The Italian carmaker Fiat on Friday apologised to China for a television commercial (see below) starring United States actor Richard Gere that it acknowledged ”could disturb the sensibility of the Chinese people”.
The ad shows Gere, a long-time supporter of the Tibetan Independence Movement, drive the group’s new Lancia Delta model from Hollywood to Tibet, where he and a child dressed as a Buddhist monk plunge their hands into fresh snow.
The slogan that runs with the ad is ”The power to be different”.
The Italian car maker stressed that its advertising had ”never been driven by or based on political choices or by a desire to interfere with the internal political system of any country, especially the People’s Republic of China”.
The choice of Richard Gere as the face of the Lancia Delta was instead dictated by ”his long and distinguished career in the arts”, Fiat said, adding that Gere himself had decided on the theme of the ad.
”The choice of the subject matter by Mr Gere is a reflection of our commitment to artistic freedom of expression. It should not be understood as an endorsement by the Fiat Group of Mr Gere’s social and political views”.
Stressing its ”neutrality in connection with any political matter, be it on a national or international basis”, the company said it apologised to the Chinese government and the Chinese people about any ”misunderstanding” the ad may have sparked. At the Lancia Delta launch at the beginning of June, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said he ”didn’t know” if the commercial had political overtones, but that he ”certainly liked it”. Apparently, he now knows. Neutrality with any political matter making a commercial with such a topic? Maybe at Fiat they think that Richard Gere is just a colourful and fake testimonial for Tibet, something like a city sightseeing in Rome, with fake gladiators smoking cigarettes and reading newspapers, smiling at excited tourists. Lancia chief Olivier Francois said Gere was perfect for the role of his ideal Delta driver, who combines ”glamour and courage, elegance and temperament”.
China’s crackdown in March on a Buddhist-monk-led uprising in Tibet, which China invaded in 1950, has sparked international calls for a boycott of this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing.
Evidently, Fiat just cannot afford to lose the Chinese market, considering the mess the global car market is having these weeks.