Fiat has utterly botched the intro of its quirky but very drivable 500 -- sales are under 50% of plan -- and it's about to fire people and hold a huge group-grope agency review to come up with a new strategy. I have a simpler solution, which I hereby offer up for free: copy VW's Beetle and BMW’s Mini Cooper American launches.
After all, this is car marketing, not rocket science. The Fiat 500 is a weird little vehicle that resembles the Smart Car but looks, feels, and drives like something more than a bucket seat perched on a lawnmower. It should be the perfect car for our cost-conscious moment, not to mention a great inoculation against the inevitable next hike in gas prices.
So what does Fiat do? It hires some boutique agency that doesn’t really do anything other than provide strategic counsel, and ends up with some unmemorable Internet video featuring Jennifer Lopez (Jennifer Lopez?) and, well, nothing. The fact that Fiat has sold so many cars in spite of this bold act of brand suicide is a testament to the vehicle’s potential.
What’s even more pitiful is that the book on selling quirky little cars in the U.S. already exists. VW and DDBO wrote the first draft of it in the late 1950s with their Beetle advertising, which played up the explicit attributes of the teeny-weeny Bug and made what could be perceived shortcomings into positioning strengths. They found a ready consumer target group -- anti-establishment, independent types, of which there were more than a few so self-styled in the 1960s -- and sold the hell out of the cars.
The late Jack Pitney wrote the sequel with BMW’s Mini Cooper launch in 2002, again playing to the quirky qualities of the car through deft use of billboards, direct mail and, oh yea, some curious Internet video (i.e. he built a marketing plan). First year sales topped target by a third and the car remains competitive and loved by its owners.
In both instances, the prevailing consumer tastes were for clunky, gas-guzzling landboats, so the key was to communicate how these little cars were different and uniquely so. They pretty much possess personalities when they roll off the production line; they have attitude by default, as did the designers and execs who had the audacity to bring them to market. Marketing need simply capture these qualities and bring them to consumers.
A Jennifer Lopez video? You’ve got to be kidding me.
The Fiat 500 should be on the purchase list of every college-bound freshman...twentysomethings who have to publicly park their cars in downtown areas...liberal families who want to make a statement with their second, or third, cards...
So my advice to CMO Olivier Francois, who just recently woke up to the fact that nobody was trying to sell these vehicles, is simple: skip all the agency review nonsense. You don’t some big new creative idea, or glorious social strategy.
Just sell the damn cars.