Taking a page from its current TV advertising “Drive-in,” Fiat kicks off the first of its multi-city outdoor cinema showings this weekend.
The Italian auto brand, being reintroduced into the U.S. market by Chrysler, is taking over New York's Times Square Aug. 13 and 14 for an all-afternoon promotion that culminates in a double feature that viewers can watch while sitting in 36 2012 Fiat 500 and 500 Cabrio models.
Events, rather than mass media, are central to the relaunch of Fiat in the U.S. after an absence of a quarter century. In bringing Europe’s popular "Cinquecento" to the States, Fiat chose Southfield, Mich., Impatto as its marketing partner, an experiential agency that Laura Soave, head of Fiat brand North America, had worked with on the Lincoln marque while at Ford. Getting consumers up close to a Fiat is critical to a brand that earned a bad reputation for quality to Americans in the 1970s and '80s.
“It’s very important for any new brand to get its name out there and the best way to do that is at a grassroots level. Americans have a lot of misperceptions about small cars, thinking they’re cheaply made; they don’t have enough space; they don’t have a lot of features,” Soave told Adweek. “The best way to show people is to 'show people.' They’re surprised to find there’s a lot of space and to see the quality of finishes like leather and all the other content in the vehicle.”
Beginning at 2 p.m. in Times Square, Fiat will serve espresso and gelato, host rounds of bocce ball and play music from local DJs and bands amid cars on display. At dusk, the carmaker is showing remakes of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer’s Night Dream on the Jumbotron, an allusion to the 500’s updated design of the classic car first introduced in 1957. Fiat will expand the scale of the event as it moves to other cities: Chicago, Aug. 19-21; Miami, Aug. 26-28; and Los Angeles, Sept. 3-5.
The summer film offerings follow earlier Fiat event promotions. In March at South by Southwest, Fiat partnered with the Fader Fort installation, where participants were given Fiat 500 car parts with which they could make music. Last December at Art Basel in Miami, Fiat invited artists to use the 500 as inspiration for work: Some mounted car parts to frames and others used the vehicle as a canvas. Fiat has also dispatched 500 teams to major U.S. cities to attract attention to the car and show off its features.
U.S. availability of the Fiat 500, with a starting price of $15,500, has been delayed as it took longer than expected for franchise holders to get necessary government permits. Rather than sell through existing Chrysler showrooms, Fiat has set up separate “studios,” which now number 99. (The plan is to have 130 by the end of the year.) Soave said the Fiat 500 has been available in the U.S. since March and has sold about 8,000 cars so far; in July, Fiat sold 3,038 vehicles, an increase of 68 percent from the previous month.
She downplays the notion of the 500 as targeting a particular consumer, describing the model as an option for the creative class.
“The car is a more of a lifestyle choice than an age or demographic,” she explained. “We have a lot of very young buyers; a lot of buyers over the age of 60. It’s a very design-driven choice by people who appreciate culture and like the simplicity and uniqueness of Italian design.”