LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE

Tapping supermodels and sex, again, to sell Fiat's expanding line

Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler Group for Automotive NewsLarry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler Group for Automotive News
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LOS ANGELES -- Most everyone agrees that sex sells.

Chrysler Group will soon find out whether sex tinged with bawdy humor sells Fiats.

The automaker premiered a series of new short films for its launch of the Fiat 500e electric, 500 Abarth Cabrio, and 500L wagon Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The spots might make their way to TV, just as the brand's sex-soaked "Seduction" commercial did during the 2012 Super Bowl.

If they do, they should come with the following warning label: Like the Fiat 500's back seat, this commercial is not suitable for children or prudes, but it's sure fun to watch.

The film touting the 500e starts out with a shot of a helmeted woman zipping up the top of a racing suit with nothing on underneath and climbing into the subcompact's passenger seat for an official test of the 500e's 80-mile range and acceleration.

The "test" lasts all of 10 seconds before the car spins out and stops. As crews race to see what's wrong and fling open the door, they spot the woman passionately kissing the now-shirtless male driver.

Likewise, the 500 Abarth Cabrio spot features the return of "Seduction" star Catrinel Menghia, a Romanian supermodel, sunbathing on a beach while a black scorpion crawls over her backside and up her back. The scorpion, the image of Fiat's Abarth performance brand, cuts the string of Menghia's string bikini, making her topless, like the new Abarth Cabrio. It ends with the scorpion dragging her black bikini top across the sand as a backlit, topless Menghia leaves the beach.

Perhaps the funniest and sexiest marketing efforts, however, were left for the 500L, a cavernous five-passenger wagon. The series of spots tell a story of a young American man who falls in love with an Italian woman and meets her parents. They ultimately get married.

The spots are bawdy and hilarious and drew laughs among several hundred journalists gathered for Fiat's reveal.

Fiat global brand chief Olivier Francois makes no secret of the tack that his marketing efforts would take for the new Fiats, saying that Chrysler is trading in labels like eco-friendly in favor of eco-sexy and showing an image of a Viagra pill as part of his presentation.

Ultimately, the best answer to whether sex will sell Fiats may be left to Yiddish philosophers: It couldn't hurt.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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