The Italians are Coming

As my loyal blog readers know, once in a while I cannot resist the temptation to post an amusing advertisement that plays on stereotypes that foreigners have about Italians, and in this case some stereotypes about Americans.  I was not aware of this one until an Italian journalist, Federico Rampini (see blog post Enlightened at the Economics Festival in Trento), wrote about it in an Italian weekly women’s magazine under the headline: “The Italians are Coming, This is How America Sees Us.”

I grew up in the Boston area not far from where the American revolution started.  All my life I have heard the tales of revolutionary war hero Paul Revere made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”

Paul Revere's Ride, April 19 1775, Emmet, Thomas Addis - New York Public Library

Paul Revere’s Ride, April 19 1775, Emmet, Thomas Addis – New York Public Library

“The British are Coming, The British are Coming” is what the young revolutionary yelled out to the towns and villages west of Boston (Somerville, Medford, Arlington and Lexington) as he galloped through the night to warn them that the British troops were marching out from Boston. Every year on the 18th of April we would watch reenactments of how the brave Minutemen (farmers who took part in a the local militia) took on the British Redcoats in Lexington and Concord.  Even this past summer I took my daughter and her cousins to see the spot in Lexington where Paul Revere was captured.

As all Americans learn in school, the British Redcoats marched in a staid and orderly fashion and were badly beaten by the American militiamen who hid behind stonewalls and conducted a precursor to guerilla warfare.   In this ad the Italians whizz around the corner kicking up a cloud of dust in their sexy red Fiat 500s.  “Staid” and “orderly” are not adjectives one uses when referring to Italians.  All one has to do is wait in a taxi line or a line at the post office in Rome and “unruly” and “argumentative” are more likely to come to mind. When the British are coming the Americans run for the guns, when the Italians are coming the women tear off their long, stiff, uncomfortable clothing, and give a quick, liberating chop to their lengthy hair.  The staid pub becomes a club, and the prim and proper tea set is shoved off the table in favor of four cups of rich, creamy espresso and the music switches from dramatic classical to T-Rex’s “Children of the Revolution.”  As one of the newly “liberated” puritan women head for the Fiat 500 she declares “This is going to be so much better than the Tea Party” — a reference to the original Boston Tea Party when American revolutionaries dressed up as Indians, boarded a British Ship carrying tea and dumped it into the Boston Harbor in protest against “taxation without representation” by the British King.  But it is also a dig at the at “Tea Party” political movement a right-wing movement that started up in 2009 to protest against government over-reach.

In his article Rampini noted that “they see us as less inhibited, less politically correct, more pleasure-loving with respect to the anglo-puritan tradition.”  Rampini also notes that the ad is making a veiled reference to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his bunga-bunga parties (see blog post The End of Italy’s Bunga Bunga Era) and legal troubles.

But Rampini goes on to note that it was an act of marketing genius to “transform our weakness into a strength.”

I agree, I bet a lot of Americans are going to be buying Fiat 500s.

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Trisha Thomas

Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

21 Comments

  1. Dana
    2013/09/28

    Ha! My husband has one: pearl white with an Italian flag racing stripe along its length. I think it’s my husband’s mid-life crisis car. What else could explain why a 6 foot 2 American man would choose to impulsively sell his Volvo SUV in order to buy a Fiat 500? Or could it be just as Rampini suggested? Quite possibly. Volvo vs Fiat…two different symbols with very different images, right? Volvo is owned by Ford now, isn’t it.
    Thanks for giving me a new perspective this morning.
    D

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/09/29

      Wow, gave up a Volvo SUV for a Fiat 500. Maybe he thinks women will be tearing off their clothes and hopping in his car with him. What a riot!! Definitely Fiat and Volvo has different images. I think of Volvo as being very strong, safe, and secure…not sexy.

      Reply
  2. Adri
    2013/09/28

    I just love this ad. I also love the car. Last week Bart and I were at the FIAT dealership looking at them, and they are great. Isn’t it something how ingrained the story of “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is in our collective American consciousness? This ad is sheer genius. Thanks for starting my day off with a smile.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/09/29

      Thank you Adri! If you buy one let me know I will be curious to hear how it is to drive one. I think you and I share an interest in advertising. I agree this is sheer genius.

      Reply
  3. Gwen Thomas
    2013/09/28

    I have laughed over this add for a while now. Can’t think why I didn’t mention it to you. I hate to say it, as much as we could use some revolutionary Italians, the Italians won’t be coming to Texas any time soon. Too many Ford 150 pick ups and other LARGE vehicles on the road. I bet they will be popular on the coasts however! And definitely in Boston!

    I don’t quite follow the veiled Berlusconi reference but love the Tea Party one!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/09/29

      I guess everyone has seen a lot of this ad. I was the only one who missed it. Yeah, I can’t see Fiats being very popular in Texas, they would get smooshed by all those pickup trucks!

