Three weeks before the Super Bowl, chief marketing officer and head of brand marketing communications for Fiat and Chrysler Olivier Francois, sitting in a smoke-filled suite in Cobo Hall, insists he has no idea what his company's ad will be this year.
"The brand has not even been defined. The length has not even been defined. And the message is still to be defined. It's still very open. Last year, at this date, the Eminem commercial was not decided." It may be hard to believe last year's phenomenally successful "Born of Fire" spot was put together in less than a month (Francois admits that it sounds like "bulls**t" this close to the big game), but new Fiat North America head Tim Kuniskis says, "three weeks is a lifetime for us."
While the two men doubt Fiat will be the brand featured in this year's Super Bowl spot, they're both focused on advancing the Italian brand in the American market and overcoming some of the hurdles that have popped up since it first arrived.
Francois says Fiat has faced three problems: awareness, an incomplete dealer network, and lack of a more comprehensive lineup of 500 models. Each has been addressed with different levels of success.
"Awareness is dramatically better than it's been, but we've got a long way to go," says Kuniskis. Love them or hate them, there's no way the brand would be where it is today had it not been for Francois's advertising risks, including musical J-Lo appearances and sultry women with scorpion tattoos.
With regards to dealer network, Kuniskis says the Fiat brand has effectively been on U.S. roads for the last eight months. In 32 weeks, 137 studios have begun operating across the country. Not a huge number, but Kuniskis says the brand will stay exclusive and will never be sold in giant Chrysler dealerships.
And what about a more comprehensive 500 lineup? There are now eight variations of the modern Cinquecento. From its sporty Abarth to the Gucci 500c, Fiat can now resonate with a wide array of buyers. But new models? None.
"At the end of the day it's one set of sheet metal, so clearly we need to expand that," says Kuniskis.
So how does Fiat plan to supplement its lineup? With all-new models for U.S. buyers. According to Francois, we won't see any mainstream Fiat vehicles from the European market making their way across the Atlantic. No Panda for us. Why not use the resources already on hand?
"We are offered, here in this country, a unique chance to define the Fiat brand from scratch so we can exactly build it the way we like," says Francois.