Historical Analysis: Fiat 500 Comes to America

As mentioned in the previous post, this 2012 advertisement features numerous Fiat 500 car models as they cross the ocean to travel from their indigenous Italy to various cities throughout the United States.

Historically speaking, this commercial–part of a series of commercials for the Italian car brand–came out during a time when immigration was a hot topic in presidential debates. Dubbed “the new wave of Italian immigrants”, these cars (and the Fiat brand in general) suddenly became a relevant topic because they could be incorporated into political and economic conversation. They were the new immigrants, but they made immigration much less threatening and much more fun. The music is catchy, the cars are versatile and hip, and the overall vibe of the commercial appeals to a young consumer living in an urban setting that wants a fun, compact car ideal for city life while still getting the authenticity and quality normally associated with Italian brands.

What makes the advertisement really relevant to contemporary society is its transformational rather than informational function. Older ads of the Great Depression and Post-War eras focused more on describing the product to the consumer, telling him/her what the product did, how owning the product would change his/her life, and so on. Contemporary ads, as evidenced by this particular commercial, must focus more on selling a feeling or idea rather than just describing the product in hopes that consumers will want to buy it. They must play on emotions and use wit to soft-sell the product. In a market as saturated and cluttered as ours, simply laying out facts about the Fiat 500–its mileage, price, size–would not suffice because there are similar cars out there that offer the same perks. The advertisers were very smart because they invoked a sense of both authenticity and fun, authenticity in the sense that the car comes from Italy, thus providing class and value, and fun in the sense that it is small, versatile, colorful, and always ready for a party. In this sense, the ad transforms our subjectivity and attitude toward this particular car/brand, which may have been different prior to viewing the commercial.

How could a car be ready for a party, you might ask? In this commercial, the scene with the cars arriving to America is paired with a catchy song by international musical artists Pitbull and Arianna, titled “Sexy People”. Not only are these stars and their songs recognized and celebrated for their fun, lighthearted, ready-to-party spirit, but the “Sexy People” song itself is calling on a young, free-at-heart consumer ready to look stylish at all times, a “sexy” consumer per se. As advertisements progress to modern times, style becomes a major selling point that allows consumers to shape their identities and how they want to be perceived by the outside world. This commercial definitively plays on that style aspect, and particularly Italian style which has proven time and again to be of the upmost superiority.

Ultimately, I think this advertisement is a good example of market-driven advertising. The declining economic climate of 2012 called for quality products at an affordable price, and the Fiat offers just that. Its small size, showcased in the ad, provides great gas mileage and allows for maneuvering around tight city streets. Basically, the advertisers are not creating any false needs or pushing their product onto an unsuspecting audience. Rather, they are aware of the young consumers’ needs for a trendy, stylish, durable vehicle and they advertise accordingly.

-Vanessa Zdesar

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