There is a whole generation of Americans that have never heard of Alfa Romeo.
On Super Bowl Sunday, that significantly changed because the Italian car manufacturer made an emphatic statement by capturing the attention of over 100 million viewers by airing three Super Bowl commercials. They also served as the presenting sponsor for the game’s halftime show on Fox.
Fiat Chrysler Group’s exotic niche subsidiary used the game as the ultimate conversation starter and sped up their reported $2.7 billion re-launch marketing plan with 120 seconds worth of commercials in the second, third and fourth quarters of the game promoting the Alfa Romeo brand and its premium mid-size SUV Stelvio and the mid-size sedan Giulia.
In an ambitious move, FCA dedicated all of its Super Bowl marketing budget to an unprofitable brand who’s largely an unknown for any American under the age of 35. According to FCA, just 516 Alfa Romeos were sold in the US last year, and sales were down by 22 percent.
Reid Bigland, head of Alfa Romeo and Maserati for FCA, told [a]listdaily that now was time for the European brand to be reintroduced to the North American marketplace in order to compete against the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Audi.
“We’re going to amp-up our marketing this year as the Alfa Romeo cars begin to arrive. We need to get it out there because Alfa Romeo has been out of the US market for the better part of 20 years,” Bigland says. “We’ve got multiple digital strategies throughout FCA. Right now, it’s about getting general awareness out with all segments of the targeted class. We have a digital approach, a TV approach and an out-of-home approach. We need to get our marketing spooled up and deliver on a unique value proposition. We’ve got a marketing plan ready to go for 2017 for creating awareness for what we offer. The underlying interest is there. It’s going to be something special.”
According to USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter, Alfa Romeo’s 60-second spot “Riding Dragons” that traced its history from past-to-present had an average rating of 5.96, which ranked 18th out of 66 Super Bowl commercials.
The 30-second spot “Dear Predictable” touted its new Giulia as an antidote to predictable sedans and had an average rating of 5.11, which ranked 47th. The 30-second spot “Mozzafiato” introduced its new luxury sedan Giulia and had an average rating of 5.00, which ranked 51st. (FCA dedicated two minutes to its Jeep brand for last year’s Super Bowl.)
Fox broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman also invited viewers to join the “Alfa Romeo Halftime Report” at the culmination of the second quarter.
Bigland says there is a stateside appetite for their proverbial pair of aces they hold in the Stelvio and Giulia to help FCA’s business, sales and profitability speed forward.
“Right now the mid-size sedan market is the largest premium sedan market in the US, although, it’s under a lot of attack. It’s been in decline. When you look at the fastest-growing segment in the US market, it’s in the mid-sized and full-size SUV segments. This trend has been going on strong for the past five years, and if anything, it’s continuing to accelerate. The SUV segment in China and US is red hot.” Bigland says. “We really don’t have to choose in putting our eggs in either one of the baskets. We’re putting our eggs in both of the baskets in between the Stelvio and Giulia. We think we’re very well positioned. We have phenomenal cars on our hands. We think consumers are looking for an alternative in the premium-performance segment market. We think Alfa Romeo offers that alternative.”
Bigland believes the Stelvio will outsell the Giulia, but first, they must hit the market, as they are targeting Europe in Q1, and North America for Q2. They currently have a small market share with 155 Alfa Romeo dealers in the US and 20 in Canada, and more of those dealers are being dueled with Maserati—a good fit from a product portfolio perspective.
The Giulia is the first of eight all-new Alfa Romeos debuting through 2020. Bigland says they plan to grow their distribution network over the next 12-to-24 months with their sights set on 250 dealers in North America.
“If you’re not listening to consumers and delivering cars that they want to buy you’re going to be missing the boat,” he says. “For us, moving into the SUV segment is really a response to the US market, where almost 60 percent is SUVs and pick-up trucks. So, you have to be there, or you’re really out. It’s where consumer preferences have shifted.”
According to car shopping and information platform Edmunds, traffic to its pages on their site for the Alfa Romeo Giulia was up 802 percent on Sunday. On the brand side, Alfa Romeo piqued the most curiosity among car brands with traffic up 785 percent during the course of the game.
“Using the Super Bowl to generate awareness for a new brand or product is a tried-and-true advertising tactic, and this year proved it still works,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds. “If you think about what it takes for someone to look away from an exciting game or halftime show to go online and research something, odds are it’s because it’s something they’ve never heard of and they’re compelled to find out more.
The majority of social engagement came from Alfa Romeo’s Instagram and Twitter channels. On Facebook, Alfa Romeo USA’s top post received 58,000 views, 1,400 likes and 707 shares. There were 5,800 social mentions under the hashtag #AwakenTheDrive, which was not very high compared to other brands, per Talkwalker.com.
All three of Alfa Romeo’s TV ads were devoid of humor, unity and politics—common themes from the series of Super Bowl spots this year. The European commodity instead used its rich Italian heritage to focus on scenic mountains and hair-pin turns as they chartered the largely unknown lands of the US in their quest for a brand rebirth.
“Alfa Romeo needs to be true to its 105 year-old roots with state-of-the-art-technology, incredible performance and gorgeous Italian design and style,” Bigland says. “If you don’t have some things going for you, you’re not going to last that long.”
Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan