A Week Sans Marketing, Italian Style

by Joanie Hollabaugh

I just got back from a week on the Italian Riviera. (Go ahead and hate me a little, I don’t blame you.)

Reflecting on the trip and the cultural differences, I thought to myself, “Man, I couldn’t GET a job here!” Meaning of course, I couldn’t land a job in marketing. There was little to no, ‘in-your-face’  American-style marketing whatsoever in the little beach towns I visited on the Ligurian coast.

For instance, the immaculate (stone!) beaches were packed with families and sun-worshippers. Yet, given this captive demographic, there were no planes flying overhead dragging banners promising “FREE Happy Hour for LADIES!”; no kiosks with bikini-clad babes selling smoothies, cell phone plans, or t-shirts; no billboards flashing ads for designer sunglasses, car dealerships, or real estate for sale.

There were NO (and I mean it), NO kids glued to smart phones and devices. The children I saw were splashing their parents in the water or playing a pick-up game of soccer. Parents weren’t answering cell phones or texting either – they were enjoying the beach, a meal, each other.

And since the Italian TV telecast obviously, in Italian – I switched it off and heard no ads for one blissful week.

It was like a Norman Rockwell vacation, Italian style.

And then something niggled at the back of my primordial marketing mind. All of the marketing principles, strategies, and methodologies I know collided in a Limoncello-induced whirl and crystallized into a single truth: “Passaparole!”

That is, (if Google Translate is correct): “word of mouth.” The oldest form of marketing. People TALK to each other in Italy. On the streets, in cafes, on the beach – they are “engaging” non-stop. Loudly, I might add. Hands flying, arguing, laughing, kissing cheeks – these people are consummate marketers. They will tell you in broken English (which is better than my busted Italian) who has the best Focaccia Formaggio, Prosciutto Crudo, or Gelato al Cioccolato and point you to it. And there is absolutely no doubt that they feel strongly about it.

They personify the candid type of “content” I would love to capture – as referrals or testimonials in my marketing campaigns.

So evidently, I am going to contradict my opening position. There IS marketing happening in my tiny little Italian villa on the sea. The “organic” kind as we marketers like to label it.

Che sarà sarà.