What My Italian Family Taught Me About Food, Marketing and Copywriting

I blame my fascination with food and food metaphors on my upbringing.

Growing up with a full-blooded Italian mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother (who came from Italy as a young girl “on a boat”), my fixation on food was inevitable.

Food was not just nourishment.

Food was love.

It was the way you showed someone you cared.

In our family, the women would spend all day making homemade dough with a seasoned ground beef and sausage filling to create hundreds of ravioli. They would then carefully place them in long, flat cardboard boxes and store them in the basement freezer – only to be used for special occasions like birthdays and holidays.

Everyone loved those raviolis. You know why?

Because they tasted amazing.

But I also think the taste was enhanced because everyone knew how much effort went into making those delectable and savory pasta pillows of goodness.

And the praise…

No Italian gathering would be complete without the gushing praise of those who after eating your food, declare it’s so good that they should kill you.

From one of my favorite movies, “Big Night”:

But really, all kidding aside, Pascal, who owned a rival Italian restaurant, knew when he’d been bested. And he gave the appropriate response.

This is what all that hard work brings. And my Italian matriarchs would slave away in the kitchen with naked ambition, hoping to receive such accolades while pretending it didn’t matter. And when given such praise, would swat it away and modestly say, “Good. Get some more.”

Is it any wonder I ended up in marketing?

What Marketing and Food Have In Common

I learned so much about marketing by paying attention to my family’s relationship with food.

First, you need to know your customers.

My family knew “their customers” inside and out. They knew which ones didn’t like it too salty, or if a certain dish failed because it didn’t have just the right amount of basil in it.

There was a responsiveness to these perceived slights. A tightly grimaced face or a long-suffering glance toward the ceiling with a “Madonn’…. How could I have forgotten the (fill in the blank)?!!”

Sometimes it was accompanied by much drama depending on who was embroiled in a family argument at the time.

The point is, to market anything – you have to know what your audience likes and doesn’t like.

Second, you need to know your product.

Opening up a jar of Ragu and pouring it over a bowl of spaghetti isn’t a quality experience.

Italians know how to deliver a quality experience.

If you haven’t watched the embedded video, check it out.

Watch as Primo and Secundo look with awe and concern at the famous timpano of the movie. It’s an intimidating dish, using layers of pasta, meat, sauce, cheese and egg – all encased in a large bowl-sized baked pasta shell in order to make a masterpiece.

Now that’s a presentation.

My family knew their product. They knew what was important to make the product taste delicious. Cheap ground beef instead of expensive because the cheaper had more fat. Fresh spinach and not canned. Romano cheese bought in huge wedges and grated by hand.

Everything was carefully weighed and considered. Nothing was left to chance. A great amount of attention was paid to detail.

That amount of love poured into its creation was bound to build raving fans.

If You’ve Got a Great Product, Marketing is Easy

Here’s what I often see: crappy products and services.

I pick on Chipotle at times because for all of their brilliant marketing, it doesn’t mean squat when I’m standing in line to order my food and they act as miserly with the ingredients as Scrooge on Christmas Eve.

But an Asian Fusion restaurant down the street serving good food and plenty of it, usually gets my business – even if I’m paying double the price.

Why do I like the other restaurant better?

Because it has better food and service. The owner has grown his business by word of mouth, which is one of the best ways to grow your business. When you’ve got raving fans, marketing is easy.

The other thing I often see: many companies really don’t know their customers.

One of my favorite things to do is frequent a local mom-and-pop restaurant to the point where I’m considered a regular. Then having the owner or waiters know what I like.

Being greeted by name, offered something along the lines of what I normally eat, and treated with appreciation goes a long way in my book.

I don’t think I’m different than your customer.

Unfortunately, there are companies that push bad products to anyone they can – or push their products to the wrong crowd.

My Italian family made it simple.

Create amazing food. Know what people like. Then tweak their amazing food a little more so that people adore the food.

Finally, my family realized a very important point that has stayed with me over the years and serves me well as I pursue copywriting.

It’s All About You

How did you feel when you read that headline?

Pretty good, I bet.

I bet you were chuckling a little and thinking, “You’re doggone right. It is all about me!”

My Italian family excelled at showing how much they loved their family by cooking these extravagant, huge meals. They put love into every morsel, every spoonful of sauce and every dough ball they rolled out with a wooden rolling pin.

When we gathered for a feast, we knew all the hard work that went into it. We felt loved and special.

We responded with big, warm hugs and kisses to all who worked hard to make it happen.

The thing about marketing is it is NEVER about the company.

It’s always about the customer.

It’s all about you.

That kind of focus has been built into me from childhood. But I’m amazed at how many companies have failed to know these simple truths.

Maybe they just need some good Italian cooking.


About the author: Mary Rose Maguire

Mary Rose Maguire

Copywriter. Content marketing specialist, B2B web copy, content marketing collateral, and email marketing. Tireless advocate for testing response. David Ogilvy is my invisible mentor, along with John Caples and Claude C. Hopkins. You can find me on Google+
 or Twitter.

1 reply
  1. Xerxes Aga
    Xerxes Aga says:

    So, what you are saying is: Targetted Marketing is to Broadside Marketing as a gourmet is to a gourmand. Absolutely edible advice..

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