Don’t sweat the small stuff… It’s a freaking commercial?
Not too long ago a proud Italian American commented on an Italian commercial that appeared to be stereotypic. And went on to state, “I do not sweat the small stuff… It’s a freaking commercial!”
If it were just one commercial I would whole heartedly agree. we may try to defend negative portrayals in isolation but, it’s impossible to defend when it’s done on a continual basis!
Advertising campaigns that feature Italian Americans use
Stereotypes that present an unbalanced portrayal of people of
• The men are uneducated, dishonest and/or violent.
• The women are elderly, overweight housewives and grandmothers
Wearing black dresses, housecoats or aprons.
The young women are portrayed as pernicious
• Thanks to the popularity of “The Sopranos” and entertainment like it,
most advertising that uses Italian Americans portrays them as gangsters.
• Even Mafia-themed advertising that may not include specific references
to Italian Americans are perceived by the general public to be about
• The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that less than .0025 percent of
the 26 million Americans of Italian descent are involved in organized
• The U.S. Census Bureau reports that two-thirds of the Italian Americans
in the work force are in white-collar jobs as executives, physicians,
teachers, attorneys, administrators, etc.
• Italian Americans are the nation’s fifth largest ethnic group, according
to the Year 2000 Census.
ITALIAN AMERICAN STEREOTYPES
IN U.S. ADVERTISING
The following is a random sampling of commercials and print ads
featuring Italian American characters, or Mafia-related themes, that were
seen nationally between 1999 and 2003.
• LYCOS INTERNET SEARCH ENGINE TV COMMERCIAL
As a mandolin plays Italian music in the background, an older man carries furniture up
the steps of a brownstone apartment while his dark-haired daughter and grandchild look
on. He tells his daughter that the furniture “fell off a truck.”
In the next scene, more furniture is being moved in, but the daughter holds up a bill of
sale so that FBI agents in a parked car nearby can see that she bought it on the Internet,
• RAGU RICH & MEATY MEAT SAUCE PRINT AD
Graphic shows three butchers with olive complexions scowling into the camera. Behind
them hang sausages and a salami. “We asked these butchers what they thought of our
new meat sauce,” the ad reads. “They beat us up.”
• UNCLE BEN’S PASTA BOWL PRINT AD
“If you eat an Uncle Ben’s pasta bowl,” the ad reads, “don’t be surprised ifa youa starta
talking likea this afterwards.”
• BUDWEISER BEER TV COMMERCIAL
Several swarthy men in an Italian restaurant ask each other “Howya doin’?” and “Didcha
take care a dat ting?”
• OPTIMUM ONLINE COMMERCIAL
An African American woman is having her refrigerator repaired by a dark, hairy, white
man named “Joe.” The woman asks how much the job will cost. “Two hundred dollars,”
he replies. When she checks on Optimum Online, she learns it only costs $25.
• THE INTERNATIONAL DAIRY FOOD TV COMMERCIAL
“Vinny” and a friend try to break the bones of a man who owes them money, but since
the intended victim drinks milk, they can’t hurt him.
• THE INTERNATIONAL DAIRY FOOD TV COMMERCIAL
Four dark, heavy, hairy young men wearing gold chains menace a group of senior citizen
men in a diner. The elderly men route the bullies because milk makes them strong.
• STACKER 2 DIET PILLS TV COMMERCIAL
As an Italian melody plays, a man enters a store with two bodyguards and a buxom
blonde. Peppering his speech with “capisci,” he strong-arms another customer and the
• RAGU PASTA SAUCE TV COMMERCIAL
Several elderly, overweight Italian American women in housedresses are so delighted
with Ragu’s meat sauce that they turn somersaults and play leapfrog in a meadow. The
camera zooms in on the generous proportions of one woman’s rear quarters and the
bloomers of another.
• BUITONI PASTA TV COMMERCIAL
A very old, very wrinkled woman, dressed in black, drags her overweight adult son by
the ear through the streets to a supermarket where she berates him in English and Italian
for selling the secret family pasta recipe to Buitoni.
