Fiat steers clear of female cliches

The Fiat Punto was launched in 1994 to rave reviews in the trade press, and it won the European Car of the Year Award for 1995. A pan-European advertising campaign, highlighting the Punto’s technical features, was used to launch the car in the UK. However, despite the undisputed quality of the car, competitive price and substantial ad spend, sales in the UK were not hitting target.

In 1996, DMB&B London was briefed to produce a new Fiat Punto campaign for the UK market.

To the consumer, all models in the highly competitive small car sector seem similar. Thus the purchasing decision is frequently made on the “personality” of the model. Previous advertising had failed to convey any sort of personality for the Punto, so DMB&B’s first task was to overcome this problem.

The majority of the Punto’s rivals’ advertising was aimed at, and featured women – usually exerting their independence, primarily at the expense of men. It was decided that Punto advertising should take a different path for three reasons.

First, a distinctive product truth of the Punto is that although it is a small car, which generally appeals to women, it has a more masculine look and feel than the other cars in the sector. Second, to alienate men is counter-productive, as they are frequently used as advisers to the female purchase decision. And finally, there was evidence that the “feminine independence” route was beginning to tire. It was therefore decided to position the Punto as “a couples’ car”.

The resultant creative solutions reflect the peculiar hot-house atmosphere of couples in a car. When driving, all the qualities that are most irritating about your partner become magnified beyond reason, whether it is back-seat driving, the inability to read a map, or eyeing beautiful girls. In all the executions the women show their true spirit and gain the upper hand. An important aspect of the ads was that they all had happy endings, restoring the balance of the male/female relationship. This ensures that the women aren’t antagonised, or the men alienated. The endline “Spirito di Punto” was used to sum up the feeling of flair, passion and spontaneity, that research had indicated was common to Punto drivers.

So far, Fiat has spent £12.1m on the campaign. This, for the car market, is a relatively small amount and only gives the company a 4.8 per cent “share of voice” in the sector. Media buying has centred on programmes which couples are likely to watch together, or that reflect the reality of modern relationships, such as “Friends”.

Despite the comparatively low budget, Fiat’s NOP Tracking showed that prompted ad awareness of the first commercial had more than doubled compared with the previous pan-European Punto TV ads (65 per cent against 31 per cent). For the first time, Fiat Punto was matching, if not out-performing the image leader, Renault Clio, on key scores such as “fun to drive”, “for young people” and “performance”.

The hard sales figures also show the contributory effect of the advertising. In the first month of the campaign (February 1996), Punto sales rose by 42 per cent year on year, while sales in the segment as a whole increased by only 20 per cent.

Over the first year of the “Spirito” campaign, Punto sales rose by eight per cent year on year, doubling the four per cent increase achieved in the segment. Sales have continued to outgrow the market, rising by 14.5 per cent in 1998 on the previous year, giving an all-time high segment share of 9.2 per cent.

Each new execution’s tracking results continue to score well above the segment average and competitor levels. This has been seen most recently with “Girl Watching”, which scored 46 per cent perfect attribution – double that of the small car segment average.

Company: Fiat Auto

Vince Booth, marketing manager; Mike Biscoe, product manager

Agency: DMB&B

Daniel Taylor, board account director; James McCobb, account director; Ali Bucknall, planning; Trevor Webb, copywriter; Steve Campbell, art director; Emma Strachan and Kate Francis, TV producers

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