Foxy Knoxy and Italy’s national brand

Amanda Knox’s homecoming was the lead item on yesterday’s BBC Today programme.  Further down the agenda came the news that Italy’s credit rating had been downgraded for the second time in two weeks.

No one would seriously suggest there’s a direct connection between the two stories.  I don’t imagine Moody’s took Knox’s acquittal – after a four-year campaign of outlandish slurs and innuendo – as a signal to knock three points off the country’s credit score.

But I do wonder how much the Knox case has impacted Italy’s national brand: a brand hardly burnished by Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga premiership.

The conduct of the trial – which can fairly be described as a witch-hunt – does not inspire confidence in the Italian state.  Salacious allegations about satanic rituals aside, the real scandal was the ineptness of the forensic team and a lead prosecutor with a criminal record for ‘abuse of office’.

Worse, once the media fire has burned itself out, the family of Meredith Kercher will still be looking for justice.  While Foxy Knoxy can now begin to rebuild her life, the Kerchers are back to square one.  And everyone is left wondering what kind of country Italy is.

It’s not fair, of course.  Italy remains one of the world’s economic powerhouses: a leader in design, technology and innovation that punches way above its weight.  But that’s how brands work: give people cause to doubt one aspect of your offer and you bring the whole brand into question. It’s a faith thing.

Credit is another belief-based system.  Yes, the numbers matter – but, when it comes to trust, people are led by their hearts rather than their heads.

As the debt crisis gathers momentum, Italy needs to convince the markets it remains a good bet.  It won’t be helped in this task by a sorry tale of incompetence that has brought the state’s governance and good faith into question.

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