For weeks on end it was like a parlour game, the socialite beauties phoning each other excited: “Do you think it’s Orsetta?” “Who?” “The anti-elitist with the luxury penthouse” (that really well-off girl with all those left-wing friends). And then: “Tell me, who is that bed designer?” “Come on, you’re so slow. It’s Carlina”. The brunette Fiamma was easily recognised among the long-haired presenters of “Italia Nostra”, then: “Simple, it’s Tofanelli” was the ready reply to the question of who the most beautiful Silvia of Italy was. Instead, for the pallid quasi-intellectual who interrupts in continuation, people wagered between two or three different young men who spoke of culture, and at least ten names vied for the attention of the top photographers.
All these quizzes were from reading the newspaper, and not even from the games column, but from the one about journeys. In fact, they were not the usual documentary reports written by special correspondents and printed in seven and a half font, with all correct capital letters and line returns in the right place . They were travel stories with everything written in lowercase without punctuation, printed inside concentric black and white circles, or even in squares, rhomboids, pyramids and little triangles; sometimes with heavy ink and sometimes not, but always graphically presented as a game. Everyone played, and it was fun even just reading them. These were the wanderings of special advertising correspondent, a highly-personal delirium with many public references, and usually ending with a declamation of some travel accessory, or a car tyre of extraordinary performance.
In our world saturated by advertising, this was the first time that readers wrote directly to the companies to express their appreciation, or sometimes even their indignation or incomprehension; others even called to propose new voyages or their personal witticisms as contributors. The endorsed advertising experts felt offended, believing that this made fun of their trade, now seen as a language accessible to everyone; art-directors, copywriters, stylists and visualisers bowed their heads, and the united front of intelligentsia was scandalised.
Here’s the short story of a successful innovation in the world made of signs, sounds and images that now governs our daily lives. An advertising man that has just presented the ceo with a series of drafts for a new advertising campaign for a famous car tyre: beautiful sketches by Manzi and slogans with understated British humour. But “I don’t think we’re quite there” is the reply. “Why don’t you think of something else, something newer”. And so the advertising man starts thinking of something new, but meanwhile he is hospitalized because he wrecked his knee while skiing; he has a fever, they have to operate and put a full-length plaster cast on.
Perhaps it is the fever that causes this slow and disorderly drifting through far-away memories? The fact is that, when bedridden, he remembers his days as prisoner, helping a madman unravelling a tangle of disjointed thoughts haphazardly wandering around his mind: assonances, rhymes, associations, all equally disconnected but all with some deeper logic and some veritable genial slips of the tongue.
Going over those dialogues and that free association of words, our bone-broken advertising man is able to put together his sixteen texts. Being immobilised, he dreams of travelling: and as a counterreaction to his profession, he adopts an ill-suited and more delirious style for his travels; he pays attention to word connections, he plays with words, making use of assonance when it is fun, and if they work, playing on associations. Delving into a paradoxical world of inverted consonants and deliberate errors, his childlike reminiscences come to the surface; he plays with tactful impertinence, with synonyms and antonyms, he masquerades well-known people and makes a game out of revealing their identity, all of this underlined with a sharp contemporaneous vein.
So the cards are on the table, the quiz is set, the children’s rhyme prevails and dictates a pleasant and light-hearted and no holds barred rhythm involving the fashion-conscious people with their tics and manias, good-willed imbeciles, militant politicians, first- and second-class dandies, top professionals, and the beautiful jolies laides in true or false guise. For the word games, we have acne senilis instead of arcus senilis, the Prince assistant to the Pontificate instead of Pontifical Throne, the Saragossa Sea instead of Sargasso and the Chef executive officer instead of Chief. Travellers change continuously to reach a great denouement: a safe journey is done with that Cinturato tyre.
A few days to go before publication: the director is still in his plaster cast, and reading over everything is a little ashamed. He is sure some friends will find it amusing, but he can already hear the comments of the straight-faced Milanese (“Might be amusing, but doesn’t make any sense”); he then calls Pino Tovaglia and asks him to find a solution to modestly “camouflage” the text. The graphic artist plays his geometric games, and the text is naturally more appealing because partially hidden. Thus, from the first day of publication it is a success, even for the disinterested readers who never look at advertisements: this one hits the target, and those who understand laugh, whereas those who don’t immediately re-read the text to try to. The advertisement is on everyone’s lips: it has achieved its aim.
It doesn’t matter that some serious reader writes to explain that the hotel in Mallorca was Formentor and not Formitrol, that Saragossa was a city and the correct name of the sea was Sargasso; what is important is that a smiling Fanfani recognised himself and even Lombardi did, that the successful architect anxiously desires to be cited and doesn’t mind to be made fun of; what is important is that a childhood friend writes, happy to have discovered an age-old and compliant way of communicating. And even happier to see how this childish message could be used to advertise a Pirelli Cinturato tyre.