      Reply
  4. Nancy Rockwell
    2013/09/28

    Great write up, of an ad that we are seeing a lot these days. I think your economist author is right on about it’s use of Italian image to sell Fiats. Car ads have been using women as bait for at least 50 years, the scantily clad sexpot draped across the car is a classic Madison Av image. This ad appeals even more deeply to that desire, proclaiming that the sight of the car coming will bring out the uninhibited sexpot in the folks the buyer knows well – heck, it can even do that for Puritans, the ad claims, what can’t it do for your life? And party/pleasure/power is the equation that runs market capitalism everywhere in America. Hope you track those Fiat sales and let us know. Now, about that 30 year old car the Pope is driving . . . is it a Fiat? Will we see nuns ripping off their habits in the next ad?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/09/29

      Ha!! Boy are you right — sexpots sell cars. The Pope’s old car is a Renault, not a Fiat, and you asked if Nuns will be ripping off their habits?? To be totally, totally honest, I wouldn’t be surprised. It is the funniest thing, but people have started throwing t-shirts, crutches, all kinds of things at the Pope during his weekly audience. They go beserk over him. And some nuns have a lot of pent-up sexuality. I saw Benedict XVI give a speech to some 3000 nuns at a convent in Spain once and they were going wacko over him, and Ben XVI doesn’t have nearly the appeal of Pope Francis. And I’ve been told by older Vaticanistas that the nuns in Poland would go nuts over Pope John Paul II in his early years (he was elected when he was still in his fifties). Makes me giggle.

      Reply
  5. Kathy
    2013/09/28

    Trisha, this is great.
    You only have to look at the questions on the Italy Trip Advisor forums to know that this advertisement is very close to the truth. Americans, Brits and Australians write saying how their upcoming visit to Italy is causing major packing angst – and asking how they can ‘blend in with the locals’ and look stylish. The answer is usually ‘forget it’, don’t even bother trying, you’ll never blend in.
    Panache and effortless style must be written into Italian DNA. I just love La Passeggiata – it looks like an everyday version of Milan Fashion Week. As I said to my best friend while observing Las Passeggiata in Naples – ‘I’ll give you fifty euros if you can spot anyone in sweats and trainers’.
    Yes, the ad may feed off a few stereotypes but they are highly complimentary and – how much are those cars? I think I want one.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/09/29

      Wow, I should start reading trip advisor to get blog ideas. Yeah, those cars are pretty cute. I think they cost a lot, more than I can afford anyway. I drive an old, beat up, decidedly un-sexy Fiat Punto. I wish a little of all that Italian Panache would rub off on me. I don’t wear my sweats and sneakers around much anymore though. Learned that one.

      Reply
  6. lega
    2013/09/29

    Fun ad! My family’s car when I was a teenager in Libya was a gleaming white, roomy Fiat sedan. My sister and I were awestruck with the luxury of this car. It was the car that my mother first learned to drive. She was one of the first women (not including women with the Wheelus Air Force Base) to drive in Tripoli. The local men met with my father and told him that it was not appropriate for him to let her drive. She continued to drive but was said to be possessed by the “afrit”.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/09/30

      Wow, that’s so cool. You should be proud of your mother. I had to look up what “Afrit” means — “possessed by a powerful and evil demon.” I love it!! And all for a Fiat. Actually sometimes I feel possessed by a powerful and evil demon when I am driving my Fiat Punto around in Rome traffic.

      Reply
  7. TR Lansner
    2013/09/30

    And the ad ends with “This is going to be so much better than the Tea Party”… Perhaps FIAT believe Right Wing Nuts only drive big-ass pickup trucks???

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/09/30

      Yeah, since we are playing fast and free with stereo-types, I would say that might be about right. Can’t see any right-wing nuts driving a Smart Car.

      Reply
  8. Arlene Gibbs Décor
    2013/10/01

    My friends and I were cracking up about this FIAT Funny or Die spot. I love the Americans’ “transformation”. I think the director is Italian.

    http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/bbcbd40c42/the-fiat-family

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/10/01

      Hilarious!! Thanks for that!

      Reply
  9. Alan
    2013/10/01

    . . stone walls and trees? Damned Americans – should learn to stand up and fight like men!!!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/10/02

      Well Alan, you know how we are…better shoot from behind a stone wall or from a drone. Makes things less messy!!

      Reply
  10. Lesha
    2013/10/02

    Great take on the commercial…some references/things I hadn’t thought of. If you think that one is good, you should check out the Fiat 500 Abarth ad that aired on the Superbowl a few years back. It was brilliant and, I think, totally captured the “ideal” of the Italian female.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/10/02

      Oh My God!! Thank you for pointing that out Lesha, that is hilarious, and so so true…the perfect stereotype of the Italian woman, or the Italian woman all men dream of having. Here’s the link in case any other blog readers want to check it out.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMjavRu4v5c

      Reply

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