Free her – Fiat’s big call on Burma (part 2)

Cause Related Marketing 3 Comments

(Image provided by U.S. Department of State)

‘Lancia supports Aung San Suu Kyi – free now’

Last week, I talked about the ethical issues associated with the bold statement which Italian Automaker Fiat is making in its latest advertising campaign for its Lancia model in Europe, a campaign in which the automaker makes a public call for the freedom of political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar.

(Click here to view the ad)

Today, I would like to talk about why I feel that the advertisement is effective from a marketing viewpoint in spite of the risks involved for companies in making stands on political issues.

Why political statements are risky
Reluctance on behalf of corporations to use political advocacy as a form of branding strategy is more than understandable.

Indeed, this type of strategy, where companies attempt to align their brands with a specific political cause, can be fraught with danger, and brands can suffer a substantial degree of damage in the event that the strategy backfires.

Potential risks include:

• Becoming embroiled in political controversy, potentially alienating not only consumers but also influential government officials, bureaucrats and senior public servants;

• Alienation of consumers even in the absence of political controversy, particularly those who feel that big business has too much political power and influence, or who simply feel that business should stay out of politics;

• The potential for consumer focus to be distracted away from the key features or benefits offered by the brand at a more practical level.

Why this ad is so good
Despite these risks, I feel that Fiat’s advertisement represents a stroke of mastery, and that the way in which it has executed its strategy almost reflects a sense of the Midas touch.

What I like most about the campaign is that it appears to achieve the full benefits of what firms would normally expect to derive from traditional advertising and it appears to create a positive connection with an important political cause at the same time.

More specifically, the campaign has at least six key attributes which I feel will are likely to contribute in a positive way towards the achievement of successful outcomes:

(1) Attention grabbing.

In today’s environment of advertising clutter, the company’s strong statement stands out amongst the crowd.

Irrespective of how they feel about it, many European viewers are no doubt finding themselves compelled to sit up and take notice.

(2) A strong emotional connection

Related to the above point, given the extent of global concern about the plight of Miss Suu Kyi, I am certain that many of Fiat’s target customers would feel strongly about her cause, and I am confident that the advertisement will help to create a very strong emotional connection with the brand.

Personally, I find myself almost moved to tears when the car door opens to the empty seat – the seat in which Miss Suu Kyi would have been but for her unjustly detention.

(3) Politically safe.

One way in which brands which pursue political advocacy as a branding strategy can avoid becoming embroiled in controversy is through careful selection of the causes which they choose to pursue.

Here Fiat has chosen wisely, and would appear to be on very safe ground. Support for Miss Suu Kyi is virtually unanimous all around the western world, and it would be difficult to imagine calls for her freedom generating any form of unforeseen controversy.

(4) Cost.

Due to its ‘community announcement’ nature, some networks are reported to have agreed to screen Fiat’s advertisement free of charge.

As a result, not only does the company’s campaign compare favorably from a cost perspective with other forms of cause related marketing, such as sponsorships of charitable foundations or participation in community business partnerships, it has also proven to be less costly than traditional forms of advertising, which would not attract such a concession from the networks.

(5) Proactive risk management.

I feel that the approach of the company toward the management of risks associated with the campaign was exemplary.

In particular, its actions in gaining support from Kyi supporters of Miss Suu Kyi, as well as the approval of each of the other individuals featured in the advertisement went a long way in terms of heading off any potential suggestions of using a political injustice for corporate gain.

(The company was not able to obtain permission from Miss Suu Kyi herself due to visitor restrictions as a result of her detention)

These actions represented a proactive approach from the company in terms of the identification of potential risks associated with the campaign and the undertaking of pre-emptive action in order to mitigate any possible effect of such risks.

(6) A statement of prestige and class.

Best of all, the advertisement still managed to create a strong brand association in terms of comfort, style and class.

The result – a strong brand association with the cause and a strong brand association with the features of the vehicle.

The advertisement shows three noble peace prize winners along with a former hostage arriving in Lancia’s and being greeted by Michail Gorbachev, arriving at the Ninth Summit of Noble Peace Prize Laureates.

Yes, this is a political statement, but it’s also a branding statement, and there are few better statements of prestige and class than having people of that caliber arriving in Lancia’s, one after the other.

3 Responses to “Free her – Fiat’s big call on Burma (part 2)”

  1. Karen Swim Says:
    February 14th, 2009 at 1:40 am

    Andrew, I love your assessment of this ad campaign. I had not seen the ad but viewing it, I agree it is very well done. Fiat’s ad agency did an incredible job of handling what could have been a polarizing issue. The cars are still front and center but the social justice message is not overshadowed. I believe people would not only sit up and take notice but feel more favorable about Fiat as a result of the ad. I completely agree with you too that this was a good cause to use in a marketing campaign. If you pick a divisive issue, it will certainly backfire. Great post Andrew!

    Karen Swims last blog post..Love and Basketball

  2. Brad Shorr Says:
    February 14th, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Andrew, I’m with Karen – you make the case. I respect Fiat both for taking a chance with their advertising and supporting a cause they evidently feel strong about. Here in the states, experimentation with ads usually means pushing the envelope as far as being gross, sexual, or just plain stupid. I prefer experimentation in a more uplifting direction!

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..How Important Are Subscriptions for Business Blogs?

  3. Andrew Says:
    February 14th, 2009 at 10:32 am


    Thank you both for your positive comments and feedback.

    I agree with Brad’s point that it makes a refreshing change to see a firm having the courage to stand out by saying something real and meaningful. Personally I am sick and tired with firms who somehow feel that the only way to stand out is via more nudity or other by other unsavory means.

    Andrews last blog post..Free her – Fiat’s big call on Burma (part 2)

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