When Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese pro-democracy leader who was locked up under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 of the past 21 years, was released on November 13, 2010, Olivier Francois, Head of Marketing for Chrysler and Fiat, received a note from the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Washington expressing appreciation for Fiat and Chrysler’s corporate support of the cause. But when Francois, as reported by the Detroit News, got an email from the Dalai Lama, asking Fiat to participate in a commercial celebrating the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, he didn’t skip a beat.
Fiat SpA, a partner of Chrysler Group LLC, shot the commercial with the Dalai Lama in Hiroshima in November of 2010, where his holiness was addressing the 11th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.
Getting politically involved is not new to Francois. Francois, Fiat and Chrysler took on the cause a year ago with a TV commercial starring the Chrysler 300 and well-known peace activists asking for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a noted Nobel peace prize laureate. Not exactly a win-win for Francois, the ad, a knock-off of another Fiat ad appealing for her freedom, was released around the same time as Chrysler was asking the government for a bailout. Talk about poor timing! The ad got a thumbs down for using taxpayer dollars to pay an Italian ad agency for what they felt was a copy of the Fiat ad.
Chrysler didn’t back down, suggesting that the commercial didn’t cost them a penny because the ad agency and talent all donated their time. Nevertheless, the ad was pulled in the US.
Apparently, Olivier Francois doesn’t take no for an answer. In 2008, Francois did an ad for the Lancia Delta with activist and actor Richard Gere. Gere, who is pro-Tibet, appeared in the spot that aired in Italy, driving the Lancia Delta from Hollywood to Tibet in 30 seconds. China wasn’t exactly pleased. The Fiat group duly apologized.
Now, about that ad with the Dalai Lama. It was shot, edited and is already airing. Francois didn’t want to give anyone a chance to complain.