Advertising in Italy, or “Are you talking to me?”

After I started learning Italian back in 2001, I quickly realized there were interesting questions to answer above and beyond the grammatical ones (because, let’s face it, when are those interesting?). One of the things that fascinates me to no end every time I’m in Italy or reading Italian magazines, for instance, is how I as the potential consumer am being addressed by advertisers. You see, with three ways to say “you” in Italian, I think the form chosen by the advertiser says a lot about how they’re trying to be perceived.

The Formal You

The formal form of you, or the “Lei” form, is the default “you” if you aren’t sure which form to use, because it’s the most polite. Beyond that, it’s the form used when you want to show deference to the person about whom you’re talking. This is the form students use with teachers, patients use with doctors, children use with their elders. So if I see an Italian ad addressing me with the “Lei” form of a verb, I’m meant to feel respected and thought highly of by the advertiser. Not only are they not better than I am, they’re almost putting themselves in a place of subordination to me, making me feel important.




The Informal You

The informal form of you, the “tu” form, is only used with people you know well or people who are younger than you – those to whom you would not ordinarily be affording reverence in speaking. This is the “chummy” form of you, the one you use with friends, so when I see ad Italian ad addressing me with the “tu” form of a verb, I immediately think they’re trying to make me feel like they’re my bestest buddy in the world and are letting me in on a great secret product or service that they’re only telling their special friends about. Who wouldn’t like that kind of connotation? It says they’re not above me, they’re normal folk, just wanting to pass on a great tip about something they know I want to buy.

The Group You

This is what I like to call the “y’all” form of you, because we don’t have a word in English for “you plural” – in Italian, it’s the “voi” form. “Voi” is used whenever you’re addressing a group of people, regardless of formality (generally speaking). If I see this form in an Italian ad, to me it says that whatever is being hyped is something everybody’s into, so why not me? It’s a party in here with [insert product name here], you totally want to join in! It’s appealing to my sense of wanting to belong, wanting to be just like everyone else.

Okay, so maybe it’s just me who thinks this is endlessly amusing. But at least I know I’m not the only one who finds Italian advertising worth mentioning. Shelley has highlighted a couple of her recent favorites here, including a salad which purports to be sunblock. I’m not kidding.

Photo by: CAD and LV