It’s the dawn of a new day in Florence. A beautiful drone shot of the city, over the river Arno, opens the new Barilla advert, followed by Piazza San Marco in Venice and Modica’s beautiful Cathedral. Stunning places, normally crammed full with people, are empty. We then move to the streets, where Italian flags are hanged on the balconies. Then we move to shots of people, those inside their homes and waiting for lockdown to be over, and those who are still working to make sure people are safe and fed. In the background, we hear a nostalgic instrumental piece, overlaid by a Sophia Loren voice-over.  It’s a hymn to courage, unity, beauty and togetherness in the face of adversity. An invitation to remember what Italian-ness is, and to look to the future. Publicis, the advertising agency that created the advert, is not afraid of using iconic elements of Italian identity: artistic heritage, Sophia Loren, Italian flags, and, obviously, pasta.

Using nationalist narratives and imagery in a moment of crisis is not an unusual communication strategy; remembering what unites us makes us feel less lonely in challenging circumstances. Together, we’re stronger and can survive this. Vodafone took this idea literally in its “Together” campaign, using “Come together” by Beatles to accompany self-filmed footage of Italians on video calls, taking online yoga lessons, listening to university lectures, cooking, and connecting with friends and family. The ad finished with the slogan: “Even if we’re not close, we can still be together”.

A scene from the Barilla ad.

Similarly, the Italian national rail network, Trenitalia, recently released a COVID-19 focused campaign entitled, “Restarting this country, together”. In the financial sector also, banks are promoting new initiatives aimed at supporting “All Italians” and AXA (insurance company) has started using a new hashtag in their comms, #InsiemePerProteggerci or “Together, to protect us”.

But these nationalist campaigns and moves by the financial sector and others to support Italians have not necessarily been effective.

As part of our Covid-19 research study, we have been spending time with 5 different households in Italy (and across the world). Many of our participants are sceptical of the nationalist sentiments and current messaging from brands and the financial sector who they feel historically have not supported them. This sentiment is particularly felt amongst Italian millennial’s who were hit the hardest by the 2008 financial recession. The crash was especially bad in Italy, the worst hit country in Europe with the largest unemployment rate*. While Italian Baby-Boomers are hopeful for a new economic boom, similar to the boom post-WWII, millennial’s have little trust in banks or the financial sector.

Gen-Z will undoubtedly face a similar situation to millennial’s, especially as they begin to enter the job market. One of our participants had only just entered the job market as a teacher, and her contract is up in the air. She fears she will lose this job and will not be able to support herself and her young family in the future.

While community-focused advertising and nationalist narratives and imagery may have been effective at the beginning of the pandemic, these ads risk becoming cheesy and irrelevant as Italian’s start to feel the effects of lock-down. In order to gain young people’s support brands should pay attention to the economic hardship millennial’s and Gen Z are bound to face, their struggles and needs – and address them.

*According to the Economist the number of NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) in Italy was the worst in Europe (24% in 2018 compared to 12% in Europe).