NEW YORK — It’s been less than a month since Aniello Musella took over as the Italian Trade Commission’s executive director for the U.S., and already he’s gearing up for a marketing campaign to highlight Italy’s expertise not just in fashion, food and wine, but also in technology, machinery and furniture.
The goal, said Musella, is to change American perceptions about Italian-made products, especially in the oft-overlooked flyover states.
“It’s important to reach consumers not only in New York and Los Angeles,” said Musella over an espresso in his office, a stately second-floor parlor in a landmark five-story townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that serves as the ITC’s U.S. headquarters. “‘Made in Italy’ is a brand that sells a lot in the U.S., but we have to understand the consumer in other areas [of the country].”
The new marketing campaign is scheduled to kick off in 2006 and will appear mainly in fashion magazines. The ads will focus on the fall shows in Las Vegas, including Exclusive, MAGIC and Project. The campaign is just one of the steps Musella believes will help introduce the idea of Italian quality to a wider range of consumers and is part of a $2.5 million advertising budget for the fashion sector. He also hopes it will change some attitudes.
“We are trying to change this image of Italy being linked only to food and fashion,” Musella said.
The ITC’s network of six offices across the U.S. is designed to further this goal, giving offices specific markets to target based on the industries that are strongest in those locations. The New York office is responsible for the fashion and food and wine industries; Chicago covers machinery; Atlanta handles agricultural machines, furniture and gifts; Los Angeles works on technology, and Miami caters to the shipping industry. A Houston office opened last month and has yet to have a defined sector.
“We have made a big investment in high technology and machinery,” Musella said.
Italy remains one of the world’s leading exporters, ranking seventh globally, with about $346 billion in exports in 2004, according to data from the Italian Institute of Foreign Trade. Machinery, ranging from motorcycles to plastics machinery, was the country’s largest export category in 2004, accounting for 17.9 percent of the export market. Textiles, clothing, shoes and accessories ranked second, with 13.6 percent of exports. Food and beverage was one of the smallest categories, with 5.5 percent.
The U.S. market is particularly important, as it is the country’s third-largest export customer, behind France and Germany. Foreign trade statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate apparel-related products are the leading imports from Italy, at more than $4.25 billion in 2004.
Targeting the affluent consumer is another focus, said Musella, regardless of the industry or type of product.
“We are consolidating our position in the upper-scale market, where price is not the main point of consideration for the consumer,” he said. “For fashion and design, we talk about luxury. For food and wine, you have authenticity.”
When it comes to machinery, the focus moves to quality and performance. “We want to target the highest segment of American consumers,” he said.
Focusing efforts on the highest segment of the market has been, in some ways, dictated by the emergence of China as a global manufacturing power.
“There are many American department stores that use Italian designs and products, but produce in China,” said Musella, citing the Italian leather industry as an example of this trend. “This is a phenomenon that is going to increase in years to come.”
However, Musella said the removal of quotas on China had almost no impact on producers of high-end products.
Expanding relationships with schools, universities and department stores throughout the country is another priority Musella believes will be a key to growth.
“We want to increase our partnerships with our American counterparts,” said Musella. “It’s important to work with schools and universities who specialize in fashion and technology.”
Musella began his career with the ITC in 1981, serving a stint as director of the textile and apparel department in Rome in 1995 and, most recently, heading up the machinery and industrial goods department. His short time in New York has already sparked ideas on how the ITC can energize the world of fashion.
“I think we need to highlight a new Italian designer,” said Musella. “Since I arrived here in New York, I’ve had a lot of contact with fashion people, and I found out there is room for something new here.” Establishing relationships between Italian designers and students in U.S. fashion schools is one way the ITC hopes to heighten the Italian profile. “It’s not an easy job, because you have the big designers that are well established. We work with them, of course, but at the same time we are very much willing to bring over some new designers.”
Musella is also planning a fashion show in New York that will feature new but established Italian designers. The show is still in the planning phase, but Musella believes it will be ready for sometime in 2006.