I am an avid football fan and have to admit that I get excited to see what the marketers will put up during that first week of the NFL games – they are usually pretty good. Also, you may know that I was once the head of marketing communications at Chrysler (then DaimlerChrysler) so I have a soft spot for those guys. But as I was watching the games this past weekend and heard Jennifer Lopez (JLo) start singing, only to pop out the top of a Fiat 500 I was really puzzled. I knew I was not alone when I received a text message almost instantly, from my husband (I was traveling) who was asking the same thing – “What was that?”
Let’s start with the facts. Fiat, the new Italian owner of Chrysler, has recently launched the Fiat 500: A sub-compact and admittedly pretty cute car. There were many concerns about Fiat’s re-entry into the US market given its former failed attempts (Remember that Fiat once stood for “Fix It Again Tony”). But so far, it seems to have generated some positive appeal amongst those I speak to despite the paltry 14,000 followers on Twitter (@fiatusa). Their initial ad showed a couple driving into a drive-in which was filmed in black and white except for the Fiat.
It had a nice mix of nastalgia and modernity even if you saw the car for only a short time. It has had a decent viral push as well.
And then, last weekend, the JLo ad…ugh…
My initial thought was “Why would they use JLo and completely overshadow their own brand value when they seem to be off to such a promising start?” I mean she is not Italian, so no connection there. Yes, she is launching her branded everything..clothes line, perfume, TV shows, etc. and is certainly a fashion icon, which might fit with Fiat’s positioning but she completely overwhelms the brand, especially in this spot. I have been checking out the online reviews. They are mixed. CarConnection says that Chrysler is on a roll because they have gotten such big names to appear in their ads. My take, when you resort to celebrities, babies, and puppies, you are usually in trouble. Then, Jalopnik reported that the comments from Monday Night Football’s game was running about 2:1 against the ad. Brand tension is a good thing, not everyone can love you, but you certainly want the ratio to be in your favor.
According to Edmund’s Inside Line, “Fiat’s deal with Lopez is just the latest in a long string of partnerships between automakers and artists. Lotus recently enlisted rapper Swizz Beatz to help it sharpen its image. Chrysler also used rapper Eminem to great advantage earlier this year during his appearance in its Super Bowl commercial. That commercial has now been viewed nearly 13 million times on YouTube.” Ahhh…they think that if they get stars for Fiat it will have the same affect as the Eminem ad had on Chrysler. But here is why that isn’t going to work.
First, Eminem was chosen to support an entire brand, the Chrysler brand, that had nowhere to go but up. Chrysler, prior to this years Super Bowl, had arisen from the bankruptcy ashes anew and with promise but was still floundering in terms of where and how to position its namesake brand, Chrysler. The tagline of “Imported from Detroit” is in my opinion genius, and Eminem was a fantastic way to get the emotional point across that transcended a vehicle alone. The continued use of superstars, athletes and fashion icons in its follow up campaign has been merely ok as the concept remains strong but the vehicles are taking more and more of a backseat to the stories of the celebrities themselves. But the fact that they remain true to success stories from Detroit at least makes the campaign continue to have meaning and for the positioning itself to create a unique space for Chrysler – somewhere between gritty steelworker and humble star.
Secondly, Jennifer Lopez is launching her own series of brands. She likely will have more or as much media as Fiat will and it will be all about her. That makes the 500 a prop. And unlike the Chrysler brand that was struggling for an identity, Fiat seems to have foregone creating one and instead is simply trying to borrow one, but not well and not nearly as authentically.
This is the conundrum that success can breed but I think that Fiat should have known better. The formula that seems to be working for the Chrysler brand is not necessarily a formula that works for any brand, any time, any where. The Fiat brand has to be careful not to come across as too superficial and has to worry that in this very early, very fragile time in its re-emergence into the US that it does not minimize its own value in favor of another.