By on November 21, 2011

After an early downturn in sales, it appeared that Fiat might be distancing its 500 from the Jennifer Lopez-dominated image that hasn’t been panning out so well. With the debut of the 500 Abarth at the LA Auto Show, the ad shown above kept the sex-factor high, but focused far more on the male market. Perhaps sensing a shift in direction, Bloomberg asked Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne last week if the brand’s boss Laura Soave would be keeping her job despite the weak sales. Still undecided, Marchionne replied in the affirmative

For the time being.

That was last Wednesday. Over the weekend, something seems to have changed…

Last night, Ms Lopez beat back the perception that Fiat was trying to move on with its marketing, by featuring a Cinquecento Cabrio in her American Music Awards performance. We’ll let the performance speak for itself, but suffice it to say that Ms Lopez broke new ground in the commercialization of the AMAs, garnering considerable attention for both herself and Fiat… and it wasn’t all positive either. Criticism began when several music stars took to Twitter to call the product placement “shameless” among other things. Questlove of The Roots provided what may have been the most widespread reaction, tweeting

Yo. I know I didn’t just see that dumb Fiat. I KNOW I didn’t just see that friggin’ Fiat.

And of course the media piled on, saying the performance “destroyed whatever credibility she had left,” a “scene [that] could have been taken from the Detroit auto show,” “the most cringe-inducing, embarrassing performance of the night,” a “miscalculation,” and “a car ad crossed with a striptease.” Considering that Lopez’s 500 ads have already been fairly widely ridiculed, it’s safe to say that this was almost certainly the culmination of the Fiat/JLo collaboration.

And even if JLo isn’t booted from the Fiat 500 marketing effort, there will be changes. Bloomberg reports that

Chrysler Group LLC’s head of the Fiat brand in North America, Laura Soave, is leaving the company and being replaced by Tim Kuniskis, a marketing executive, a person familiar with the situation said.

Jalopnik reckons the firing has something to do with

unsubstantiated rumors for a couple months now from sources knowledgeable of internal Chrysler politics that she was being investigated for a possible improper relationship with Michael D’Antonio, the CEO of former Fiat ad agency Impatto Custom Marketing.

More likely: Fiat is abandoning the disastrous JLo-theme marketing, and initiating a clean reboot of Fiat’s entire ad and brand strategies. In any case, it’s certainly tough to argue that Soave has had any real success thus far. Now the question is: can Fiat take another shot at the market? Will the market give it another shot? Or will the 500 be forever associated with JLo and this abortive relaunch marketing effort?

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29 Comments on “Fiat 500 Marketing Watch: Re-Boot In The Works?...”

  • avatar

    Full confession…I truly dig the 500 and am seriously contemplating the Abarth. That said, I also don’t get myself hung up on which celebrity is hawking which car. My driving pleasure and ego are secure enough to handle it. If folks are that concerned with their image as it relates to a celebrity endorsement…well…
    I think FIAT is using the Abarth unveil (flawed as it was…a refusal to mention price, which is a HUGE omission, data streams less than seamless and bringing the little imp over with only 160 HP…really?) to reverse the image they first put out with the JLo ads. I want the 500 to be a success and have high hopes for the Abarth, but am concerned that they missed a golden opportunity to make it truly special and more than just “competitive” with cars like the Mini and the GTi. I guess price (please…please make it less than $22k) and performance will dictate just how much it sets itself apart from the other hot hatches. The newest ad surely will get a few more males to consider it, though! Too bad I was taught German and English…not Italian.

  • avatar

    I don’t know who OK’d the JLo ad campaign in the first place, but it was an incredibly stupid idea IMO. I don’t think many women can even stand her these days. Those ads made me not want to buy a 500. Not that I was going to buy one in the first place, but still, they were horrible ads. The Abarth sounds interesting, but I don’t need a 500 even if it has 500 horsepower. But I do hope they sell some more with the Abarth introduction.

  • avatar

    I’m with Threeer. I’l buy an abarth fiat in a heartbeat!

  • avatar

    This is why I married an Italian woman.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Don’t blame Jennifer, that thing fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. That’s why it isn’t selling.

  • avatar

    I don’t think Fiat could have handled the marketing and launch of the Fiat 500 and worse than they have. Most of my exposure to the car – like that to so many cars – was via Top Gear UK. It is one of the very few cars all three presenters (and probably the Stig as well) agree is not only an excellent car, but one of the best cars for the money, period…and the Abarth is only better.

    I feel like in Europe it’s not penned into the corner of being simply a chic accessory for women who aspire to be J-Lo, but a decent, practical, economical and fun car for anyone who cares to buy one.

    You know you’ve failed in properly marketing your product when people make comments like “I will not buy the Fiat 500 solely because of the J-Lo ads.” That commenter may be making a bad decision, but what choice do they have, when the Miller Lite commercial that airs right after the J-Lo ad mocks the one guy acting in an “unmanly” fashion?

  • avatar

    They are approaching 100 dealerships nationwide, and have applications for at least 30+ pending. A good number of these are stand alone studios. The marketing has gone from nonexistent to ineffective, and must be sorted out promptly. With Sergio changing the plans in regard to Alfa Romeo on an almost weekly basis, the Fiat-only studios are left to the mercy of a very inconsistent marketing plan. The Abarth will interest enthusiasts, but poor marketing has already soured the novelty of the 500 for the general public. The product deserves better. This should never have happened.

  • avatar

    ok, i know this website loves sensationalizing every article, but this is what i don’t understand… sure, sales are nowhere near what they predicted, but to say “After an early downturn in sales” seems to be off when every month sales are better than the previous?!