• RUBBERMAID TV COMMERCIAL
Five older women dressed in black with their hair in buns dance a Tarantella because the
new Rubbermaid containers do not stain when they put tomato sauce in them.
• TODAY’S MAN TV COMMERCIAL
An Italian woman goes through her husband’s closet, yelling at him about the state of his
wardrobe. The husband, who is supposed to be Michael Corleone of “The Godfather,”
stares coldly at her as she rants.
• AT&T BROADBAND TV COMMERCIAL
A teacher warns a student that he will fail her class because his assignment is late. Two
characters from “The Sopranos” appear and threaten the teacher if the student doesn’t
receive an “A.”
• BLISTEX TV COMMERCIAL
A swarthy man in a black suit asks another man if he took care of “that thing.” The
lackey pulls out a tube of lip balm, but his boss tells him only Blixtex supplies the
protection he needs. “Believe me, I know about protection,” he says.
• EVEREADY BATTERY TV COMMERCIAL
A photographer’s camera battery dies during the birthday party of a mobster’s child. The
photographer is stuffed into a tuba.
• GODFATHER’S PIZZA PRINT AD
Ad presents a man dressed in a pinstripe suit, black shirt, white tie and a fedora. Ad
reads: “Stay home with da family” in large letters and features a coupon for a pizza
dubbed “the Mob Pleaser.”
• INFOSEEK TV COMMERCIAL
To promote Infoseek’s Internet services, commercial presents a mini-drama in which
mobsters accuse a man of being part of the CIA.
• JERRY’S SUBS & PIZZA RADIO COMMERCIAL
An actor impersonating Tony Soprano threatens a Jerry Subs storeowner who is
competing with a pizzeria owned by the gangster’s friend. After tasting Jerry’s pizza, the
gangster offers to take the owner for a ride on his boat.
• NETFLIX.COM TV COMMERCIAL
Mobsters conspire to discuss what to do with a dead body. The commercial is promoting
• ROUND-UP HERBICIDE TV COMMERCIAL
Voice-over announces that the product will “kill off the Weed Family.” The Weed
mobsters, speaking with exaggerated New York accents, air their fears of being killed.
• SHOPPERS DRUG MART TV COMMERCIAL
A man refuses to shake hands with a sick Mafia “Godfather.”
• SUPERIOR QUICK DRY CEMENT TV COMMERCIAL
“Jack gets a permanent vacation” during a boat ride with mobsters who use the cement
product to “bury” Jack at sea.
• TCI/AT&T TV COMMERCIAL
To promote its digital cable service, advertiser presents a Mafia boss questioning a “not
• VANILLA COKE TV COMMERCIAL
Actor Chazz Palminteri, reprising his role as mob boss Sonny in “A Bronx Tale,”
threatens a nosy young man, who has peeked behind a fence. The gangster rewards the
young man’s curiosity, however, with a can of the new Vanilla Coke.
• VERMONT TEDDY BEAR PRINT AD
For Valentine’s Day, the company offers a “Gangster of Love” bear, wearing spats, a
fedora and carrying a violin case. Ad reads: “Be a goodfella. Send her this bear and she’ll
be singing like a soprano.”
• VITAMIN SHOPPE TV COMMERCIAL
As gangsters “sell” products, a voice over warns, “Make sure you know who you’re
dealing with online.”
• WRIGLEY’S ECLIPSE TV COMMERCIAL
Men burst into an Italian restaurant, shouting, “Die, bad breath!”
This survey of recent advertising campaigns using Italian American
characters was prepared by the Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA
We are grateful for assistance from OSIA’s Commission for Social
Justice, UNICO National, the Italian American One Voice Coalition and
Italian American Pride.
Hopefully, you will not only come to understand our concerns but will join us in speaking out with one united voice, if not for ourselves then, for our children and grandchildren.
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