment?) The camera zooms in on a man with a ring box and then ZOOM, ZOOM and more ZOOM, a whopping-carat diamond ring fills the screen. Adriana’s eyes widen to near innocence, then narrow into slits…
“Take me to him,” she gurgles. Cut to restaurant, slinky dress, buttocks swinging, as are the breasts, she wraps a paw around the scruff of his neck, “You got me, now I’ll marry you.”
The problem is, it doesn’t end there. “To be continued,” said the ad. But something else gave me that impression. It was the lack of contempt for the meaning behind the message by many of the Italians I spoke with. “It’s kinda cute,” said one woman, “Oh my gad, she is so pretty,” said another. “I wonder if we’ll see the wedding,” ventured yet another. I myself hope they don’t breed.
The feeling I get is one of back-peddling. It’s not that I want a 100 percent politically correct and breast-free Italy and bad advertising is par for course. But this is a message that is a mix of the worst of the old wrapped in the polish of the new. In a country where economic crisis is raging, consumer confidence is at the bottom of the barrel and industrial corruption is just one of many factors effecting competitiveness, look sexy, dress expensive, zoom around the world and value love by the size of the rock…oh, and don’t forget the new cell phone so you can rub it in the have-nots’ faces via MMS, is a sad message. But a sign of the times.
So I ask, isn’t there anyone else whose gander got trampled by this? And is anyone else afraid that Adriana and her beautiful, but not too sharp boyfriend are a metaphor for life in present day Italy? The one glimmer of hope I found through my insistent ranting of late came from my partner Stefano. His take is that by the time we have a daughter old enough to watch TV, Adriana will no longer be in the limelight teaching kiddos these good, new-fashioned morals.
To which I retort, “But what if Adriana breeds?”
— Kate Carlisle is the author of the recently published “Working and Living in Italy,” available nationwide (Cadogan Guides with The Sunday Times) and through Amazon.com. She is strong sustainer of Romany rights.