What were they thinking? Fiat and JLo?

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.

4 comments

  1. I just recently saw the JLo Fiat ad and was puzzled. I didn’t know what was going on. I saw JLo driving a Fiat 500 and alot of people dancing and singing and music. I thought maybe it was a JLo music video and the 500 was co-starring.

    I think someone like Gwyneth Paltrow or Sandra Bullock would have been a better fit.

  2. Hi Julie,

    Saw your post and had a couple of thoughts. I have been wondering what ‘they’ thinking in selling these 500 ad concepts in to Marchionne, and am surprised that he went for them.

    At first viewing of the launch spot in the drive-in I became absolutely puzzled as to why in the world they would use a drive-in scene, and Elvis/Jail House Rock, to make a nostalgic connection for a relatively unknown foreign product that he had no obvious connection to. I would think if nostalgic celebrity really was necessary, that making an on-the-screen connection with another Italian icon of the day, like Sophia Loren, or Gina Lollabrigida, would not only make more sense, but better position the vehicle. Italian actresses with Hollywood style that may have actually driven one of the original 500’s at some point, ‘incognito’ in large dark sunglasses and a scarf are, at once, both mysterious and iconic! When I think of Elvis and cars, its a big finned Caddy, not an little import. Who is the target, the sixty-five year old women that once dreamed of tossing their nickers on stage at Elvis back in the day? I don’t believe so. I’m thinking that the likely buyer will end up being a 50/55 year old woman remembers Fiat and wants to indulge herself with something stylish. A car that makes her ‘feel’ like a young and sophisticated Sophia…now that the kids are off to college, and she’s finally rid of the Dodge (or Honda, or Toyota) minivan. So she can recapture her youth, her style, and her independence. I believe that it is she, and perhaps the Metrosexual crowd looking for a New Mini, that will gravitate to the vehicle – along with a few young girls that are lucky enough for their parents to make it their first car.

    I love the persona that J-Lo has created. She is stunning, and already what might be considered a classic, of sorts, at a young age if she can stay level-headed. But it’s not the the Jenny on the Block fan that is going to buy this vehicle either. She completely overpowers both the vehicle and the brand. And the spot is so overproduced that the car is lost. I know that this is dramatic, but I actually nearly felt compelled to write Sergio an apology on behalf of the American ad industry for blowing so much of his precious budget, and misdirecting the brand, as I feel it was with both of these executions.

    As for your take on the use of celebrities, I agree that they are generally a last resort for a tired or failing brand. And in my humble opinion, that was where the new Chrysler was pointed, image-wise, before they updated product and launched the Eminem campaign. The Made in Detroit tagline was “genius” as you say, but without having that line attached to Eminem and his Lose Yourself track, the line itself would have been an over promise and a possibly fail. Together, they are brilliant! Chrysler are so incredibly fortunate that Eminem was staging a comeback as both a man and an artist, at the same time that the brand was trying to rise from the ashes. And that he was actually willing to support the company. And as nice a car as the Chrysler 200 appears to be, without Eminem and the incentives, they would likely have sold half of what they have thus far. Now they’re stretching the campaign across the brand, but they’ll have but a limited opportunity to ‘milk it’ much further. I managed Buick advertising business when Tiger Woods was signed on as a Buick golfer, before his phenomenal success, and before Buick became the ‘Tiger Woods’ division of GM. Without him, the brand would not be here today. Tiger’s celebrity held that brand together for more than a decade, until the product finally came.

    Having managed car advertising for a few years in Europe, the Italians live, breathe and design with style and performance at the heart of everything that they do. In the case of the 500, the positioning needs to be style, fun design and economy. There is no nostalgia or pent-up demand for Fiat or the 500, as there was for the Beetle, Camaro, or Challenger.

    It’s a cute little car, and won’t ‘clean out your pocketbook’ like a New Mini.

    A lot of pure opinion and speculation on my part, but glad to see that there was another qualified opinion on the subject. The early trade pubs seemed enamored with the campaign, and I found that troubling.

  3. What were they thinking? I think Fiat want to appeal to a new audience, not necessarily JLo’s fans but perhaps a generation that isn’t as familiar with the Fiat brand.

    You also have to ask what was JLo thinking of doing the advert? Obviously the drive here was money, Fiat must have paid her hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    It does seem a bizarre pair up but I suppose Fiats end of year sales figures will tell you if it has worked.

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