Ad campaign gone wrong: ‘Divine’ potato chip commercial sparks anger in Italy

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

A 30-second spot by Amica Chips has sparked fury over using 'symbols that have nothing to do with consumption and crunchy food'.
A 30-second spot by Amica Chips has sparked fury over using 'symbols that have nothing to do with consumption and crunchy food'.

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A TV commercial created by one of the country’s leading snack producers, which features a potato chip as a communion wafer, has caused quite a stir in the Catholic community in Italy.

With Schubert’s Ave Maria playing in the background, the 30-second spot by Amica Chips is set in a convent with a group of nuns walking to Mass to receive holy communion.

It switches to the mother superior, who finds an empty tabernacle – the vessel in which the Eucharist (the consecrated communion hosts) is stored – and in a quick-thinking move, fills it with some of the potato chips she has to hand.

The pray of young nuns delight in the noisy substitution, as does the abbess in finishing off the pack from the confessional.

The spot – which was aired on Mediaset, Italy’s largest commercial broadcaster, along with other private networks – ends with the tagline, ‘Il divino quotidiano’ (The divine everyday).

Creative agency Lorenzo Marini Group told the Guardian the ad was intended to convey a ‘strong British irony’. It’s aimed at the younger market and deliberately exaggerates ‘the irresistible crunchiness of Amica Chips’.

While supposedly a light-hearted take on snacking, it’s sparked anger in Italy.

Giovanni Baggio, president of AIART (the Italian Association of Radio and Television Listeners) called for its immediate suspension. He branded the spot as sacrilegious and noted it “offends the sensitivity of millions of practicing Catholics by trivializing the comparison between the potato chip and the consecrated object.”

Catholics believe the communion wafer is the body and blood of Christ.

Catholic newspaper Avvenire also criticized the ad, stating, “Christ has been reduced to a potato chip. Debased and vilified like 2,000 years ago.”

Likewise, the horror and resentment spilled onto social media, with numerous users suggesting to boycott of Amica.

Lesson for the marketing community

Marketing controvery Getty ThinkNeo
Pic: GettyImages/ThingNeo

It’s understandable why some might find the concept controversial, with such campaigns blurring the line between what’s considered appropriate and what’s deemed as offensive, especially when it comes to religious practices. In this case, the use of the communion rite is considered crossing the boundary.

It’s an important reminder of the need to consider cultural awareness in marketing campaigns, especially in diverse societies like Italy.

Braggio slams the ad for its lack of creativity, claiming it’s “a sign of an inability to do marketing without resorting to symbols that have nothing to do with consumption and crunchy food.”

He has appealed to marketing creatives “to be more respectful of cultural and religious identities and to work for commercials that are inclusive and that appeal to all users in a way that is careful not to create discomfort and disapproval.”

“Let us work together for a civilization that needs to grow in respect for cultural and religious identities,” he said.

On its website, AIART said it had learned that IAP, Italy’s advertising standards authority, had “upheld our appeal for the immediate suspension of the commercial. We express satisfaction and will continue to monitor the protection of media citizens.”

Amica Chips has not responded to requests for comment.

Amica Chips SpA was founded in 1990 by Alfredo Moratti and Andrea Romanò in Castiglione delle Stiviere, where it still has its headquarters. Within a year, the snack producer had become the official supplier for one of the country’s largest retail groups, Essenlunga, prompting a much larger expansion program, including the acquisition of local rival Dorita in 1996, followed by Milan-based snacks, croutons and corn flakes producer Pandal in 1998 and and Triveneto-based Mia in 2004.

Today, the company is a leader in Italy’s potato chips market, bringing in an annual turnover in excess of €89m from sales in more than 20 countries around the globe.

Some of the ads to have sparked debate

Fist bashing potato chips Getty angintaravichian
Pic: GettyImages/angintaravichian

While not commonplace, the potato chip sector is not completely without its marketing controversies.

Lay’s 2010 ‘Crunch all you want. We’ll make more’ campaign was not inherently controversial; however, it was tarred as a derogatory reference of American greed and consumerism. The campaign drew criticism from environmental groups for promoting overconsumption and wastefulness, given the environmental impact of potato chip production and packaging.

In 2016, Doritos’ Super Bowl commercial depicted a pregnant woman getting an ultrasound while her partner ate Doritos. It sparked debate over whether it was inappropriate or humorous, with some viewers finding it distasteful or offensive.

In 2017, Pringles released a spot in the UK featuring people using a ‘hunger hammer’ to satisfy their snack cravings, which received criticism for its portrayal of binge eating and promoting unhealthy eating habits.

In 2018, Kettle Chips aired a commercial during a Comedy Central roast that made light of actor Rob Lowe's former struggles with addiction. It received immediate backlash for exploiting someone’s personal struggles for comedic effect.

Also in 2018, Doritos ‘Lady Doritos’ had the internet in a very vocal uproar. On a podcast interview, PepsiCo’s then CEO Indra Nooyi talked about the development of a version of female-friendly Doritos that would be less messy and quieter to eat.

Said Nooyi, “as you watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, they love their Doritos and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth... Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers generously and they don’t like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavor into their mouth.”

The idea was widely criticized for perpetuating gender stereotypes.

Earlier this year, Doritos severed ties with a transgender activist Samantha Hudson over old tweets, including one where she wrote about doing ‘depraved things’ to a 12-year-old. Doritos Spain had signed up Hudson to appear in a 50-second video called ‘Crunch Talks’.

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