History of a brand and of its products, between the idea of active lifestyle and innovation

Roberto Pagliari

The Pavesi brand has not only represented a reference point in its specific sector for many years, but it has contributed to the evolution of the nutritional habits of the Italians. The Pavesini cookies, the Gran Pavesi Crackers, Ringo cookies, the Autogrill restoration points along the highways (the latter now owned by a society external to the group) have entered into the imaginary collective with their charge of innovative energy. The undisputed author of all of these extraordinary achievements was the founder Mario Pavesi (1909 – 1990). Born in Cilavegna, a small town in the province of Pavia twenty kilometres away from Novara, Pavesi demonstrated from the very start a strong spirit of initiative alongside with an innate talent for sales. In 1937 he opened a bakery in Novara with three workers, where he patented and produced the Little Cookies of Novara, that were the predecessors of the more famous Pavesini, and that were based on a product of local tradition, but were smaller and contained less humidity.

Decidedly oriented to innovation and differentiation of his products from those of the competitors, Pavesi felt the incessant impulse – these are his words – to “do things from the very start, otherwise you risk that others will do them before you”.  His great curiosity for novelty, for social changes, for the taste and habits of people, associated to great vitality and enthusiasm, allowed him to gain intuition in advance about the trends and needs of the market, so tracing the lines of its future development. He had a very clear intuition about the enormous potential of advertising as a factor that would speed up the company’s development. The recourse to creative minds of the calibre of Gino Boccasile (1901 – 1952), Gian Rossetti (1920-1994), Armando Testa (1917-1992), Erberto Carboni (1899 -1984), made it possible to create advertising campaigns of great effectiveness, characterized by a communicative style that was unmistakable and was also applied to television by talents like Luciano Emmer (1918-2009), Maria Perego (1923-),  Marco Biassoni (1930-2002).

It is undeniable that the advertising campaigns – today merged and kept at the Barilla Historical Archives – many times went well over the boundaries of simple commercial communication to become reference points for the daily habits of our nation. Pavesi chose to concentrate the publicity solely on those products that were created outside of the definition of generic common goods of the large part of market proposals, and focused on “novelties”.

It was said that each one of the Pavesi products is an  “only child”, and this description is valid for the communication campaigns as well. The Pavesini found their ideal partner in Topo Gigio; the Gran Pavesi crackers have been accompanied by extraordinary characters like King Arthur and Sir Lancelot.

Each one an “only child” born from genial intuitions, the Pavesi products expressed themselves coherently in advertisement strategies capable of interpreting the organoleptic contents and to make them come alive in the most congenial of consumer’s environment to them. Pavesi did not follow an “umbrella policy” for the brand, but focused on products that often had the greatest appeal, were innovative and unique, and did not have any need for a frame to connect all of them to one brand. In this logic, in 1967 Ringo and later in 1970 Togo were created. The latter is a cookie shaped like a little stick and covered in chocolate, whose name is short and easy to remember and reminds one of Africa, a continent rich with cocoa plantations, and also of the dialect of Piedmont in which the word “togo” has the meaning of “amazing”. Togo is a delightful and taste fulfilling cookie, it is fun and was destined to young people who love to be in a company.

The choice of the target of specialty products was maintained until Mario Pavesi gave up the control of the society to Montedison in 1972, the year from which the image of Pavesi started to loose its incisiveness. The new ownership formed the Alimont society, in which all of the food sector’s activities were concentrated. In 1974, following the cession of the control share packet to SME, the name of the society was changed to Alivar. Under this new management, the “Friends of the Morning” range of products was launched, and this choice marked an inversion of tendency with respect to the logic of unique products. Starting from 1990, with the acquisition of the company on the part of Barilla, Pavesi fine tuned a new strategy which took into account a landscape with few competitors, but of great substance (Mulino Bianco, Saiwa, Ferrero).

The Gran Pavesi crackers, Pavesini and Ringo cookies want to transmit the idea of goodness and lightness. The common denominator of all of these values on the level of communication is identified with the idea of vitality. This guiding principle is declined in a coherent way with the entire range of products, placing an accent from time to time on energy, lightness, tastefulness. The choice of a testimonial who is the same for all products and is used with the greatest flexibility and is able to express the image coherence of Pavesi followed the same guidelines, pointing on a sport’s personality able to incarnate the idea of vitality, and is young, popular and with a recognized charismatic personality and a nice family. Antonio Cabrini was selected, and he was not employed in his soccer uniform, but always featured as a common person surrounded by a real family: a “famous common person”, able to express normal scenes of lively daily life. This was a concept of vitality that is still today at the base of the advertising communication, though in different forms.

