But a recent TV commercial by Fiat pushes the bounds of sponsorship to its creaking limits. Not to mention chutzpah.
The spot will not be shown in the US because, of course, Fiats aren’t sold in the US. (Fiat, someone once told me, stands for “Fix it again, Tony.”) But the commercial has run in no fewer than nine European countries.
As a PR move, in a tough economic climate, Fiat agreed to sponsor the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Paris. Are you with me so far? The Nobel Peace Prize Summit…and Fiat cars.
OK, so the Nobel laureates are driven to the event in a Fiat Lancia Delta. Then the agency films those attendees getting out of the car at the Summit: former Polish leader Lech Walesa, South Africa’s Frederik de Klerk, Northern Ireland peace Activist Betty Williams, former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, who isn’t a Nobel laureate, but what the heck. Then they film Mikhail Gorbachev looking down on their arrival from a window.
Now they shoot the car empty with one door open, and the script announces one important activist won’t be there: heroic democracy activist
Aung San Suu Kyi who has been jailed for 12 years in Myanmar, the former Burma. The script closes with her photograph and a title that reads: “Lancia supports Aung San Suu Kyi. Free her now.” Isn’t that nice of them. Of course, the activist didn’t give permission to be in the spot because she’s in prison in a jungle. But Fiat claims that her representatives in the west gave their approval.
The spot cost $80,000 to make; the lunch budget for most shoots. And because Fiat claimed it was a public service announcement, TV networks throughout Europe are running it free of charge. Fiat has contributed not one dime nor an ounce of help to free Aung San Suu Kyi. But maybe they’ll sell some cars.
What’s my point? Sponsorships should be coherent and organic with the brand personality. When I was a creative director on Volvo, I once suggested that the car sponsor a world prize for great contributions in various fields: The For Life Prize, coming off my two-word contribution to that brand, the global tagline: Volvo. For life. This sponsorship seemed to harmonize with the values and commitment of Volvo, without going overboard.
Fiat, on the other hand, fraudulently mixed up public service with private service, capitalized on a tragedy with no intention of alleviating it, and took advantage of a bunch of heroic people who frankly probably don’t have much else to do these days.
Fix it again, Tony.