The Armando Testa agency's roots date to 1937, when Armando Testa won his first competition with a poster for ICI, a company that manufactured printing inks and paints. In 1946, he turned to graphic art full-time.
Working in Turin, Italy, he began to create labels, logos, packaging, brochures, covers and posters. Although he started out working for small clients, he later gained accounts for larger, more well-known marketers such as Martini & Rossi, Carpano (liqueur) and Borsalino (hats). His poster work in the 1950s for tiremaker Pirelli also won him acclaim.
In 1956, together with his wife, Lidia, and an associate, Franco de Barberis, he founded Studio Testa as a full-service advertising agency providing its clients with specific marketing strategies, media planning and research, as well as creative functions. In 1959, Mr. Testa visited the U.S. for the first time and got to know the U.S. advertising industry.
The 1960s were boom years for the agency, as several of its clients-Carpano, Lavazza (coffee), Olio Sasso (oil) and Simmenthal (canned meats)-became market leaders.
Early TV work
TV advertising began to gain a foothold in Italy around this time. "Carosello," launched in 1957, was a nightly block of advertising that featured a variety of live and animated characters promoting products in comic sketches and short films. The format combined entertainment with advertising and became a social phenomenon. Italians have fond memories of these early TV years and many of the early commercials and their characters, including Caballero and Carmencita, cartoon characters appearing in "Carosello" and created in 1964 by Armando Testa to promote Lavazza's Paulista, the first Italian coffee distributed nationally.
Armando Testa's creativity stood out in the Italian market. The agency's originality also attracted U.S. giants such as Procter & Gamble Co. and S.C. Johnson & Son, companies that realized how much more effective a detailed, precise marketing approach could be when it was supported by a decidedly unconventional creative approach.
In the 1970s, a more rational kind of advertising came to the forefront in Italy. The "Carosello" ad format was replaced by shorter, faster-paced, message-intensive spots. In this new context, Armando Testa reinvented itself, although humor and warmth remained its trademarks. The agency developed a campaign for Lavazza that featured Italian actor Nino Manfredi; first appearing in 1977, it became one of the longest-running and most successful Italian campaigns. With Alitalia, the Italian airline, the agency acquired its first major corporate account. In November 1978, Testa became a joint-stock company.
The 1980s began a period of great expansion and marked another turning point for the company. With an ever-expanding roster of clients, the agency began to expand its operations throughout Italy, opening a branch in Rome in 1980, followed by another in Milan in 1992. At the Cannes International Advertising Festival, the shop won its first Lion awards, for its Lavazza, Sole Bianco detergent and Bistefani biscuit campaigns.
In 1985, Mr. Testa's son Marco took over leadership of the agency as Mr. Testa retired. (Armando Testa died in 1992, just before his 75th birthday.) Along with traditional product campaigns, the first integrated communication campaign was launched—promoting sugar—as well as corporate campaigns, such as that for Ferruzzi. Unconventional language and unknown territories, such as the area of fashion advertising, were explored. A consulting relationship with Gianfranco Ferrè dates to these years.
Under Marco Testa, the agency became a creative powerhouse. Highly original campaigns such as those for BMW and Elah toffee candies were produced. These years saw other leading multinational corporations—among them Benckiser, H.J. Heinz Co. and Nestlé—bringing their accounts to the agency. By 1989, it had become the market leader.
In the meantime, the agency became Gruppo Testa, formed by a merger of three independent companies: Arte Film, Media Italia and In Testa. Arte Film had been founded by Armando Testa in 1961 as an experimental film production boutique. Media Italia had been launched as the country's first media buying firm in 1982 under the chairmanship of Eugenio Bona, Mr. Testa's son-in-law. In 1993, it integrated its services, becoming a full-service media agency particularly active in the field of media research. In Testa, established in 1989 by Antonella Testa, Mr. Testa's daughter, was a specialized agency that focused on the corporate image of its clients, as well as the design and packaging of their products.
Other memorable campaigns included a creative serial for Telecom with the well-known actor Massimo Lopez as a prisoner sentenced to death (winner of Armando Testa's first Golden Lion); a Parmacotto ham campaign, with actor Christian De Sica as a delicatessen owner; and an ad campaign for Sisal lotteries in which Nancy Brilli portrayed Lady Luck.
Of particular note was the Lavazza coffee campaign with actor Tullio Solenghi in heaven, which started in 1995; the campaign featured the slogan, "Only when it's good, coffee goes to heaven" and conveyed feelings of warmth and "closeness" to consumers, emotions that Lavazza has traditionally sought to attach to its brand.
Work for Alfa Romeo-owned Lancia automobiles introduced sophisticated special effects to Italy for the first time. Commercials for the Mulino Bianco line of pasta utilized symbolic natural imagery, while noted film director Wim Wenders animated works of art in an effort for Ariston. Testa also handled the Mulino Bianco line of baked goods for Barilla beginning in 1990, creating three different campaigns.
By the 1990s, Gruppo Testa was in a position to act in a wide range of communications activities, offering integrated services from advertising to sales promotion, from TV sponsorship to audiovisual production and from design to packaging.
For 2002, Armando Testa Group had worldwide revenue of $70.1 million, up 11.5% over the year earlier.