Fiat 500 Brings Drivers Back to the 1950s in First U.S. Push in Nearly Three Decades

Automaker's Long-Awaited Return to States Is Marked by Nostalgic Campaign Themed 'Simply More'

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Olivier Francois was named CEO of Fiat only last week, but the first advertising work for the brand already bears his bold, edgy stamp.

Fiat Form and Function
Fiat Form and Function

The campaign, themed "Simply more," was created by Fiat's agency, Southfield, Mich.-based Impatto, and emphasizes image over product features, a focus that has been previously criticized by dealers for another company marque, Chrysler, which Mr. Francois also oversees as chief creative officer. Building a brand identity and reacquainting Americans with the iconic company was the first marketing goal, said Laura Soave, head of Fiat Brand, North America at Chrysler Group.

The first commercial, called "Drive-in," which begins airing today, is a nostalgic trip intended to convey Fiat's heritage, and the idea that "as time changes and things become modern, the simple things in life are what matter," Ms. Soave said. In a throwback to the simpler time of the 1950s, it shows a couple heading to a drive-in, while the man demonstrates chivalrous behavior by opening his date's car door. They watch a black-and-white movie, accompanied by Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock," which was the No. 1 song in 1957, the year Fiat debuted.

In conjunction with the "drive-in" theme, Fiat will be hosting urban driving experiences in five cities throughout the fall, with the first one to be held this month in New York's Times Square. People will be able to sit in the Fiat 500 while watching vintage movies playing on a large screen.

Though there is now stiff competition in the small car segment, Ms. Soave said that marketing will highlight Fiat's Italian design in a vehicle offered at a reasonable price. Despite quality difficulties Americans experienced with the Fiat in the 1970s and 1980s, Ms. Soave said that 's no longer a shortcoming that needs to be addressed through marketing. She says that since this vehicle launched in Europe in 2007, it's received many awards for quality.

Fiat plans to rely heavily on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, essential "when the brand starts to build and grow in a new country," Ms. Soave said. She noted that Fiat has attracted 200,000 Facebook fans and has 13,000 active Twitter followers, surpassing numbers for competitors Mini, Smart and Scion. It's also developed an iPad app, Fiat Source, that will showcase the company's artists and designers, along with allowing consumers to build a car and explore the vehicle's features. Every quarter it will be updated with a different focus; the next edition will focus on fashion with its fashion partner, Gucci.

Ms. Soave said that future spots will highlight the value that the car offers, providing more detail on specific features. Print ads will include content intended to engage the audience, including "Form and function meet, and begin a torrid affair"; "Bigger isn't better. It's just harder to park"; and "On a scale from 1 to 10 it's a 500."

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