Tax evaders have been labelled 'parasites' by the Italian Revenue Agency (Agenzia Della Entrate) in a bold advertising campaign that aims to raise awareness about Italy's tax evasion problem, and trigger a cultural shift in attitudes towards paying tax.
The campaign, by international advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, seeks to change Italy's long-held public perception that tax evaders are 'clever' by claiming that 'those who live at the expense of others damage everyone'. Complementing this message are advertisements that highlight the relationship between paying taxes and improved public services. Placements include two television commercials, two radio spots and advertisements in the main train stations, airports, and in newspapers and magazines.
Already, the Italian Revenue Agency has noticed a shift in taxpayer behaviour. Citizens are making the connection between their financial contribution and improved public services, and the consequences of tax evasion - particularly in tough financial times.
We asked Italian Revenue Agency spokesperson, Antonella Gorret, about the community response to the campaign so far.
Have there been any noticeable shifts in compliance behaviour or other indicators of the success of the campaign so far?
One of the main objectives of our campaign is to raise public awareness of the tax evasion problem. It's a cultural dilemma and we know that one of the best ways to advance the compliance behaviour of a significant number of taxpayers is through communication activities, in conjunction with other strategies.
It's a long term challenge. We have to change the image the Italian public has of the tax evader: no longer as clever and crafty, rather just a thief, nothing else. Public awareness does not change in a day, or in a month. The route toward a real change will take time. Already there seems to be a shift in the public perception of tax dodgers. For example, people are starting to ask for receipts. This is a clear sign that the mentality is changing. Citizens have got the message that unpaid tax translates to higher costs for those who do pay, and lower spending on services such as schools and hospitals.
What has been the response from the community and media?
The target for our campaign is Italian citizens, who we aim to reach through mass media and even social media. In particular, we are trying to send a strong message to younger generations, the future taxpayers.
We chose two different messages, working on two levels of consciousness. From one side we denounce the tax dodger as a thief, a parasite on society. From the other side, we remind all taxpayers that public services are essential for our society and that tax contributions are vital to guarantee them.
Community reactions have been different. Some people wrote letters, including letters to newspapers, to commend our project. Others think that this campaign is not enough to fight tax evasion. We agree that an advertising campaign is not enough to tackle such a problem, yet we are conscious that it can be a step towards changing people's minds and helping them to modify their compliance behaviour in the long term. We need a cultural revolution to achieve better fiscal behaviours and the advertising campaign is one of the tools we are using to do this.
The media response has been very positive. We've had national and local media coverage as well as international interest, including interviews with Financial Times, New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.
Is there anything else you think might be relevant or interesting to our audience?
The Italian Revenue Agency's plan for fighting tax evasion and fostering a culture shift in the long term includes talking to the younger generations about the importance of paying taxes. So, we have released a project called Fisco e Scuola (Tax and School) in order to make children aware of their role as future taxpayers and instil in them correct behaviours. There are two different kits, one for primary and one for secondary schools. The message is: those who respect their role have everything to gain.
Among other resources, the kits contain a DVD with main characters Pag and Tax, whose objective is to lead the children along the path of a fiscal and civic education. Pag and Tax offer a funny, informal and accessible way to explain issues concerning tax compliance and legality.