Italy's tourism ministry investigated for 'wasting money' on Venus ad campaign

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Italy's tourism ministry investigated for 'wasting money' on Venus ad campaign
A digital rendering of Botticelli's Venus reimagined as a "virtual influencer" for Italy's latest tourism marketing campaign. Image courtesy of Armando Testa Group

Italian prosecutors are investigating a decision to spend €9 million on a widely ridiculed advertising campaign after it disappeared over summer.


The Open to Meraviglia (“open to wonder”) tourism marketing campaign, featuring Botticelli's Venus reimagined by marketers as a "virtual influencer", went viral in Italy and worldwide earlier this year for all the wrong reasons - and now it’s the subject of an investigation by the audit court of Lazio, according to reports in La Repubblica published on Tuesday.

The campaign had faced heavy criticism since it was first launched in April, with social media users frequently describing posts on Instagram as “embarrassing”, while art lovers and tourism professionals voiced dismay at the portrayal of Venus as an "influencer" taking selfies and eating pizza in front of Italy’s most famous sights.

The campaign was further criticised after it was reported that part of its promotional video used footage of Slovenia, not Italy, and advertising executives at the Armando Testa Group, which was behind the campaign, were called back from their summer holidays to fix errors in Italian place names created during the automated translation of Italian into other languages.

Prosecutors were this week looking into accusations of danno erariale, or wasting public money, after the campaign seemingly vanished in early summer, Repubblica reported.

The campaign’s Instagram profile was updated late on Monday for the first time since the end of June, while its Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok profiles appeared to have been closed down. The promotional video was also no longer available online.

READ ALSO: Why Italy needs a national plan for sustainable tourism - before it’s too late

In late August, Tourism Minister Daniela Santanchè denied that the campaign had been suspended due to problems with the advertising agency, telling Italian news outlet Fanpage the disappearance had instead been a “considered choice" as part of a plan to send traffic to the main Italian tourism website, and that Venus “would soon be the star again”.

The campaign has reportedly cost €138,000 so far, which was €2,000 below the threshold that would have required a public tender to be launched.

Italian Tourism Minister Daniela Santanche poses ahead of the new government's first cabinet meeting on October 23rd, 2022. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The government previously said the lack of public tender was due to the campaign’s “urgency”, Repubblica reported.

The tourism ministry planned to spend a total of €9 million on the “Open to Meraviglia” campaign, as Italy's national tourist board Enit announced in a press release on April 21st.


A large part of that amount was expected to be allocated to distributing the promotional video and to billboard advertising outside airports and railway stations worldwide.

The latest controversy involving minister Santanchè comes just a month after her private company reportedly faced an investigation by the Milan prosecutor’s office into accusations of fraud against the state, in addition to allegations of false accounting and bankruptcy.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also