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The use of social networks in marketing: the Italian co-operative experience

Patrizia Battilani (Department of Economics, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy)
Giuliana Bertagnoni (Department of History and Culture, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 16 February 2015




The main aim of our study is to demonstrate that the Italian way to marketing included not only the “advertising artists” but also what can be labelled as the social network approach, which was mainly used by cooperative enterprises. Focussing on the case study of the Granarolo co-operative, the paper discusses the social network method of marketing as it emerged during the 1950s and 1960s in Italy.


The research draws on different types of primary sources, including co-operative business records, interviews, publications, newspaper articles and advertisements.


In the age of mass consumption, the Granarolo co-operative developed an original marketing strategy based on social networks. This strategy can be considered a kind of community brand based on shared values pre-existing to the brand itself and a kind of viral marketing put in place before the electronic revolution.

Research limitations/implications

The research focusses on the Granarolo case study. It can be extended to other co-operative enterprises. However, it is unknown whether the anticipation of viral marketing has also been used by private enterprises.

Practical implications

The marketing strategies analyzed in the paper could be a interesting solution for undertakings strictly connected and rooted in their local community or in their Web community.

Social implications

In today’s world of the Web, this physical constraint no longer exists, and the social method of marketing exceeds the regional and even the national level. In conclusion, this was an innovative method of marketing and advertising that came into being, ahead of its time, about a half a century before modern Web-based social networks were conceived, yet uses the same concepts, hence its extraordinary originality.


This study is the result of an original research which tries to highlight what we could label the Italian way to marketing. Taking into consideration the first two decades of the Granarolo history and focussing on the marketing strategy, our contribution seeks to examine how the social networks approach worked and in what it differs from today brand community and viral marketing.



The authors wish to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier draft of the paper and Marcello Mariani for useful suggestions.


Battilani, P. and Bertagnoni, G. (2015), "The use of social networks in marketing: the Italian co-operative experience", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 31-57.



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