The Pavesi brand has represented our “recent memory” since it has deep roots in the most optimistic layer of the Italian modernization process, and it is almost a symbol of a society that leaves behind not only the sufferings of war, but also the burden of farm work. A material, joyful and optimistic concept of pleasure materializes, confiding in the prodigious abundance of means and in the satisfaction of desires. The Pavesi products seem like “toy products”, capable of catching the exuberant and playful spirit of the economic miracle with entertaining shapes and humorous and unique names. Among the various products that made the history of the brand, three names stand out for a precise and well rooted identity of consolidated notoriety: Pavesini, Gran Pavesi, and Ringo. We chose to concentrate our attention on these products in the conviction that they can reveal the strength and versatility of the Pavesi Brand.


Pavesini cookies seem to represent the fuel of the Italian acceleration. Born in 1948 as local specialties with the name of Biscottini (little cookies) of Novara, after only four years they became best known as Pavesini. Mario Pavesi had an intuition that this product could become a national specialty. It was sold in a packaging and at a price which was easy to memorize (100 Lire), in a market in which cookies where mostly sold loose. The advertising communication of Pavesini can be summarized in two well defined historical phases.

The first one went from the launch of the product to 1957, and saw children as the target of a product the lived in the area of diet and health foods and was characterized by a quality control policy that was extremely strict. While the reference target was obviously the mothers, the user’s target varied from the age of weaning to solid foods to adolescence, with a specific identification in the age of toddlers.

The second phase, which began in 1958, was a turning point and stands out for importance because the attitude of society towards nutrition witnessed a change. These were not times of economic hardship anymore, and food was not seen as a “qualitative fuel” of working people anymore. The Pavesini, strong in their positioning among diet and health foods, were proposed to a very wide public of active people of any age, who embraced the typical model of modern life. The advertising communication that was edited by Erberto Carboni in those years was likewise coherent with the new social climate. And indeed it is with the clock, symbol used in 1959, where an array of Pavesini takes the place of the numbers for the hours, that the propulsive soul of the products ignites.

The hands of the clock turning fast testify to the acceleration of time in the first era of modernization. Light, vertical, not at all regressive in form and content, with the sloganIt’s always time for Pavesini” they enter in circle in that common language that thanks to television is overcoming the regional barriers to become unified and homogenized also in advertisement slogans. In 1963 the relationship between Pavesini and Topo Gigio, the famous puppet that was born from the imagination of Maria Perego, and that would became acclaimed beyond the fame of the Carosello show in the imaginary collective of the Italians.

The success of this couple was incredible, so much that in 1966 a promotional prize game based on the collection of figurines with Topo Gigio became an unstoppable success. The main character of ten years of television communication, Topo Gigio revealed to be a multi-talented figure, and interpreted various roles in which he regularly created frustration in his partners in the scenes, with his sly “histrionic” behaviour. The Pavesini are proposed more and more as cookies for the new rhythm of life of the Italians who face an unforeseen social and geographical mobility. With slogans like “Keep yourself upbeat with Pavesini” and with advertising posters of Italy’s Boot covered up with Pavesini, the advertising communication continues in a crescendo of exuberance, that seems to relent a little only in the period of the “Anni di Piombo” (the years of lead), in which a more rational and fact base attitude is chosen.

The theme of vitality is reprised after 1978, when the Pavesini return in a passionate way with the image of two people running, a man and a woman, shown in slow motion, and accompanied by the slogan “He who loves burns”.  This theme, on television and in printed advertisement, was in line with the feelings of the new generations and remained until 1984, guaranteeing an extremely strong permanence of this product in the memory of consumers. In the 1990s the concept of “energy” evolved while meeting the ever changing taste of consumers, who by now were oriented towards light nutrition. The absence of added fat makes Pavesini a symbol of lightness, coherently underlined for over forty years of life.

This continuity led the brand to a reprise in 1995 of the slogan that had already been used successfully in the 1950s, “It’s always time for Pavesini” in humorous and playful tones. This idea of lightness was underlined by reprising the same clock ideated by Erberto Carboni thirty years earlier.


If the Pavesini represent the emblem of exuberance and the energetic side of the vitality theme of the brand, Gran Pavesi make up the light and subtle side of it more in a physical an organoleptic way than on a symbolic plane, more in material than in immaterial terms. In the period of Italy’s reconstruction, people began to look to the world overseas, beyond the Atlantic, where the U.S.A. became the trend model. After a journey overseas, Mario Pavesi came back to Italy with a winning idea: the crackers. Of the two predominant kinds on the American market, Pavesi chose the “soda cracker”  type, so called because of the use of baking soda that is added to the levitating ingredients.

The other kind was launched in Italy a few years later by Motta with the name of Premium,  and produced and distributed on a national scale with the Saiwa brand. The Pavesi crackers were among the first ones to be produced and distributed on the national scale, quickly becoming the second product in the company’s income earning. The bread on the tables of the Italians did not have the importance of one time and the printed advertising campaign for Gran Pavesi immediately underlined this aspect by representing the cracker  in different situations of use under the slogan “To the table! To the table!”