  • avatar

    FIAT apparently agrees sales suck, the head has rolled:

  • avatar

    As a Canadian, I’ve been getting Fiat ads a little longer then most here. Before the Lopez ads, Fiat was running simple ads that I’m guessing were just brought over from Europe. They were visually well done and conveyed the message “hey there’s a new car called a Fiat. Isn’t it cute?” pretty well.

    Then the J-lo ads. I have no idea how it played for the target market, but Jennifer Lopez and Fiat are about as far from ‘the streets’ as it is possible to be. So yeah, bad ad campaign. Not that this matters very much; Mini ran an atrocious campaign, but they still got a foothold.

    I think that ads, good or bad, have little impact next to the fact that Fiat is trying to launch itself in the worst economic depression since, well, the Great Depression. Next to that fact, it didn’t matter if the car was endorsed by 60s era Sophia Loren in commercials done by the 60s VW people; it was not going to fly. In bad economic times, people become risk averse; so, they are going to buy that Hyundai with the astonishing warranty, not the flash new Italian economy car that represents a lot of unknowns. Assuming you were an American lucky enough to be able to afford new. Until the US economy turns around, Fiat might as well get used to low sales.

  • avatar

    Gotta say that the fiesty stiletto-wearing glamazon ad is FAAAR better than the completely lame JLo drivel they launched the 500 with.

    Even though the Abarth is a better fit for that spicy ad, they really blew it with JLo…the base 500 itself is heavy on the small/cute/trendy scale right out of the box, so they have the chicks/gays/urban hipsters half-sold on it already, adding the “Jenny from the Block” crap on top was almost parody.

    As the Abath ad does, they should highlight a some Italian/European flavor in the (base) 500 ads PRONTO.

  • avatar

    The JLO add tells you nothing about the car, that was the problem #1 it. How much does it cost? What’s the gas mileage? Problem #2 – JLO has been played out for like 5 years now. No one gives a shit about her anymore.

    Also, do we have sales numbers broken up by region for the 500? I know it’s anecdotal but I seem them all over Chicago (city proper, at least)

  • avatar

    No marketing can fix that which afflicts the microcar market in the U.S.: people don’t want microcars at $3.00 per gallon. Exhibits: smart ForTwo, Fiat Cincuecento. I predict the iMiEV will also fail miserably.

    The closest thing to a microcar is the MINI, which first, is not a genuine microcar, second, everyone knows is a sort of pre-1-series Bimmer (sporty, German, etc), and third, it’s been marketed not as a microcar but as a lifestyle/sporty/upscale-youngster choice.

    Now, could Daimler or Fiat market their microcar wares as sporty? Nope, the foundations just aren’t there. Therefore such microcars are destined to life-support in the U.S. market.

  • avatar

    New cars are selling, but not the 500.
    There is a reason and it is not the fault of the customers.

  • avatar

    I car so little which celebrity gets paid money to tell me what I should buy. Thank you DVR so I can commercial skip. At least they don’t advertise as much as Gecko insurance.

  • avatar

    That has to be the creepiest car ad that I can remember, and I can’t believe that it’s going to translate into sales. How does a wimpy guy being dominated by a hot woman represent a positive car ownership experience?

    • 0 avatar

      I suppose that it appeals to some women in the audience. Women are an important part of the 500’s target market. While it’s acceptable, de rigueur actually in many ad agencies apparently, to make men look stupid and incompetent in commercials, you will rarely if ever see women shown in the same manner.

    • 0 avatar

      Get into a nice weekend of being dominated by a hot woman, and you’ll understand. Assuming you’re capable of the situation. And yeah, it’s like driving a really neat, hot car.

    • 0 avatar

      > How does a wimpy guy being dominated by a hot woman represent a positive car ownership experience?

      Hell, getting dominated by a smoking hot woman like that will turn a 6’2 245 guy like me into a wimp…and I’ll enjoy every minute of it…;)

    • 0 avatar

      > How does a wimpy guy being dominated by a hot woman represent a positive car ownership experience?

      Hell, getting dominated by a smoking hot woman like that will turn a 6’2 245lb guy like me into a wimp…and I’ll enjoy every minute of it…;)

  • avatar

    If they want to start marketing the car effectively, they should abandon the stupid idea of stand alone Fiat dealers and let Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealers carry the car as long as they invest in training, parts and signage.

    MINI could do it because each one of their standalone dealers was already owned by a thriving BMW dealership. Also, right off the bat the MINI was available in standard MINI, performance Cooper and high performance Cooper S and John Cooper Works versions. Since then, they’ve added to the MINI product line.

    The Fiat 500 is just a single model right now (look at how much interest there is in the Abarth which should have been offered, just like the MINI Cooper S, from the get go), not enough to sustain a dealership for two years while Fiat gets their North American plans in order.

    Speaking of North America, I wonder how the Fiat 500 is doing in Mexico, where it’s built, and in Canada.

  • avatar

    Man… I can’t wait to have sex with that car…

  • avatar

    Initially, I loved this commercial. After all, what guy wouldn’t find appealing an invitation from a hot Italian supermodel to lick cream off her chest?

    But, at least subliminally, however, doesn’t this send the wrong message about Fiat’s reliability (which to most Americans, is highly questionable at best)? Is there anything more high maintanance than a hot Italian supermodel (other than a hot Italian supermodel with a bad coke habit)?

  • avatar

    I dig the “glamazon” ad, big time. But I dig the Carlo Abarth under the scorpion ad more. That one takes me from “like” the Abarth to “need” the Abarth.

  • avatar

    I am considering getting the car AND an abarth scorpion tattoo.

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