A taste of la dolce vita: Will the Continental touch boost beer sales?

Beer brands are looking to their European heritage to inspire chic ad campaigns.

Azione!" director Gabriele Muccino cries. Effort-lessly elegant Italians wander across a bridge; some stop to look at market stalls. Others chat with friends or lovers. All are clad in Moschino: sharp suits, bowler hats, berets and heels. The camera follows a solemn girl with red lips, carrying a suitcase across the cobbled bridge, being chased by her lover.

The scene is from a five-minute short for cinema release that is part of the new advertising campaign for the Italian beer Peroni Nastro Azzurro. Entitled "Senza Tempo" ("Timeless"), it shows an Italian film director remembering lost love. The brand is seen on the side of the lorry and on a café awning, and is also evidently the drink of choice of the film's heroine – the references are subtle in comparison with the pack shot concluding many a brand advert.

Muccino, who directed Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, says he worked on the Fellini-inspired film because he enjoys the challenge of telling "a complete story" in limited time: "The style is sharper and denser" than working on a feature film.

Ian Cassie, creative director of the Bank advertising agency, which is behind the campaign, says the brand is not trying to compete with mass-market north European beers, which typically play on football and blokes having a laugh in a pub. Instead, it offers a stylish Italian dream (although in Italy the beer is more associated with sport, and sponsored the Italian World Cup squad).

Peroni Nastro Azzurro's positioning in the market as an "authentic Italian beer" means it is perfectly placed to remind people "of the style and glamour Italy has brought to the world," Cassie says. That love for Europe's glamorous side has long held appeal for UK consumers. "It started in the Sixties when Italy started to export style: Vespas, Italian suits – people really loving Italy," he says.

Cassie thinks the film, which stars Francesco Scianna and Gioia Marzocchi and was made by Muccino's team with help from up-and-coming British film talent, succeeds in "looking and sounding Italian".

Peroni Nastro Azzurro isn't the only beer offering a European dream. Stella Artois in part credits its French-dream-in-a-tin advertising strategy for that beer's 6.6 per cent surge in sales in the second quarter of 2009. In what was widely seen as an attempt to throw off the brand's "wife beater" soubriquet, advertising for the lower- alcohol Stella Artois 4% created by the Mother agency draws on Sixties French Riviera glamour. This summer's television campaign compares the unrushed attention to detail needed to pull the perfect glass of Stella to a French woman languidly applying make-up; it concludes with the strapline: "She is a thing of beauty."

Few will guess that Stella Artois is a Belgian brand marketing itself as French. While authentic provenance is often crucial to brands, a romanticised heritage is common in the crowded beer category and does not necessarily undermine success: "Indian" brand Cobra, for example, was founded in Fulham, west London. Kronenbourg 1664 last year returned to emphasise its French heritage with its campaign comparing the Eiffel Tower to the beer's Goût à la Française ("French-style taste"): "It's a bit more than an antenna; it's a bit more than a beer."

The European dream has lost none of its glamour for UK consumers over the decades – just as long as that image of Europe doesn't get confused with Brits abroad in Europe. San Miguel's advertising has historically drawn on its Spanish heritage, but while some British consumers associated the beer with stylish destinations such as Madrid and Barcelona, for others it was linked with the Costa del Sol. The Spanish passion evoked by the advertising was therefore intended to steer beer drinkers firmly towards a Spanish dream, rather than the less stylish images conjured by the Costas.

Selling beer isn't that much to do with the drink's taste, it seems. "Brahma [beer] plays on its Brazilian heritage; Sol and Corona both play [Mexican] sun and sea really well," says Cassie. "Peroni Nastro Azzurro is taking it further, reminding people what they love about Italy."