However, the theme of the table found an original and effective development in the saga of King Arthur, Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table, a fruit of the fervid imagination of Genoa author Marco Biassoni. For ten years, from 1965 to 1975, the inventions of this author resonated in the imaginary collective, transforming the fatidic poetic rhyming line that every one expected to hear “How come in eight are we not?” “Because we’re missing Lancelot!” in an exhilarating craze. The success of the Carosello television show was measured by the level of familiar recognition of the beginning lines of the spot and in the communication of Gran Pavesi the trumpet blowing in the beginning became an unmistakeable element.

The promise of lightness, together with the concept of being thin that was more suitable for the industrial society rather that the old farming world, responds to the healthy lifestyle preoccupations and runs with the theme of the product line. The advertisement for Gran Pavesi in 1965 proposed a seamstress classic yellow measuring tape rolled around the crackers to underline how the equation between lightness and being thin had imposed itself as a rule. In 1967, always thanks to Marco Biassoni, the iconic image that became the key of the campaign that was proposed was a slice of bread that magically transformed into a cracker, accompanied by the slogan “Like good light bread, very light”.  With this, the perception of healthy diet as a negative concept was dismantled, recomposing the image of pleasure and lightness. Still more effective is the slogan “Long live lightness, long live Gran Pavesi”, launched in 1970/1971 and accompanied by the extremely thin silhouette of a model, who thus became a true model for the masses.

This theme  held its strength for three years, at first being joined with the theme of freedom (see the slogans like “Freedom of Gran Pavesi”, “The way you want them, when and with whom you want”)  and then with the theme of friendship and sharing (“Share it with whoever you desire”). In 1985 an expressive campaign shows in the television message a flying seagull that transformed into a very thin cracker and then, turning, it broke to reveal a golden ear of wheat. In the 90s the theme of lightness became stronger with the idea of vitality, symbolized by the testimonial character Antonio Cabrini. The atmosphere is that of the ocean, of the colour blue, of open spaces, and this is coherent with the destination of the product being a snack away from meals. From 1997 the campaign goes back to the Gran Pavesi’s first born product, underlining its advantages, like the fragrant lightness.


The third great specialty product of the Pavesi range are Ringo cookies which are entrusted with the task to render the theme of vitality of the brand in an emotional and human dimension.  The innovative element is the shape with the bicolour disks with cream in the middle. Launched in 1967, Ringo cookies initially targeted teenagers. The communication makes leverage on two strong and contemporary elements. The first one is the name Ringo that is reminiscent of drummer Ringo Starr of The Beatles, a group that in those years was at the top of the Hit Parade of music and in the heart of boys and girls as well. The second one is the jingle of the spot, Winchester Cathedral, an extremely popular song among young people. Ringo became the cookie of the new generations, underlining its position by the newest campaign whose language was perfectly in line with the young people of the time. The taste and the delightful gluttony of the cookie remained for years the guiding factors of communication.

The long story of the Ringo Boys, with their amicable sporty and socializing manners, and the subsequent extension to Ringo People with their sportive and cavalier loyalty, testified to the character of aggregation and solidarity that was characteristic of the  aim towards vitality of the Pavesi brand. The same bicolour structure of the product can be read as a metaphor of the union between different people, inserting an aspect of natural ethics positioning rooted in the structure of the product.

“Natural ethics” becomes an element of success in communication through the 1990s, highlighting how the charge of vitality and its historical models transcend and at the same time strengthen the social and cultural contingent situation. The ideal of vitality intended as an overflowing of humanity is confirmed as a great source of inspiration for communication, always tuned to authentic needs of consumers.


Even though today Autogrill is owned by a society external to the Group, we cannot omit to dedicate a brief overview to its history. Autogrill stations were born in 1950 from an intuition of Mario Pavesi to give a restoration point to car travellers that stopped along the highways, to smoke a cigarette of to have a snack with the food they had brought from home. A simple idea that accompanied the development of the highways of our country, making it possible to open several different commercial activities, to spread the image of the Pavesi brand and to showcase all products, also the less known ones, without the presence of competitors.

The project phase of the various Autogrill rest areas, that reached the number of 90 restoration points in 1973, was followed by architect Angelo Bianchetti (1911-1994), a strong believer since the years before the war of advertising building structures. Of all of the types of buildings proposed by Bianchetti, the one that most remained in the minds of the Italian drivers certainly was the bridge structure that had an extremely strong impact on the environment: in the scarcely urbanized countryside of the 1960s, it raised like an oasis in a desert in the surrounding landscape. But most of all, they represented a reference point that could not be missed for the drivers, who, sometimes launching at high speed, had to decide whether to stop or not for a rest.

In conclusion, the Pavesi Autogrill rest areas, even though born from an intuition of commercial nature, represent an element that goes beyond this aspect and impacted in a significant manner the habits of the Italians, the architectural culture and the development of the nation.