• Ad Meter 2017: Alfa Romeo - Mozzafiato
  • Ad Meter 2017: Alfa Romeo - Dear Predictable
  • Ad Meter 2017: Alfa Romeo - Riding Dragons

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles used Super Bowl LI as a launching pad for the true reintroduction of Italy’s storied Alfa Romeo brand in the U.S. after a nearly 23-year absence.

It will take a monumental effort for the Italian premium brand to break into the highly competitive premium segment, as Alfa Romeo tries to compete against well-established brands such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. Fiat Chrysler’s decision to use all three of its Super Bowl ad slots on Sunday was a recognition of that challenge.

Ads for Alfa Romeo ran during the second, third and fourth quarters. Collectively, the ads sought to portray the Italian brand, which has not been sold in meaningful volume in the U.S. since 1995, as powerful, exciting, sexy and vastly different from the crowd.

Of the three, the first ad that aired, called “Riding Dragons,” had the most ambitious message. The 60-second spot, created in a partnership with Art Machine, mixed childhood striving and wonder with the brand’s revival.

The ad begins as a boy opens his eyes to gaze at the model planets suspended from his bedroom ceiling before running to watch as a space shuttle roars toward the heavens.

“When we were young, we wanted to be epic,” a voice announces. “We rode on the backs of dragons and dreamt of flying cars.”

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The ad also draws on the heritage of Alfa Romeo crest and portrays the Alfa Romeo Giulia as a powerful dragon comparable to the dreams some have as children to ride and conquer.

Alfa Romeo’s crest has always been among the most interesting, and menacing, in the automotive industry. It includes a dragon-like snake on one side and a red cross on a white background on the other side. The serpent represents the coat of arms of the Visconti family, an Italian dynasty, and the red cross represents the flag of Milan.

The other two ads, titled “Dear Predictable” and “Mozzafiato,” were more traditional ads that emphasized Alfa Romeo’s performance, styling and racing heritage.

Fiat Chrysler, unlike most companies, doesn’t release any information about its ads until they air during the Super Bowl. With ad rates at about $5 million for each 30-second segment, it’s a high-stakes strategy that has paid off for the automaker in recent years.

The automaker made Super Bowl history in 2011 with the first two-minute ad featuring Eminem and followed up in 2012 with an ad starring Clint Eastwood.

Fiat Chrysler wasn’t alone among automakers advertising in the Super Bowl. In fact, it was just one of nine automotive brands that tried to score big.

That’s not unusual. The automotive industry has been the single largest advertising category during the Super Bowl every year since 2010. While spending has dipped slightly over the past two years the nine major automotive brands have spent an estimated $86.4 million on Super Bowl ads in 2016, according to Kantar Media, which tracks ad spending.

The automakers who advertised in Super Bowl LI included: Audi, Buick, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz. But all of those automakers, with the exception of Hyundai, released their Super Bowl ads over the past two weeks.

And no automaker took a bigger risk than Fiat Chrysler. The automaker could have used the Super Bowl to highlight its all-new Jeep Compass, which is going on sale in the U.S. by spring. Or, it could have raised awareness of its now-popular Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

Instead, it used two 30-second and one 60-second commercials to hype a brand that many millennials likely had never heard of.

Alfa Romeo’s true return to the U.S. has been in the planning stages since 2009 when Fiat purchased a controlling interest in Chrysler.

The company began selling the 4C — a small two-seat roadster — in the U.S. in late 2014. But the roadster wasn’t expected to carry the weight of the entire brand for two years and sells in small volumes.

The Giulia sedan, shown in all three commercials, is viewed as the first vehicle with the potential to sell in higher volumes. Revealed in Milan, Italy, in June 2015, it finally went on sale in the U.S. in December after several delays caused by technical issues.

Alfa Romeo also will launch the Stelvio, an SUV, later this year.

“I am quite hopeful that we will have a great year here in the U.S. for Alfa Romeo,” Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said last month at the Detroit auto show.

“Dear Predictable”

“Dear Predictable” was the second Alfa Romeo ad of the night. In that ad, Alfa Romeo is portrayed a different, more exciting kind of premium brand. “Dear Predictable” was created in partnership with Dallas-based the Richards Group.

“Mozzafiato”

Fiat Chrysler titled its third ad “Mozzafiato,” which in Italian means “to take one’s breath away.”

A sexy female voice narrates as the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia speeds through roads in Italy.

“With its appearance, with its presence, with its power … Mozzafiato,” the narrator says as a woman with black stiletto heels gets out of the car.

Contact Brent Snavely: 313-222-6512 or bsnavely@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @BrentSnavely.

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