“A visual feast. For the audience in 1979 this was as close to sci-fi as you could get. It was like watching two minutes of the Star Wars movie – no one had seen anything like it before. The ad also makes it seem like lots of care has gone into building the cars.”
One evening in 1979, television viewers who hadn’t gone to the loo in the middle of News at Ten saw something very unusual, a commercial break completely taken up by one ad. It was a two-minute triumph showing a car being put together in a factory, and not a dirty blue overall in sight. The original idea for an ad to promote the new italian car was to use smoke coming out of the Vatican as a sign that a new car had been born. But at the drawing board, writer Paul Weiland remembered an item he had seen on the tv show Tomorrow’s World about the Fiat factory in Italy where cars were put together by robots. He tracked the footage down and decided it could form the basis of the new Fiat campaign. “In Europe the car was called the Ritmo, so I thought… what kind of music can I put with this?” recalls Weiland. “My knowledge of classical music was zilch but I remembered something called Figaro and thought: Figaro sounds like Ritmo! I put this music to it and everyone thought it was great…” If that part was easy, the filming of the commercial turned out to be a nightmare.
Ironically, when the production team led by the director Hugh Hudson arrived at the Fiat factory in Turin to shoot the film they had to run a gauntlet of pickets and burning tyres lit by workers protesting about robots taking their jobs. “When we arrived there, there was a strike, and we got locked in to the factory” recalls director Hugh Hudson. “We were locked in nobody operating, just someone to press the button. All the workers were out but we were in making the film…” “The commercial was quite expensive at that time, around 300.000 pounds” add Paul Weiland, “but they probably lost about seven million in production, because every two seconds we were having to stop the machines!”
The finished ad had no voice over and ended on a simple caption “Handbuilt by Robots”. Many ad makers believe its intelligent combination of music and camerawork make it one of the best TV commercials ever shown in UK.
Advertising Agency: Collett Dickenson Pearce
Copywriter: Paul Weiland
Art Director: Dave Horry
Director: Hugh Hudson
Production company: Hudson Films