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Italy’s beef with an AI influencer

There are certain times in which a communication campaign smashes the advertising bubble and becomes an unescapable hot topic. This is what happened to #OpentoMeraviglia (Open to Wonder), the latest campaign launched by Italian Ministry of Tourism which led Botticelli’s Venus to land on Instagram as a virtual influencer (@venereitalia23, 200k followers and counting).

The campaign marries old and new, lifting one of Italy’s most iconic figures in its history and giving it the ultimate 2023 makeover: an AI-generated depiction. While tourism is the lifeblood of the Italian economy, in recent years the over-concentration of tourists in places major cities has damaged local communities and created friction with locals. Many consider this campaign the epitome of what Italians hate most about tourism; the shallow ‘travelling for the ‘gram’ movement driven by social media, with Instagram the main offender.

The fact that everyone across Italy (really, everyone: regular citizens, influencers, newspapers, televisions) has something to say about every aspect of #OpentoMeraviglia – the role of the Venus and her fake followers (?!), the budget allocation (€9 million) and the use of AI after Italy banned ChatGPT – means it is a campaign never seen before. The buzz, online and offline, was so overwhelming that the agency which created the campaign bought an advertising page on one of the biggest Italian newspapers, Corriere della Sera, to thank for the comments, memes and discussions.

In its infancy, this integrated global campaign will see its conclusion in 2030, and the majority of the comments made at present are from Italians who are not even the campaign’s target audience. The conversation surrounds how this ‘virtual influencer’ is just the bidimensional Ferragnization of a country which has complexities and hidden gems to show. Now, here comes our Positive Provocation: what if the Venus would have been a ‘real’ avatar like shudu.gram, bermudaisbae or lilmiquela? Incredible, right?

With more than 50k conversations, 480k social interactions and an estimated reach of 6 billion, the campaign is for sure many things, but mostly a missed opportunity to make many people change their minds about the ability of Italian institutions to innovate.

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