Peter York On Ads: It's not smart and it's not clever - but I'm buying it

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Any fool knows the Italians are Top. Top for designer-y fashion (even more top than our lovely boys and girls if you do the sums, I'm afraid). And top for food in the sense that Italian is the default food choice for anyone from mud huts to igloos now (sadly even more top than Modern British nose-to-tail eating). And they're top for modern furniture design too, despite Linda Barker and her tremendous energy.

The idea of Italianness is very attractive. The Hotel Splendido in Portofino. A touch of culture - the Venice Biennale (stay at the Danieli, lunch at the Cipriani). Tuscany, with some rural opera from Mr Pollock. There's a little bit of hand-me-down Harold Acton in all of us. And Milan - the nicest cotton socks in the world, in every colour. Fashion week. Villas washed ochre or dusty pink. It's just unbeatable.

Some people actually want to be Italian. To get some fashion sense. To get a better tan. (Princess Pignatelli's beauty book advised women never to wax but to pluck off every hair with tweezers - worth it for the result apparently.)

They've got the French licked on the whole international savoir-faire, savoir-vivre front. Italy's a completely wonderful national brand - everyone thinks they know what it means - and it means nice things you can buy. They couldn't have more commercial serendipity if they tried.

But try telling that to thoughtful, educated Italians. That's not enough for them. They've got Berlusconi hanging over them, unrepentant, only just out. And poor Mr Prodi, only just in. And the Berlusconi media regime still very firmly in place. And their children, so they'll tell you, are going to hell in a hand-basket. All Italian traditions lost in a haze of Euro-bongo hip-hop madness. Dumbed down, vulgarised and hopeless. And still not leaving home, the dependent little tykes!

And Italian industry which depended for so long on a clever network of little family firms - unquoted, unCityised, mainly innocent of management-speak MBA rubbish, just forging ahead making what people wanted almost instinctively - now seems to be struck down by every commercial plague going. They're over-borrowed or hollowed out as the work goes to China.

The great idea that Italian business was responsive because it was small seems to be going out of the window. They've gone off small but they haven't got much that's really big. You can't run a whole country, Prada.

And the culture - that's in a bad way too. The universities are falling apart, like the great Italian tradition of Marxist criticism. Can you get those 30-year-olds to do it now? They all want to be hedge-fund dealers, live in London and meet blondes in South Ken.

But we're not fussed, are we? So long as every restaurant in Britain with any pretensions to anything is offering penne with pesto and pinenuts. So long as practically every woman breathing believes pasta has half the calories of cream buns and is good for her skin, Italy is home free in the global market.

So the Saclà commercial, selling its brand of Italian stuff in jars - principally pesto - is pushing at an open door. (You can't really have them making pesto on an outsourced basis in China, and then sticking an Italian name on it, Ciro Citterio style.)

The whole thing is wildly Italian. It's difficult to imagine any British agency making this commercial - they'd so want to guss it up, give it an edge, get some sharp clothing or a hip hotel somewhere in the frame, a bit of landscape or some funny mafia-types. But no, it's just an artistic type throwing bright paint at the end wall of a terrace in a nice old town, splashing away with the primaries (Italian primaries) until the whole thing resolves itself into a 1940-ish still-life featuring bottles and jars of Saclà specialities.

Meanwhile, an Italian 1960s-sounding crooner is singing his heart out with something that sounds vaguely like cha-cha-cha. They're decorating the village square with one of those advertising murals that lasts forever, a bit like a Victorian enamel sign.

Now, as it happens, pesto isn't the very latest thing in the life of deep foodies. In fact they've probably forgotten all about it in their pursuit of interesting Eskimo embryos and Iraqi terrines. But, in the everyday world of tasty suppers, it's on a roll. People love it. (Foodies give up on things when you can get them in Asda.) But for me, who buys this stuff in lorry-loads and spreads it thick on everything now, the absolute simplicity of the Saclà commercial hits the I-spot.