Scooters and pastry: Vespa returns to U.S.

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Italy's venerable Vespa, made famous as the scooter Audrey Hepburn zipped around on in the film classic "Roman Holiday," is returning to the U.S. after 16 years.

Piaggio USA, Newport Beach, Calif., reintroduced Vespa to U.S. consumers Nov. 5, with the scooter serving as a sponsor of the New York Marathon. New 2001 models led the race, and the top male and female runners each were awarded a Vespa.

As part of the sponsorship, Piaggio ran eight 30-second spots during the local broadcast on WNBC. De Plano Group, New York, created the relaunch commercial, which is reminiscent in its creative approach to Arnold Worldwide's launch advertising for Volkswagen of America's New Beetle. A small red dot appears on a white screen. As it moves closer, weaving to "The Flight of the Bumblebee," the viewer realizes it's a scooter. "Vespa is back" is the tagline.

In another flair, Vespa plans to open some 40 boutique dealerships that will feature cafes selling espresso and pastries along with branded Vespa watches and helmets.

TIE TO HEPBURN CHARITY

Vespa celebrates the first boutique opening Nov. 15 at Paramount Studio's original "Roman Holiday" set with a fund-raiser for Ms. Hepburn's children's charity, said Peter Laitmon, director of marketing and sales at Piaggio. Other boutiques are planned in San Francisco, Houston, Chicago and Miami. The scooters will also be sold on the Internet.

Separately, the marketer plans to open 22 Vintage Vespa restoration shops, Mr. Laitmon said. He declined to discuss U.S. launch costs.

De Plano's responsibilities on the account cover a wide range of marketing services, including some brand development, logo work, catalog design and packaging for Vespa-branded accessories. Total marketing spending is estimated at $5 million in the first year.

ENGAGING THE HUMAN SENSES

"Lifestyle is the best way I can describe the manner in which the Vespa scooter will be presented," Giancarlo Fantappie, president of Piaggio USA, is quoted as saying in an online message posted on the company's Web site (vespa.com). "Our customer will experience a total engagement of all of the human senses and will remind us of wonderful memories, a touch of nostalgia."

Mr. Fantappie could not be reached for comment.

Vespa will be positioned as "an icon of the '60s that today is very contemporary," said Marco De Plano, president of the agency. "It's timeless fashion."

MEETING EMISSION STANDARDS

Vespa suspended U.S. sales in the 1980s after stricter emission rules were enacted. The new models will meet emission standards. For sale will be the 50-cc ET2, with a base price of about $2,750 and top speeds of just under 30 mph. The 150-cc ET4, with a base expected at roughly $3,950, can motor up to about 60 mph.

Marketing strategist Jack Trout, president of Trout & Partners, said he's surprised Vespa, a utilitarian machine in Europe, will position itself as a luxury brand in the U.S. "To me, why would you want one? For prestige? Nah. It's the ultimate run-around machine."

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