Fiat’s Miserably Lazy American Ad Campaign Screwed the Company Over

Mini had fun "being British," Fiat... went a different direction.

Old Mini ads were great. When Mini came back in the early 2000s, we were inundated with fun ads that made you want to drive the car. The marketing worked; Mini’s has been a hugely successful brand, selling little upmarket cars in a world that is increasingly hostile to small cars. Fiat came a bit later, with a similar small car, success should’ve been the same, right? Well, no, not really.

I’ve really started to bond with my Fiat 500 Abarth, like how I’d imagine pet owners bonding with a dog. I wouldn’t know, I’m allergic to most animals. Anyways, the Fiat attracts a lot of attention from both car enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts. Just the other day I was pumping gas when a woman in an older Passat wagon chatted me up about how cute my car was, and how she wanted to get her daughter a Beetle Convertible as a graduation gift. Going to the grocery store, netted a compliment from some random guy in an Equinox. Getting coffee earned me compliments from a jogger – none of this ever happened in my Chevy Sonic! 

With all the love the Fiat’s gotten from random strangers on the street, you’d think that Fiat would have done a bit better in the United States, right? But no, it only sells one model, the 500X, and it’s kind of an open secret that Fiat will probably cease to exist here very soon.

Maybe Fiat reliability isn’t stellar, but it’s not that damn bad. Fiat’s are cool, why the hell didn’t y’all buy them?

I think I have one idea why: the vibe this company committed to with its ad campaign kind of sucked.

Back in the ’00s, when Mini was reintroduced (as “MINI”), it hit marketing gold with the “Let’s Motor” tagline. It presented the car’s Britishism in a cute and inclusive way. The Let’s Motor campaign created a lighthearted aesthetic of people who loved driving, people who were spontaneous and liked doing cool, fun things. It made the Mini feel hip but without taking itself too seriously. Most importantly, that fun aura carried over into dealerships and the cars’ options list. Union Jack mirror decals? Why not! Purple interior ambient lighting? Of course, you can spec that.

By comparison, Fiat’s ads were… weirdly offensive. The company tried to cultivate brand recognition off its Italianness as Mini had capitalized on its Britishness. But instead of doing it with the wink of self-awareness and welcoming that helped make Mini a great brand, Fiat just got all up in our faces with bland stereotypes. Fiat ads were littered with tired, unfunny, Italian clichés that you’d see in a Family Guy cutaway gag.

The Abarth Ads were some of the worst of the bunch. The 500 Abarth is cool, but was there a point in attempting to sex up a sporty city car by use of a model – making an advance on someone? The concept feels tacky and uncreative, outside of the crappy sexist implications.

This one isn’t much better, watch this tired trope as a man changes his annoying girlfriend to a hotter one.

None of these ads are good. They’re not memorable, they’re not very entertaining, and I’m unsure what type of car the Fiat 500 is supposed to be after watching them. The 500’s a fun car to drive, easy to park city car, in theory, a budget Mini Cooper. Did the 500 or 500 Abarth exude the coolness and aura that Mini did? No. Most of the comments on YouTube are of the “Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck, you couldn’t show this today! It would trigger the SJW’s!” But I don’t think those people bought a Fiat, or were ever interested in one.

I wonder if a better marketing campaign could have given Fiat more success in the USA. I think it would have.

Kevin Williams

Kevin WilliamsKevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.