The Weirdest 1980s Italian Food Advertisements You Need to Watch / by Emilia Morano-Williams

Forget reminiscing about the Trix bunny and the Froot Loops toucan. I watch food adverts from 1980s Italy when I want an (un)healthy dose of industrial food nostalgia.  

Italian television in the 1980s presents a complex landscape. Until the late 1970s, state broadcaster RAI held a monopoly over the airwaves. But then national lawsuits determined RAI’s hegemony prevented free speech. Local channels flourished and soon after media magnate Silvio Berlusconi launched quasi-national Canale 5, which imported American soaps like Dallas and broke them up with ample commercial breaks.

Yet while today’s viewers might groan at the incessant pauses, in the 1980s these respites represented a step toward American-style broadcasting following the dissolution of the advertising format characteristic of RAI’s programming. As Italy developed a television model in the 1950s, both the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats were concerned that replicating an American model would also promote unwanted consumerism. RAI was decidedly partisan and consequently chose to segregate commercials into a half-hour show called Carosello, which aired before evening programming began. During this half-hour companies bought spots that ran up to 155 seconds, but could only name the product in the last 30 seconds. The majority of the commercial told a story about the attributes the advertisers wanted to highlight.

Although this model was obsolete by the 1980s, its impact remained. Advertisers continued to develop stories in multi-part commercials, but these stories highlighted emotions and morals rather than product description. In this sense Italian advertising in the 1980s represents a hybrid. Spots sell modern products like canola oil and ice cream novelties, but do so in a narrative style that .

Here’s a collection of my 7 favorite food commercials from the 1980s. Some are for products that are still around, others are for products that should have never been invented. But they are all hysterical and uniquely Italian.

1. Burghy was Italy's answer to McDonald's in the 1980s. Watch this commercial twice and you too will agree that 'più gusto di Burghy, nessun ti dà!' [No one will give you a more Burghy flavor!]
2. If cats and children and cuddles make you tear up, you'll find this Barilla tearjerker irresistible. Because a good plate of pasta turns all our eyes watery.
3. Does fruit juice make you want to choreograph a dance and dress up in neon? It did for Billy fruit juice in 1985.
4. Mulino Bianco commercials attempt to present a nostalgic yesteryear even today, but this 1986 advertisement for chocolate covered soldini cakes replicates the Carosello format to win over both parents and children.
5. Sofficini, essentially Italy's version of pizza pockets, try to win over kids with this modern version of Pinocchio, presenting two tokens of Italian history to suggest that the country can sell industrial food through their illustious traditional culture.
6. Olio friol was sold as a healthy oil for frying that allowed you to capture all the perfect crispiness of fast food without the unhealthiness. Presumably because the diners were too interested with each other to care about the food on their plates.
7. Fonzies are fun. Even I want to be an American teenager in the 1980s watching this advertisement. Though I can't imagine Italian teenagers made the Happy Days connection.