Fiat Folly

My dictionary defines fiat as “an arbitrary decree,” which makes redundant a recent Fiat motorcar advertising campaign.

A stylish bimbette and a bubble car landed in my lap this morning, all combined in a ten panel fold-out mailer from Fiat that pimped their 500 series micro machine, which looks like the bastard child of a Mini Cooper and a Volkswagen Beetle. Therein Fiat attempts to differentiate this vehicle by linking various models of their rolling soap bubble with various luxury brand names (Note to Fiat: It isn’t a luxury vehicle if you drive with your knees in your chin). The Gucci edition was shown with the slinky blonde draped across the hood, her impossibly long legs escaping from abbreviated shorts and her top strategically unzipped.

fiat-500-ad-w350Ironically the photo caption read “European model shown” which could have applied to the vehicle or the vamp.

I have no idea from what rented mailing list Fiat acquired my name and address. I suspect they cross referenced my San Francisco location (where small car parking advantages and higher incomes collide) but that did not inform Fiat about the Toyota Tundra TRD and Jeep in my driveway (though come to think of it I could park the Fiat under my truck). This was Fiat’s first and most innocent mistake — inaccurate targeting. Yet this Fiat faux pas faded in comparison to their basic branding blunders.

A fundamental rule of marketing is to never confuse your audience with mixed metaphors. Small cars for urbanites are produced for a variety of reasons, none of which include projecting sexiness and sophistication. Hot Italian models lounging on tepid Italian subcompacts is an attempt to stretch the Fiat 500’s brand further than politicians stretch the truth. It is an attempt to make a specific audience feel something about Fiat that the car’s design does not deliver. This basic branding error — to force people to feel something that in their gut they know isn’t real — defies the customer, which in turn defies sales.

Brand and reality must at least be neighbors.

Curious about how ghastly the Fiat campaign might be, I dropped by fiat.com, which exposed a second instance of Fiat marketing mayhem. Eliminating friction — unnecessary barriers to customers discovering/experiencing you — is an essential marketing function. Let us pray that Fiat’s automotive engineering is better than their web engineering, for their web site creates more friction than a Klansman at an NAACP convention. In order, Fiat web friction included:

No country homing: Instead of looking-up my IP address and automatically switching me to the U.S. site, Fiat forced me to choose it manually.

Oddball interfaces: Instead of the nearly instant pick list found on most web sites, Fiat forces people to slowly scroll through a list of countries. Since “United States of America” was on the bottom of Fiat’s list, this took some time and evaporated my patience.

Content free and hard to find: Being a bit too clever, Fiat decided to call their dealerships “studios”, which delayed finding the dealership link. Once located, it provided me with the name of their local “studio” and nothing more … no street address, phone number, hours of operation or even a vague scent for bloodhounds to follow.

All in all Fiat flaked and infringed on buyer patience by violating some basic marketing rules:

  1. Don’t confuse customers with mixed branding metaphors
  2. Don’t miss-sell them by offering what isn’t
  3. Don’t get in the way of discovery

After all, you cannot rule the market by fiat.


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