(Image provided by U.S. Department of State)
“Lancia supports Aung San Suu Kyi. Free now!”
There are, in my view, two key questions with respect to the efficacy of Fiat’s bold political statement in the Italian automaker’s most recent campaign to promote its Lancia Delta range in Europe:
• whether or not the advertisement crosses ethical boundaries; and
• whether or not it represents a wise marketing strategy.
The first issue is discussed below, the second will be dealt with in a later post.
Broadly speaking, I feel that the advertisement represents a smart and creative method of branding. Not only does it fall well within acceptable ethical boundaries, from my viewpoint, it represents a constructive contribution toward a very, very important cause.
About the advertisement
The advertisement, which is now being screened across Europe (the company has no plans to screen it in the U.S), aims to tap into public sentiment with respect to the ongoing house detention of Aung San Suu Kyi – winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize whose National League for Democracy won the right to govern her country in 1990 but was denied that right by a brutal military regime which refused to cede power.
(Click here to watch)
Shot in Paris last month at the Ninth World Summit of Nobel Prize Laureates, the advertisement shows three Nobel Peace Prize winners (Lech Walesa, Frederik Willem De Clerk and Betty Williams), as well as former hostage Ingrid Betancourtarriving at the summit in Lancia Deltas.
“There are people who have been fighting forever,” a voice-over says. “We would hug them all for a day. But there is one hug we miss.”
A forth Lancia pulls up, with a door opening to an empty seat, symbolizing the space where Aung San Suu Kyi should have been.
A photo of her follows, together with the statement “Lancia supports Aung San Suu Kyi. Free now.”
Possible causes for complaint
The advertisement is not popular with everyone. Possible reasons why some may potentially object to this form of advertising may include a feeling that the advertisement: (a) represents an attempt to exploit a downright awful political situation for commercial advantage; (b) does not represented a real to the cause, particularly in light of statements that the firm has no intention of making any direct financial contribution to Miss Suu Kyi or her supporters; and (c) does not serve a useful purpose – the repressive military regime are hardly likely to free Miss Suu Kyi because of an advertisement.
In addition, given the argument raised in point c, some may feel that the advertisement does not represent a constructive allocation of CSR funding, and that the money spent in making it could have been better spent on other initiatives which have a more direct social impact.
In defense of the company
I do not agree with the above objections, and furthermore, I feel that the advertisement represents a constructive initiative on several grounds:
• The company made valiant attempts to do the right thing by all parties concerned.
Fiat was not able to obtain permission from Ms. Suu Kyi herself due to visitor related restrictions to which she is subject.
Nevertheless, along with gaining the full permission of others who were featured in the advertisement, the company did receive positive responses from her key supporters, and so had every reason to believe that its campaign had the blessing of those at the forefront of her struggle.
• It’s a very positive message.
It is difficult to object to the content of this message.
Of course Miss Suu Kyi should be freed. She should never have been forced into exile or placed under house arrest in the first place.
Her continued political imprisonment represents an ongoing subversion of natural justice as well as a repression of the will of the Burmese people, and Fiat’s call for her freedom is more than justified.
• We should continue to speak out.
The point must be conceded that the Burmese military has never paid much attention to worldwide opinion of its oppressive practices, and is most unlikely to be moved by Fiat’s advertisement.
But that is no reason not to speak out. As a global community, under no circumstances should we ever cease to protest about the plight of Miss Suu Kyi or that of the repressed Burmese people, and the company’s announcement represents a constructive contribution in this regard.
Injustice should never occur in silence.
• Political advocacy is a legitimate aspect of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Political advocacy is no substitute for other initiatives relating to CSR.
But, if undertaken sensibly, it does have its place, and I feel that Fiat has every right to view calls for Miss Suu Kyi’s freedom as a legitimate aspect of a broader contribution toward CSR initiatives.
• A sincere message.
No doubt Fiat’s motivation with respect to this initiative is underpinned by commercial considerations to some degree.
Nevertheless, I do not feel that the message is lacking in sincerity in any way, particularly given the likelihood that calls for Miss Suu Kyi’s freedom would have the full support of almost anyone who is associated with the company in any way.
Along with it’s novel approach to branding, I feel that Fiat deserves commendation for it’s bold stance about this ongoing crying injustice.