Two of the first practioners of advertising in Italy were the chemist Attilio Manzoni, who founded not only a pharmaceutical industry but also a business that acted as an agent for the press, and Giulio Ricordi, head of a world-famous musical company.
Changes began to take place in the Italian economy in the late 1890s. During the next 20 years, Italy became an industrial nation, a development that was accompanied by changes in people's lifestyles, including the growing use of consumer goods. The number of businesses—particularly industrial concerns—increased, and in order to compete, businesses increased their use of advertising.
Although monopolies dominated the Italian economy during the period between the two world wars, advertising became more sophisticated and widespread. Italian entrepreneurs, particularly the owners of industrial concerns, wanted to use the new media—especially radio, which was introduced as an advertising medium in 1926—in addition to traditional press and outdoor advertising.
With an increased demand for advertising, agencies and studios developed, as did advertising departments within businesses themselves. With the development of the profession, research studies proliferated and new advertising associations—among them, the National Advertising Federation—were established.
The years after World War II were ones of reconstruction. In the early 1950s, Italy entered an economic boom that lasted for a decade and during that time it joined the European Economic Community. As the economy grew, branded products increased their presence in the market, something that had a major impact on advertising. The introduction of the Mulino Bianco line of oven products (biscuits and pastry), made by Barilla, at the beginning of the 1980s might be taken as a particularly instructive example. The new line was marketed with a campaign that evoked nostalgia for an older, rural Italy.
But the majority of Italian consumer goods continued to be unbranded until the 1990s, when it was estimated that 11% of food products and even larger percentages in areas such as clothing, household goods and certain services were still unbranded.
Beginning in the 1980s, supermarkets and other large retailers appeared in greater numbers, and by the 1990s, it was estimated that perhaps 60% of fast-moving consumer goods were sold in such establishments. Along with those changes in the retail sector came the introduction of private-label brands. But despite such changes, at the end of the 1970s the Italian advertising market was still comparatively small, with less than $1.2 million in total expenditures.
From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, Italy again experienced a period of especially rapid economic growth. That was followed by a short retrenchment, but growth resumed again beginning in 1996-97. Advertising was, of course, affected by this growth, as it was by the development of commercial TV, introduced in Italy in 1976 following a struggle against the state monopoly on TV broadcasting.
Commercial broadcasts boomed in the 1980s, and the time devoted to paid spots grew from 2,100 hours in 1980 to 4,738 hours in 1992, with the number of advertisers increasing from 500 to 1,500. Private consumption during this period increased an average of 2.8% a year, with branded products taking an ever larger share of the market. Those factors produced additional work for advertising agencies as well as for audiovisual production houses and related businesses.
The Italian economy went into a slump in the early 1990s. Consumption fell and intense price competition led to the use of discount outlets as a marketing tool. As an indication of the severity of the country's problems, the lira was devalued and Italy withdrew from the European Monetary System (which it had joined in 1979). But as the economy began to rebound in 1996, advertising benefited once again from the increase in the sales of consumer goods, particularly of branded products, and in the trend toward the advertising of services.
Italy joined other developed European countries in the growth of telecommunications and the so-called "information economy." Banking, health services, education, entertainment and tourism were among the industries beginning to avail themselves of the benefits of advertising.
Total gross advertising income for 2001 in Italy was $618.9 million on billings of $7.29 billion, a 3.7% decrease over the previous year's total. The top five agencies in Italy (in terms of gross income) were Young & Rubicam Italia, Armando Testa Group, McCann-Erickson Italiana, J. Walter Thompson Co. and D'Arcy.