How Fiat is making car ads more colorful by putting its brand first, product second
We catch up with the team at Leo Burnett Italia for all the behind-the-scenes details from the ad that’s got everyone talking.
Last week, Italian car brand Fiat proudly told the world it would no longer make boring gray cars, getting many of us excited by its daring declaration. But what surprised people most was the brilliantly colorful short film that accompanied the announcement. Featuring none other than the car manufacturer’s very own chief executive officer, the film shows Olivier Francois being lowered into a vat of orange paint while sitting inside one of its new 600e cars. As it transpires, Francois was in on it from the very start.
“At the very beginning, Olivier said he had this idea to stop making gray cars, but said that if we didn’t come up with something amazing he would never do it,” explains Francesco Martini, executive creative director at Fiat agency Leo Burnett Italia. “He said to us: ‘I will never stop making gray cars if I can’t communicate it in a way that’s really bold and strong enough to convey the news.’ It was quite demanding from him.”
With the pressure on, the year-long process of making the ad began. At first, the team struggled to hit the brief, admitting they were too focused on making a commercial. After pitching some ideas to Francois, everyone felt something was missing – it had to be more PR-focused and completely different from a normal car ad.
The premise was so bold and potentially majorly costly (look around, gray cars are everywhere), that the creative team had a massive job on its hands. How could they turn this distinctive brand position into a memorable campaign?
“Fiat is the automotive Italian brand – everybody knows that,” says head of strategy Alessandro Mese. “When you think of Italy, you don’t think of the color gray, you think of colorful houses and blue skies, so we thought we could leverage that.” And with this observation as its entire strategy and no other research conducted, it was now all about how to convey that insight cleverly.
Eventually, the plan became clear; they needed to bring the essence of Italy to the rest of the world. “It’s la dolce vita for all, making life a pleasure every day,” says Martini. “The issue was to link this position to the idea for the ad. On one side it’s a stunt and on the other side it is a brand manifesto.” As he puts it, it’s the first time that Fiat has put the brand’s voice first and its product second.
He continues: “It was a bold idea, even in terms of production. We weren’t sure if the client would do it because it was also very expensive, more expensive than commercials for classic car launches. It looked like a Hollywood set.”
The whole production was completely real. When you see Francois being lowered into a mammoth bucket of paint, he was really in the car. In fact, he was the one pushing to be in it rather than using CGI. Martini says the exec told them he wanted it to be credible.
“It was a long process to make everything safe,” explains the creative, noting that it took weeks to get the go-ahead. “For example, the crane was built to take not just one car but 10.”
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The leap of faith won over the advertising and marketing industry. When the ad dropped toward the end of last week, many people online praised it for shaking up the automotive category, which had become slightly stale. Not only that, but the spot also served as a commercial for Italy itself. According to System 1 research, 45%+ of respondents spontaneously recall ‘color’ or ‘Italy’ after viewing the ad, while 90% of viewers recalled the brand correctly after their first viewing. At the time of writing, the spot has had over 4m views on YouTube alone.
Martini shares that he has worked on a lot of automotive accounts throughout his career and is very aware that, too often, everything looks the same. “But I think that, at this moment, Fiat is in a different position from all other car brands. It wants to talk about people’s real lives, it’s a promise of joy and it wants to communicate it in every single piece of work. We want to be a bit more realistic, linked to people in real life, and to not make generic communications any more.”