What other executives close to the situation did say was that
Impatto was outsourcing creative on Fiat, and Mr. Francois
confirmed that "we are winding down our relationship with them.
There's no real marriage. I never, ever meet with them, never met
with the guy [Mr. D'Antonio]. My understanding is that they are
less of an advertising agency and more of a strategic partner."
Mr. D'Antonio did not return a call at press time.
"I respect what she [Ms. Soave] did so far. I may have my
opinions about the brand, and they are well known so I'm not going
to get into anything here," said Mr. Francois. "But when you are
working with limited resources, you have to invent some out-of
-the-box stuff which I am trying to do."
One out-of -the-box play was working with Ms. Lopez on what
former auto-marketing exec Peter DeLorenzo called "quite possibly
the worst automotive spot of the last decade, hands down." Mr.
Francois defended the push and said it was not a commercial at all
but rather a "trailer" for Ms. Lopez's new video for the single
"Papi." Mr. Francois said it came about after a discussion he and
his friend Ms. Lopez had with her manager Benny Medina, in which
they talked about having the Fiat 500 used as the car featured in
the chase sequence of the video. Afterward, Mr. Francois said he
asked Mr. Medina for the footage and said Fiat would put together a
30-second trailer for the video. Impatto was never involved. "I
think it's clear that it's a trailer and not an ad; we're inviting
people to go see the whole video on YouTube," Mr. Francois said.
"As I am speaking to you I am here in Rochester (Mich.) meeting
with the national dealer council and I can tell you there is some
enthusiasm for this ad."
But there's also some backlash. Noted one Fiat dealer, who asked
not to be identified, "It's an ad. And it's being shown during an
ad break on football games. Why are we on football games?"
Indeed, the ad, err, trailer, has been a fixture on NFL
broadcasts for the past two weeks since debuting Sept. 12 on Monday
Night Football. "The ads, except for the placement, were saying to
me this is a car for hip women. That's what immediately jumped out
to me -- that they're going after women, and going after cool. So
why advertise that on football?" said Michelle Krebs, senior
analyst for Edmunds.com.
Asked about the reasoning for the buy, Mr. Francois said: "The
fact that we're speaking about it right now means something. The
awareness is here. America is aware that there is a car. We needed
this kind of a spark." Mr. Francois shot down rumors that Doner, a Chrysler roster agency, was
part of the J. Lo ad/trailer, but did say that a "real" Fiat ad
featuring Ms. Lopez would be out "in a few weeks" -- though he
declined to say which agency was doing the spot. Mr. Francois added
that it would be one of the automaker's current roster agencies,
which include Wieden & Kennedy, Leo Burnett and Global Hue, among
"The Fiat account will be open for all roster agencies," he
said. A Chrysler spokeswoman declined to comment on the rumor that
Chrysler's media buying, currently with Universal McCann,
was in review.
Asked whether there was a shift in strategy from the "Life is
best when driven" tagline that accompanied Fiat's reentry into the
market earlier this year, Mr. Francois said the tagline will remain
even in the new J. Lo spot."She befits that . She shares some
characteristics of the car. She's a fighter, a mover, a performer,"
Mr. Francois said of Ms. Lopez. "Listen, I'm not a great fan of
using celebrities at any cost. I prefer a good idea to a bad
celebrity. I used to say endorsements are lazy when you have no
idea. But that 's not the point -- from time to time you have a
magic association. I like to take a celebrity because the
celebrity's story fits with the story."
Celebrities seem to have been central to the Fiat strategy.
According to the New York Post, the company Fiat and celebrity
website TMZ struck an alliance in which the carmaker would pay TMZ
to photograph celebrities who were set up to drive the Fiat 500.
According to the Post, the paparazzi would be tipped off to
celebrities who were set to drive the cars, and they would shoot
the unsuspecting stars.
"This was conceived before my time," said Mr. Francois, noting
that the original plan was just to have influencers drive the car
and be seen around New York, Los Angeles and Miami -- not
"I think there is a true part of the story and a totally
invented part of the story. The paparazzi part is crazy to me.
Maybe there had been internal talks but I was not involved," he
said. "We were going to give the opportunity to some opinion
leaders to drive the car. We have a lot of requests, around L.A.
especially, to drive the car. It's nothing but good to have opinion
leaders driving your car. I don't know what happened, but it spun
out of control." There's little question Mr. Francois has a
reputation for magic-making. Fueled by the acclaimed "Made in
Detroit" campaign debuting in the Super Bowl with rapper Eminem,
Chrysler's sales have grown nearly 38% from 95,102 units in
February 21% when the ad broke to 130,119 units in August,
according to Automotive News.
But Fiat, for the moment, is a one-trick pony with the 500. The
Fiat Abarth isn't due in dealerships until next year, and the
relaunch of Alfa Romeo in the U.S. has been delayed until 2014.
That has dismayed dealers who have invested upward of $1 million,
and more, on Fiat "studios" separate from their Chrysler
"First of all, you go back to Fiat's old reputation of 'Fix It
Again Tony' and you wonder if they can really bring back a brand
that had such a poor reputation," said Ms. Krebs. "Can they do it?
We don't know that yet because there are not enough vehicles out
Fiat is only achieving about half of Mr. Marchionne's
6,000-a-month goal right now. According to Automotive News, Fiat
500 sold 11,088 units in the U.S. to date; August sales were 3,106.
"Their target for this year 50,000 units," said Ms. Krebs. "I
calculated last month that it's going to look more like