Alitalia pushes ‘loose’ association

So what's the story?

So what’s the story?

The woman is attractive, with long, ebony hair and green eyes. She could pass for Snow White, save for the dark, heavy eye makeup, and the fact that she has her lips seductively wrapped around a tubular Italian pastry. Known as a canoli, the delicacy is bundled up like a burrito; within its folds is a sugary, off-white cream, adorned with a maraschino cherry on one end. The woman is gazing skyward in what could be described as exultation.

Having launched as part of an outdoor campaign for Alitalia Airlines, the ad landed on city streets in Toronto, as well as New York, Boston and Chicago last month and is geared at a 35-to-55 demo. And if you think it’s perverse to imply the creative, which is bolstered by the headline ‘give in to temptation,’ is meant to portray anything other than a woman appeasing her sweet tooth, think again. Brian Flatow, SVP of The Ad Store in New York, AOR for Alitalia, concedes it is ‘absolutely’ meant to be suggestive.

‘That whole idea of ‘Let’s give in to temptation’ hits home with a lot of people,’ he says. ‘People want to get back to a normal way of life. If that ad gives them permission to feel sexy, or to go a little wild, like an Italian would, that’s a good thing.’

Right. Those Italians are wild about their um… pastries.

According to Ester Lorusso, director of marketing communications for Alitalia in North America, the current campaign reflects Italianness. What exactly is Italianness? Based on focus group research from two years ago, the airline discovered the non-word was somehow synonymous with descriptors like ‘freedom,’ ‘uninhibited’ and ‘loose.’ (Not that my pious Nonna would have agreed.)

‘We tried to avoid the so-called stereotypes of Italy that you see, such as recognizable landmarks or pigeon-filled piazzas,’ explains Lorusso from Alitalia’s New York offices. She points out that while other major airlines communicate price or the spaciousness of their jets, Alitalia has decided to convey a brand personality.

‘Other airlines say, ‘we have bigger planes, we have more seats.’ Do consumers really pay attention to that? In a category where everybody does the same thing, we knew we needed to make an emotional connection.’

For his part, Flatow believes Alitalia has an advantage, as there aren’t any other airlines that can own an ‘attitude of Italianness.’ (Air France, take note.) ‘Italianness means getting past conventional North American hang-ups, and really striving to live the good life,’ he adds. ‘It means a love of ‘la dolce vita.”

But surely conservative Canadians don’t think the ad is ‘dolce’?

Flatow admits he expected ‘some resistance’ to the execution, but says response has been generally positive thus far. However, last year’s transit creative, featuring a woman with long, curly black hair perched on a scooter while suggestively puffing on a cigar, sparked some controversy north of the border, so he wouldn’t be surprised if there was a small outcry.

In any case, Alitalia’s Lorusso, who, at press time had only received one comment about the canoli creative ‘from the mail guy,’ doesn’t appear concerned about hitting a nerve with any of the transit ads. (The other three tamer instalments feature a man lounging in a chair, a woman playing a cello, and a couple sharing a kiss.)

‘The best part is that people notice the ads, because if they don’t, they aren’t going to get the message,’ she says, adding that a subsequent print campaign will debut this fall in yet-to-be-determined magazines. Playboy perhaps?