It is not like England, France or Germany, where the best agencies are locally based and often have their own networks under their control.
In Italy, the advertising agency business has traditionally been dominated by multinationals from outside the country. We have not succeeded in making the proud and courageous choices needed to develop an independent agency culture. Aside from Armando Testa, there are only five Italian agencies in the top 30 and only one of these was founded by a creative person.
This, of course, was ours - though I am embarrassed to say it. I am an art director and that is what I want to remain. Our profession was, and always will be, a craft skill. All the big, famous agencies born and bred in the US or the UK, where our business was invented, were founded by creative people. The only problem is, they are almost all named after people who are now dead.
So how is it that the genius of Italy expresses itself so well in fashion design, in industrial design, while in advertising we have failed to reach international standards?
Perhaps it is because the stylist and the designer do not express themselves in the same way as in advertising, where we need to play as a team and to sing from the same song sheet.
A stylist does not test out his ideas or subject them to consumer research.
In Italy, on the other hand, we over-rationalise our activity and forget that the consumer makes choices by instinct. What we lack - agencies as well as clients - is courage. An industry in the hands of the Anglo-American multinationals only asks Southern Europeans to adapt work which they have created in the North. On our side, our agencies make a great song and dance in the press that they have "adapted" a campaign for the local market, because just saying "translated" sounds bad. Italian clients account for less than one-quarter of the billings of major multinational agencies in Italy. That gives some idea of just how little influence the local advertisers and marketers have.
So what can we do about it?
We have to be more courageous, more inventive, more unexpected, to think more laterally. We must be condemned to reinvent ourselves eternally: to rediscover our artistic roots in the humanistic culture of the Renaissance.
To forget billings and figures, to rediscover colour and music. Too much talk of business kills poetry.
So what about my agency? We are a creative independent, of course. But more than that. We are a deconstructed agency. We have no bureaucracy.
No traffic department. No fixed creative pairs. No divide between above the line and below the line. We are 20 people who belong to a club more than an agency. We want to grow tall, but not fat. It is the same as when I founded my business seven years ago. Constancy is one of the major success factors in advertising.
For most people in our industry, this has been a difficult year. But not for us, obviously. Our positioning, incredible as it may seem, is unique in Italy. More than half our clients award us business directly, without a pitch - which is, in itself, a great compliment. We export campaigns around the world because for us the best way to be local is to be global, if only in the way we think.
To be a great lover is not about how many women you have, it's about having a great heart. This is not just a theory, but something we have proven in the marketplace, with new-business wins in the past year from companies such as Avon Celli (a global campaign for cashmere), Universal in music, Felisi for leather goods, Barilla's Tre Marie brand of pastries and croissanterie, Canali in international men's fashions, Trudy in jewellery and Lavazza for a global branding project.
The more that the pret-a-porter agencies suffer, the more demand we find for our haute couture approach.
Awards are not that important to us. In 20 years, I have won more than two hundred but, in my view, the main benefit is psychological rather than commercial. This year, a European judging panel at the Art Directors' Awards gave us the top prize for our print creativity, but our clients were not really interested. What matters to them is sales success. Only a few understand that creativity is a means to this end.
The art of communications needs to take itself less seriously: to become lighter, more in harmony with itself, more ironic in its perspective; to communicate more about brand values, less about rational messages and supporting evidence; to prioritise the psychological, emotive aspect of a brand rather than physical performance.
The thought expressed in a few words will sail ahead of a weak argument.
The brand will discover its own values and advantages and advertising will become more relevant to society.
As Albert Einstein said: "I never think about the future. It is here all too quickly!"
There is a phrase of Bertrand Russell's that expresses our philosophy very well: "We decided to sit on the wrong side, because the seats on the right side were already taken."
- Lorenzo Marini is the president and creative director of Lorenzo Marini & Associati.
AT A GLANCE
Name: Lorenzo Marini & Associati
Founded: The first day of spring 1997
Principals: Lorenzo Marini, Daniele Pelissero
Location: Milan, Italy
Mission statement: To get bigger without getting fatter
Describe your agency in three words: Haute couture style.