Lapo's Latest Passion: the Fiat 500

Ever-Flamboyant Elkann Is in the Middle of an Effort to Relaunch Classic Brand

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At 29, Lapo Elkann, grandson of Gianni Agnelli, the patriarch of Italian automaker Fiat, has made more headlines than most people make in a lifetime, often by doing things few people do in a lifetime. The most notorious example: a 2005 drug overdose that nearly killed him.
Lapo Elkann: The 'marketing consultant' for Fiat also has an office at Berlin Cameron.
Lapo Elkann: The 'marketing consultant' for Fiat also has an office at Berlin Cameron. Credit: Stefano Rellandini

With his older brother, John, he is a major shareholder in Ifil Investments, which owns a large stake in Fiat Group. These days he spends much of his time in New York and Italy. Unapologetically flamboyant, fun-loving and fashion-conscious, his interests range from clothes and accessories to business (past jobs include heading marketing, merchandising and internet at Ferrari and Maserati and three years as head of worldwide brand promotion for Fiat Auto) and, according to blogs and social-networking sites, nightlife.

Here, he discusses his current passion, reintroducing the famous Fiat 500, in a sitdown with Advertising Age.

Advertising Age: Fiat plans to reintroduce the famous Cinquecento -- the Fiat 500 -- that was hugely popular in the '50s and '60s, owned by John Wayne as well as Lyndon Johnson, but went out of production in 1972. Where will the car be sold and what's your role in this?

Lapo Elkann: I'm confident it will be reintroduced in Europe and brought to market in Asia for the first time. For the moment, nothing's planned for the U.S., although I cannot speak for the future. I'm a marketing consultant to Fiat now; I work mainly on communications. Several people within Fiat pushed for bringing this car back; it is a small, global icon. It is a new car, designed by Roberto Giollito, and it will be made by Fiat in Poland. I think this car has a lot of market share to take.

AA: Word is you've hired Berlin Cameron to work on the Fiat 500 project. How did you meet them?

Mr. Elkann: Yes, I met Berlin Cameron through some people I knew. They've got great energy. I so much appreciate Ewen Cameron and the whole team there. They've brought extremely good ideas. I have an office at the agency and am in the middle, between the agency and Fiat.

AA: What's the assignment: TV, print? What about Hollywood? If ever a brand was made for TV or film, this looks to be one.

Mr. Elkann: The details of the marketing mix have not yet been chosen, but it will not be just TV and print; it'll be 360 degrees. There'll be licensing and merchandising, events, and Hollywood, absolutely, will be one of the worlds in which we'll be working.

AA: Fiat at one point solicited ideas via the web for the 500's design. How else do you plan to connect with customers?

Mr. Elkann: There'll be a lot of new things -- we're developing a lot of initiatives -- music, movies, photography. But I cannot say more.

AA: In addition to the 500 relaunch, you've also got other ventures -- selling Italian-made goods and consulting.

Mr. Elkann: My brand is Italia Independent, which focuses on fashion accessories. Our first product is sunglasses. I'm also launching a branding and strategic advisory firm, Independent Ideas.
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