Dario, Fiat and advertising

Articles and Interviews

Seventeen years after changing the game with the seminal THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) and a decade after the supernatural mystery thriller SUSPIRIA (1977) came this, arguably Dario Argento’s most leftfield output.

By this point in his career Dario Argento had already become an international name, synonymous for violent murder mysteries but in 1987 the writing was on the wall for not only Italian horror but also the country’s cinematic output in general. Taking his cue from the equally revered directors Federico Fellini and Sergio Leone, Dario Argento would follow in their footsteps and enter the world of television advertising thanks to an invitation from one of the most Italian of automobile institutions – Fiat.

The 30-second advert for the Fiat Croma was a concept designed by Alessandro Petrini and Mario Marchello for the New York based advertising agency Benton & Bowles (DMB&M). A company which back in 1976 had employed the shock-jock Howard Stern as an assistant media planner.

Shot over ten days in Alice Springs, Australia this location allowed for every car advertisers dream; miles and miles of asphalt set against a picturesque exotic location. In this case a large desert. Here, there is nothing around to distract. Only you, your car and the road.

A Fiat hurtles down a dark, lonely road to an ominous sound. The name Dario Argento appears on the bottom of the screen as the camera focuses in on the name of the car. The boot opens allowing the camera to glide through the car from back to front, a movement reminiscent of his flowing dolly shots from movies such as SUSPIRIA. Suddenly the darkness gives way to a pulsating 80s rock tune, sun and imposing landscape. We are free.

In less than forty seconds we have seen both the interior and exterior details but perhaps more importantly we have witnessed the sense of aspiration and freedom that this car affords us – these are vital components when selling a high (emotional and financial) investment item.

Going through the first three stages of the AIDA model, FIAT have shook their small, cute Italian image (at least that is how we see the majority of their primarily city cars – the spider being a clear exception) and display the Croma with some adventurous, exciting edge.

At the end a voice, from what I have read that of Dario Argento himself proclaims in Italian ‘When you drive it, it is more beautiful’ further reinforcing the aspirational approach that is so vital to gaining buy-in and building desire.

Somehow the advert manages to channel and harness the visual and stylistic approach of Dario Argento with the practical framework required to market a product. Not many film directors can manage that without compromise. The only thing missing is a black leather glove driving the car. Perhaps the use of the director should not be much of a shock however as two years before the company used an alien theme, and while not as kinetic as the advert put together by Dario Argento it still displayed a bit of style and genre sensibility. Perhaps, just perhaps this was the market for the vehicle.

According to art director Alessandro Petrini in an interview that was later replicated on the Autopareri forum, many of the shots were demanding and required careful modifications to the vehicles used while he had also wanted to capture one of the icons of the outback – a kangaroo. Unfortunately these creatures proved a little too elusive and a substitute grasshopper was used instead serving the purpose of breaking up the sequences.

This advert represents a strange shift of pace for Dario Argento. Had it been in his later years when his output began to objectively decline then sure you might see it as a cash-grab, but this was during a period where his work involved OPERA and participating with DEMONS 2.

Whatever the reason, of course we can’t forget that FIAT are based in Dario Argento’s adopted city of Turin and this advert provides us with a little glimmer of an alternative career for the man and a rare oddity in his canon of work. Although as you will see perhaps not that much of an anomaly.

Now…which way to my nearest Fiat dealer.

After all of that though, his advertisement for the sugar company Eridania is perhaps even more baffling as. The advert juxtaposes the media perception (dark and scary; a master of horror) with that of a more personal, warm hearted nature and as a result highlights a great sense of humour as he blubs at a film while eating popcorn and passes out at the sight of blood. A terrific piece of endorsement and humour which is has been a staple of many a good advert with a celebrity playing against type.

Many years ago I wrote my postgraduate dissertation on the constructs and dimensions of endorsement advertising models and wow…had I seen this then I would have had a field day. Dario my good man – you never cease to amaze me.

If for whatever reason you need a hard copy of the Fiat advert or want to discover other directors delving into the murky world of TV commercials hunt down the documentary THE KING OF ADS from 1991.


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