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Fiat: New brand, blank slate

The Italian car brand Fiat, which now controls Chrysler, is selling cars in the U.S. for the first time since the 1980s. Re-introducing Fiat to Americans a huge advertising challenge.

One of the best books about advertising is “Where the Suckers Moon: The Life and Death of an Advertising Campaign,” which looks at a campaign in the early 1990s to aggressively grow Subaru sales in the United States. The book is a joy to read, mostly because the advertising it describes is outsized in ambition, and a complete flop. You can learn a lot reading about failure. Can Fiat actually succeed where Subaru (for many years) failed?

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The first Fiat model to hit the U.S. is the 500 model, familiar here mostly to American tourists who’ve seen it zipping around the narrow streets of European cities. Recently I’ve started seeing the 500 cruising the streets in New York—including the convertible version, the 500c. Looks like a neat little car, right?

The Fiat has a mod, 1960s vibe. It’s an economy car, so gas prices, blah blah blah. In other words, it’s a perfect city car: Fashionable and practical, like a pair of cool sneakers. Assuming its reasonably safe and well-built, it’s also probably a good choice for young drivers.

Or so I thought, until I watched first TV commercial. The new ad campaign pitches the Fiat with the ho-hum tagline “Simply more.” It’s also a huge nostalgia trip. Watch this new TV spot:

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Wait a second. Is the Fiat actually a car for old people?

I don’t think this ad is horrible—it’s just unsatisfying. If this car is really “revolutionary in design,” why does it look like the same model of the same car from 50 years ago? Why use only the opening chords of “Jailhouse Rock” and not the entire song? (A rights clearance issue? Anybody know?) How many of the people curious about this new and spry vehicle are also nostalgic for drive-in movies? Why go with 1950s Americana nostalgia when 1960s Italian nostalgia would be so much sexier, and true to the brand?

I found few answers in the description paragraph that appears below this video on YouTube. It’s conceptual advertising-speak, so it’s thick with pleasant-sounding phrases that don’t mean much…

“Simply More” defines the FIAT 500 as everything you need and nothing you don’t. It represents the notion that the simple things in life are treasures, alongside the thought that the richness and fullness of a life well-lived is defined by one’s view of self expression. The commercial features “Jailhouse Rock,” made famous by Elvis Presley in 1957, the same year FIAT debuted the original 500 to the world.

There’s also a print component, which will feature these taglines:

  • Form & Function meet. And begin a torrid affair
  • Bigger isn’t better. It’s just harder to park.
  • Life’s newest simple pleasure.
  • 139.6 inches. Every one tells a story.
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, it’s a 500.

Fine, but not memorable. So far, the company’s best advertising is a cool-looking car rolling around on the streets with their badge on it. People will like the look of this vehicle. The advertising just has to not damage that.

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Read more about this campaign via a press release, Adweek and Ad Age.

Who created this ad?

Ad agency Impatto, Southfield, Mich.

Who signed off on it?

Laura Soave, Head of FIAT Brand North America

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising

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