Given Fiat's minimal presence in North America over the last decade or three, there's a strong case to be made for reintroducing the brand with pomp and pageantry. You know, with a look back at the automaker's European lineage, a photo overview of its cool double-wheelie models and a sober acknowledgement of the changes made since its disastermobiles vexed owner and mechanic alike back in the 1980s. There is an information gap to be filled and plenty of information with which to fill it.
Alternately, you could hire a hip commercial factory to position the brand as a must-have accessory for urbanites with strong bone structure and a subscription to Minimalist Aesthete magazine. Guess which path Fiat took?
The Fiat 500, the company's first North American offering in around 30 years, may well prove to be a wonderful car. But if there's a way to reintroduce a brand that left the country with its tailpipe between its legs, it's not with a quick-cut video that's all surface and shimmer. Instead of a loving tribute to the victims of The Great Fiat Muffler Apocalypse of '82, Fiat goes for "the 500 is every bit the urban tchotchke that an iPhone is and your life will be empty and ugly without it." The video asks us to accept the new positioning -- like Apple, but with carburetors -- sans question or caveat.
The strategy makes about as much sense as the execution. In the video, set to the strains of a clubby take on a Vivaldi melody, shots of a Fiat production plant are intercut with shots of four fine young urbanites as they get ready for work, a date or a commercial shoot. The cars have tires and head lamps; the people have shoes and watches. The plant has machines with giant swooping robotic jaws; the would-be driver has... meticulously trimmed stubble and headphones with Frisbee-sized ear cups?
The message appears to be something like, "you are Fiat and Fiat is you." Thus Fiat plays a Stratocaster and wears freshly ironed blouses. Fiat has gilded bathroom fixtures that make Kohler products look like rusty faucets on the side of a barn. Fiat is your friend, and has big plans to teach you to juggle and take you to a secret beer garden on the outskirts of town.
I viewed this clip on its own and thus have no clue what else the company will be doing to promote the Fiat 500 (for which, it should be noted, early reviews are glowing). Maybe the rest of the marketing campaign will place this clip in its proper context, supplementing it with the information that any (understandably) skeptical customer might want. Maybe, at some point in the indeterminate future, Fiat will show us the darn car, show us what it looks like in motion, and show us what it looks like in a state of garage-y repose.But as it stands now, the video does little beyond attempt to brand Fiat as THE ride for urban trend monkeys, and fails comically to that end. The lesson, as always: Don't overthink this stuff.