One of the more interesting collaborations at New York's Fashion Week tweaks the fact that it's the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week: a red-and-green-stripped Gucci version of the Fiat 500.
According to Fiat USA, "The exclusive FIAT 500 by Gucci limited-edition models represent the perfect combination of craftsmanship and style, and bring together two of Italy's most respected brands. These special editions of the FIAT 500 and 500 Cabrio have been customized by Gucci Creative Director Frida Giannini in partnership with FIAT Centro Stile."
But read the fine print on the web teaser: "European version shown. North American model available in limited quantities late 2011." See, the Gucci-wrapped 500 actually debuted at Milan Fashion Week earlier this year. Yes, you've got to give Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne credit for having ... boldness.
Besides the Fiat x Gucci promo, the brand's first TV campaign for the new Fiat 500 in the U.S. market declare the car a new cultural "icon" before the brand and its network of Chrysler dealers have sold any more than a few thousand of the tiny vehicle.
But being brash and taking chances so far have defined Fiat's re-approach to the U.S. market — and have produced some results. Who would have thought that an Italian car maker, shamed by its quality woes out of the U.S. market nearly 30 years ago, could have wound up owning the carcass of a venerable but struggling American car company, Chrysler, and not only help it to survive ... but actually bring it to the brink of long-term success again?
Fiat's spritely new 500 is meant to invoke the heritage of the original 500 model that was sold in the United States a half-century ago. Plus it's got to compete with a handful of models that beat Fiat to today's small but growing mini-car market in America, including Mini with its Mini Cooper, and arguably the Kia Soul and Nissan Cube. Smart has been here a while too, and is re-booting its marketing to get a second chance at U.S. consumers. And now Scion will soon be launching the iQ, a new model also aimed at the lovers of automotive tininess.
So why not declare the new Fiat a cultural phenomenon before consumers have a chance to prove or disprove the assertion? The model's first US commercial, "Drive In," (check it out below) harks back to the American Fifties and the earlier 500 and intersperses those cultural credentials with shots of a bright red version of the new 500, which has simpler lines but makes the same indelible impression. "Every once in a while, something comes along so powerful in concept, so revolutionary in design, that it becomes a cultural icon and defines a generation," the voiceover states. That is the 500.
Fiat, promoting the 500 with a city series of cultural in-market events, may get some argument from Apple and its iPhone about defining a generation, or from Lady Gaga. Another problem with Fiat's initial ad is that, half-way through, the brand also tries to implant a secondary message with viewers, about the car's "simplicity," and the ending tag line is, "Simply More."
Will the new Fiat 500 prove a "cultural icon" or one of the "simple things in life that have the biggest impact"? American car buyers will begin to determine which, if either.