One of the nice things about having the advertising track record of Chrysler CMO Olivier Francois is that you can take risks.
His most recent one? A GIF-driven ad campaign for Fiat USA.
Last week, viewers might have noticed a TV commercial in which a GIF shows someone in a rabbit suit twerking against a Fiat. It then cuts to a Fiat driver wearing a horse mask over the caption, "Deal With It."
Another shows a young lady's skirt flying up as a Fiat drives by. She demurely pats it back down over her underwear.
Mr. Francois said the GIFs were originally produced for Tumblr. But he liked their raw look and feel so much that he used them in a business presentation at Fiat Chrysler Automobile big investor meeting in May.
"I thought they were crazy," he siad. "Crazy weird. Crazy fun. Crazy cheap to produce as well. Maybe a new culture of commercial."
When Mr. Francois noticed how many consumers were posting their own GIFs to Tumblr, he decided to roll the dice and show Fiat's GIFs on TV. Although risky, it has the benefit of affordability. Using GIFs are a cheap way for a brand with a tight budget to produce cool-looking work that can connect with young consumers.
"It's an experiment," Mr. Francois said. "If it works -- and so far so good. If it doesn't work, no big deal. We didn't invest so much money."
Mr. Francois is not a big fan of airing user-generated TV commercials created by amateurs. But GIFs are a way for Madison Avenue to interact with consumers on social media. During the next phase of the campaign, the car maker will ask consumers to create their own GIF's with the hashtag: #MyFiatUSA. The best will be posted to Fiat's Tumblr page.
Said Mr. Francois: "I'm not sure they can do better commercials. But they can probably do better GIFs. With this technique, we will create a very large number of potential commercials."
As an upstart auto challenger in North America with a limited marketing budget, the Italian brand has to take chances, said Mr. Francois, who also serves as Fiat Group Automobiles' Head of Fiat Brand.
The 30-second and 15-second "Endless Fun" spots created by The Richards Group promote four models: the Fiat 500, Fiat 500 Cabrio, Fiat 500 Turbo and Fiat 500L. They're certainly attention-grabbing.
The spots meet what Mr. Francois calls his two "rules" for Fiat advertising.
"The brand is stylish, irreverent, fun -- and a little bit flirtatious at times. Well, every ad will be stylish, irreverent, fun -- and flirtatious. That's Rule No. 1," said Mr. Olivier from Milan, Italy. Rule No. 2? "Be courageous … We need to always be surprising, unexpected, different."
The "Endless Fun" campaign follows the same irreverent creative approach as previous Fiat campaigns, he said. There was the recent movie tie-in with the movie "Godzilla," featuring a Richards Group spot showing the monster chowing down on speeding Fiats. "He's back -- and it looks like he's craving Italian," warns an Army type in a helicopter.
There was the previous "Mirage" spot for the 500L by Doner starring Sean "Diddy" Combs and the hit song, "Happy," by singer Pharrell Williams. The spot was a "huge success," Mr. Francois said. "That's a commercial that literally put 500L on the map. And the brand has been on a roll ever since."
The new "Endless Fun" ads (featuring music by DJ Diplo) broke last Monday night and will run across cable TV networks such MTV, VH1, Adult Swim, E!, FX and Syfy. They can also be seen on Fiat's Tumblr and YouTube pages.
Fiat has been on a role lately. Sales rose 18% in May and 17% during the first five months of 2014, according to Automotive News Data Center. Fiat spent around $120 million in advertising in 2013, according to Kantar Media.