Longing and luxury are in the eyes of the beholder

Marketers should remember that longing and luxury are in the eye of the beholder. The New FIAT 500 is a Case In Point. In many ways, what one finds compelling and also experiences as luxurious is relative to a person’s own history, cognitive and behavioral style, and aspirations. What drives a person to transform a “want” into a “must” is only partially based on a product’s attributes, the rest being intimately tied to a person’s self-narrative and their perception of the brand’s marketing position. In the automotive industry, luxury brands include Mercedes, Jaguar, Ferrari, and Porsche; but I would argue that even a car like the new Fiat 500 can offer a luxury experience to the American audience. The 500 is coming! The 500 is coming! But will its disembarkation on U.S. shores be cheered and toasted? I am an American. I am an anthropologist and I consult on matters related to strategic marketing communications and branding, on how and why people emotionally attach to a product, person or performance. I love Italy and have recently just moved back to the States (due to work demands) from living in Florence for four years. I’ve driven a 1973 Cinquecento with joy and pride. Here’s what I think about the US marketing plan for the latest Fiat 500. That new Cinquecento is hot. It’s beautiful, cute, has a quirky maturity, and is frisky-fun. But its marketing slogan – An Everyday Masterpiece – is wrong. Americans don’t go for masterpieces. Americans are not masterpieces. They are “expediencies.” Americans go for a rapid, how-to end-result (even if only imagined), and for the immediate high that comes with that consummation (or reverie). Americans also like to be the center of attention. “Masterpiece” refers to Fiat’s view of its own product, not its view of the audience it seeks. To succeed among amber waves of grain that is a cultural distance from the Tuscan hills, Fiat needs to look through the 500’s front windshield and rear view mirror to see the essence of Americans and America. Then it will arrive at a metaphorical destination that conjures up an authentic marketing idea worthy of its new little car that has a big feeling. Americans are a paradox: both literal and symbolic, all at once. They call shellfish, shellfish, not frutti di mare. Free and equal by political birthright, Americans, to make them each different, regularly and repeatedly declare “I’m Number One.” Subtlety and patience, both necessary for producing a masterpiece, are not an American forte. Moreover, though, Americans do play mental games with themselves: She loves me, she loves me not. America is the only country that has in its lexicon the idea of dreaming. In America, things are what they are and these self-same things stand for something beyond their explicit and proximate reference. Americans are pragmatic romantics. Americans are hard-boiled optimists by nature. Americans are soft sentimentalists by choice. Given what Americans are, a better idea than “masterpiece” needs to be fashioned into something potent and stylish for the Cinquecento to ride high. My vote is for something familiar and participatory, that also allows for both nostalgia and hope. Something like:

Remember What Your First Love Felt Like…Again.

A good branding idea allows consumers to insinuate their own story into the story of the product. When this occurs, there is a metaphorical merging such that product loyalty becomes a misnomer. What actually occurs is much more potent. Consumers feel that the product is a venue for their own self-expansion and are therefore loyal to their own idea of who they are and can become. That’s what marketers should go for. “First Love” is, of course, a fantasy colored by memory and perception that is itself shaped by emotion, not logic; and by identity, not interests. That’s the palette the Fiat 500 needs to be drawing from. First love is an exhilarating affair; it obliterates time, and puffs you up like a Thanksgiving Day parade helium balloon. First love is also a quiet place where one can experience a momentary contentment. The same is true when behind the wheel of a great car. You feel aroused and relaxed at the same time. That’s luxury – at any price and at any size. The Cinquecento needs a big marketing idea because the car itself is a big idea. The 500 is coming. Will it be greeted with a Caesar-like hail? I’d love it if that happens.

Dr. Bob Deutsch is a cognitive anthropologist and founder of the marketing consulting firm, Brain Sells (www.brain-sells.com). Photo credits: Patrice Hauser All articles are reviewed and copy-edited by Gina Conforti

 This article originally appeared on www.FCTechGroup.com