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Posted May 2018

Per me una birra artigianale

Beer in Italy | When it comes to fashion, Italians go for the new and ultra-modern. Same with craft beer. Consumers tend to be on the look-out for the next big thing and craft brewers comply with imagination and experimentation. How come that the Big Brewers’ own craft beer offerings embrace a retro sentimentality for an imagined era when men were men and life was full of little wonders?

I am always intrigued by TV advertising of beer. Some ads are boring, some are funny. Others are truly weird. But what are we to make of a recent crop of Italian beer commercials for the brands Moretti and Poretti, two household names that originated in the 19th century? They are outrageously retro, both in look and message, referring to what was described as “the Golden Age of Italy”. Moretti’s signature character, who also graces its labels, is an elderly man with a moustache, sporting a formal green suit and a matching fedora. Yes, an Indiana Jones hat. How passé is that? Among marketers he is known as The Moustache and has been used in Moretti’s advertising since the 1950s. Poretti’s signature character, who goes by the name of Angelo Poretti and appears in black & white insets in some of its ads, is a bald-headed guy. He must hark back to an even earlier period, presumably the 19th or early 20th century, because he tends to wear a redingote (to Brits a “Prince Albert”) and a loosely tied necktie.

The Moustache stars in a recent Moretti TV spot, called “La Bianca”, which is set in the late 1950s or early 1960s. It shows a young blond woman who steps off a bus in a centuries’ old village of stone houses and cobbled streets. Immediately she turns the heads of a priest, the soap-covered patrons of a barber shop and several craftsmen. In the setting sunlight she walks out of the village into golden barley fields, followed by a crowd of men cheering as they parade their hats on poles. The ad closes with a nocturnal party in the village square where the blonde is seated next to The Moustache. Great fun and beers are to be had by all.

Watch this ad on YouTube and see how it mixes stereotypical images of rural Italy and several stock characters with nostalgia for an imagined era when men were men and life was full of little wonders. However, reality was far from jolly for most who lived to tell. Post-war Italy was bleak, while the 1950s and 1960s uprooted millions of Italians as they moved from rural to urban Italy and from south to north in search of work. It’s believed that between 1955 and 1970, one in two Italians became internal migrants or left the country altogether.

Of course, in the world of advertising history is a fluid thing and historical veracity a joke. After all, advertising deals in dreams and desires, not in gritty realism. But it still takes some chutzpa to fully rewrite history. This is what has happened in Italy’s beer market. The reason I find the fictional Angelo Poretti and The Moustache fascinating is that they are ideological turncoats. Some readers will remember that until the turn of 21st century, they were the figureheads for domestic Italian lager brands known for their interchangeable tastes and flavours. They literally put a face to Italy’s versions of fizzy yellow water. Though fictitious talking heads only, they can still be held responsible for consumers’ erstwhile indiscriminate demand, culminating in the saying “dammi una birra” (“give me a beer”, implying any beer will do) when ordering a beer in a bar. What is more, they are ultimately to be blamed for Italians’ growing predilection for imported beers, which reached 37 percent of total consumption in 2016.

Today, Moretti is owned by Heineken and Poretti by Carlsberg and the brands’ origins seem to have been forgiven and forgotten. Otherwise, how could their marketing people have got it into their heads to use Angelo Poretti and The Moustache as icons for brand extensions that are clearly marketed to fight Italy’s homegrown craft beers? The Moustache figures prominently in ads for Moretti’s “Le Regionali” (Regionals) line and Angelo Poretti in the “Luppoli” line. Both were launched earlier this decade.

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