In search of cultural truths

by Marie Lena Tupot and Tim Stock, scenarioDNA inc.

No one will think about Italy’s “Barbie Venus” campaign 6 months from now, but many will continue to make the same mistakes as the world flies beyond 20th-century marketing techniques. The Italy campaign serves as a marker of dismay and innovation washing. Yet, it’s not only Italy’s minister of tourism missing the mark, we in New York were way off base with recent New York City rebranding too. There are real issues in these cases beyond a misguided art director that set the stage for policy planning globally.

Cultural truths need to be examined.

The most obvious is the generative AI version of Botticelli’s Venus. With the trend of de-influencing gaining momentum, Botticelli’s Venus is identified as an influencer named Venere and looks like an ad for Botox. Further, the campaign places Venere at age 30+. If art history rumors are true, the model for Botticelli did not live beyond her 22nd year. Botticelli’s paintings were an expression of love for a woman coming of age and otherworldliness regarding her absence. The knowing gaze of Venere is not evocative of the unreachable gaze of Venus.

So…where is the love, Italy? Venere begins her tour of Italy clothed while the marvel of Michelangelo’s David is being censored in the US states so much so that the mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, and the director of Florence’s Accademia Gallery, Cecilie Hollberg, invited former principal Hope Carrasquilla for a personal tour after she was asked to resign for exposing students to the David. (Carrasquilla also showed her students The Birth of Venus in her natural state.)

Tourism Minister Daniela Santanchè said in a press conference unveiling the campaign, “We are the most beautiful nation in the world but we are not the best at promoting ourselves. We need to regain our pride in being Italian, in our identity.” She missed the point. Modern pride lives within Italy’s contemporary makers, creators and innovators. None of which were included in the conception of the campaign.

A representative from Armando Testa, the agency that executed the Venere campaign, explained the need to use the Venus as “an easy, direct and immediately recognizable way to promote Italy abroad.” Marketers lose who they are when they resort to such shortcuts. It’s the same way with executive briefs. Richness and research get lost.

Marketers need to see the human beings in front of them.

Also, consider that when Italy blocked ChatGPT regarding data privacy concerns and generative AI, VPN activity in Italy rose 400%. At the time, there were Youtube instructions on how to circumvent the ban through VPN access. One might consequently assume that Italy certainly is not at a loss for inspired generative AI creators. Where were those creative technologists when Italy needed them? Italy’s National Innovation Fund supports such up-and-comer types through venture capital. Instead, they were having their wrists slapped because no one quite knows how to handle AI.

The allegory of rebirth and renewal makes perfect sense for Italy. A sophomoric generative AI version of Botticelli’s Venus does not make sense.

Recent tourism has boomed for Italy this spring without the guidance of Venere. That said, Italy cannot sustain itself on tourism alone. Its newly found post-Covid vitality must be driven from within its modern-day maker culture. This culture already exists. It holds the narrative red threads back to Botticelli. According to Frieze Magazine, “spontaneous, informal networks are transforming the art scene of the eternal city [Rome].” Why aren’t they being reached out to?

We can’t be creating media for the lowest common denominators. If we do, then media is simply chasing after phenomena that have already happened. Moving forward, campaigns should bring us to where our imaginations want to go. Gone is the world where campaigns start and end.

Campaigns are now living breathing records reflecting our own existence.

Does anyone want to be Venus Barbie? Doubtful. Do people want to feel the love of Botticelli that can only be found in Italy? Yes. 

Recovery is critical for Italy, a country seriously impacted by COVID-19. But these lessons should be learned by all of us involved in messaging anywhere. Campaigns everywhere should be able to consistently evolve from informed ideas.