Tile Files: How an Italian ad campaign helped differentiate excellence in styling and quality – March 2023
By Donato Grosser
In 1980, the Italian Ceramic Tile Manufacturers Association (then Assopiastrelle, now Confindustria Ceramica) launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to expand sales of Italian tile in the United States. Italy was at the forefront of technological innovation in tile manufacturing, and a few companies had already started producing “monocottura,” a single-fired tile that substantially shortened the manufacturing process of firing and glazing tiles. It was that successful ad campaign that made Italian ceramic synonymous with style and quality in the U.S. market.
The first issue of the newsletter “Tile News,” published in September 1980, announced, “Multimillion-dollar advertising campaign gets underway.” To run the campaign-a joint venture between Assopiastrelle and the Italian Foreign Trade Institute-the Italian Tile Center was established in New York at the headquarters of the Italian Trade Commission, the U.S. office of the Foreign Trade Institute.
Ads were created by Compton Advertising and placed in consumer and trade publications from the fall of 1980 through spring 1983. Media plans included popular, high-circulation consumer magazines such as House & Garden, House Beautiful, Sunset, Architectural Digest, Metropolitan Home and Town and Country. Trade magazines included Flooring, Interiors, Tile and Decorative Surfaces, Western Floors Interior Design and Architectural Record. The first series of ads led with a marketing message-“Create a lasting impression. Ceramic Tiles of Italy.”-with a picture of a kitchen and a familiar Italian background such as the ruins of Rome’s Colosseum.
In 1982, with the assistance of its public relations agency, the Italian Tile Center organized a show in New York to display the latest creations by Italian manufacturers. Nineteen leading American designers were invited to give free rein to their talent. The result was Casa Tile ’82, the first designer showcase of its kind. In styles as diverse as the designers themselves, tile swept across floors, up platforms and walls, and over tabletops.
The weeklong show was a resounding success. Visited by over 6,000 people, the show was covered on the front page of the “Home” section of The New York Times on February 25, 1982. William Snyder, president of American Olean, remarked that nobody had ever done so much to promote ceramic tile in America.
A successful ad aimed at architects and designers included the slogan “Client Proof” on a background of Italian ceramic tile. Planning an ad showing Italian ceramic tile was not a simple task-the Italian association numbered almost 300 member companies, and it would have been improper to use tiles that were clearly recognized as belonging to one or only a few manufacturers. Thus, it was necessary to select tiles that almost any company could have manufactured.
One of the most successful ads was the one that showed ceramic tile with the eye of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci and the slogan, “Ceramic Tile of Italy: The Art of Living.” This ad garnered a great deal of attention thanks to the fact that it was launched at the time of the publication of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
An ad aimed at builders and contractors, architects and designers came with the slogan, “Build Your Business with Italian Tile.”
Those ads were some of the earlier ones that attracted attention and contributed to the creation of the Italian ceramic tile industry’s prestigious image, which remains intact today. In 1980, when the advertising campaign was launched, U.S. ceramic tile imports from Italy stood at $80 million a year. In 2022, Italian imports were over $700 million a year.
The campaign succeeded in convincing the American consumer that the quality and style of Italian tile was so superior that it was worthwhile to buy Italian tile, despite the fact that its price was higher than those of the competition. Today, the Italian ceramic tile industry is number one in the U.S. in terms of imported value. The industry gained such an image that at some point, “Italian tile” was considered the main brand of tile in the market.
To this day, the investment in advertising made by the Italian tile industry is unmatched.
Ceramic tile manufacturers typically have much lower advertising budgets than other flooring manufacturers. This limits the possibility to expand the marketshare of ceramic tile in the flooring market.
Some executives in the tile industry have remarked that just a small increase in marketshare would result in large sales for ceramic tile manufacturers. This is certainly true, but without investments in advertisement, the hope that ceramic tile will conquer a larger share of the flooring market remains a distant goal.
The success of the Italian industry in using advertising to increase marketshare could perhaps help the industry get together and launch a common promotional campaign to expand the market for ceramic tile in the U.S.
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