DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Fail

Bronx Cheer For J. Lo's Phony Fiat Commercial

Star shot TV spot without setting foot in old 'hood

Jennifer Lopez

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JLo Fiat Release

11/23 UPDATE: Fiat driven by "Jennifer Lopez" broke down during Bronx shoot

NOVEMBER 22--As part of a new multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with Fiat, Jennifer Lopez has shot several TV commercials for the Italian automaker, placed the Fiat 500 in her latest music video, and even put the vehicle center stage during her performance Sunday night at the American Music Awards.

But while the brand building and cross-promotion campaign is both lucrative and far-reaching, the star does have her collaborative limits. Specifically, the 42-year-old actress will not visit the Bronx in service of shilling the subcompact car.

While Lopez, Fiat, the automotive firm’s PR people, and its Detroit ad agency would have consumers believe that the star deigned to return home to film a low-speed pilgrimage through the gritty streets of her hometown, she actually never set foot in the Bronx during the filming of the Fiat spots.

Instead, the role of “Jenny from the Block” was played by a body double, according to two sources familiar with the commercial production. While the Lopez lookalike was actually behind the wheel in the Bronx, Lopez herself was in Los Angeles, where she was filmed inside a Fiat 500.

The shots of the actress were artfully merged to make it appear that she was tooling around New York City’s poorest borough. Big Block, a Los Angeles digital production studio, was hired to merge live action footage with computer-generated imagery to make it appear as if Lopez was in the Bronx.

The ruse tricked scores of media outlets--from The Wall Street Journal to automotive blogs--who reported that a centerpiece of the Lopez/Fiat partnership was the production of a 60-second commercial titled “My World,” which Fiat began running last month on network and cable TV outlets.

The commercial shows Lopez “driving a Fiat 500 Cabrio as she travels through the streets of Manhattan to the Bronx where she grew up,” according to a Fiat press release heralding the TV spot. The commercial, produced by Doner, a Michigan-based ad agency, purportedly “explores her personal take on how life in the New York City borough continues to inspire her to be tougher, to stay sharper and to think faster.” Fiat boss Olivier Francois also joins the artifice, claiming, “We watch as she leaves Manhattan and makes her way back to the Bronx, where she grew up and continues to be inspired by.”

Lopez says as much in the spot’s voiceover. She reminds prospective Fiat purchasers that “this is my world. This place inspires me.” She then adds, “They may be just streets to you, but to me they’re a playground." It seems Fiat sought to lease some of Lopez’s street cred in a bid to create a gauzier version of Chrysler’s “Made In Detroit” ad starring the rapper Eminem.

To help perpetuate this fakery and fiction, the commercial is crammed with every stereotypical New York street scene that director Max Malkin could stage. Along with cutaways of Lopez looking glamorous at the wheel, the actress purportedly drives past a teen boy drumming on overturned plastic pails; a guy break dancing on a sidewalk; a black NYPD officer walking the beat; kids cavorting under an open fire hydrant; girls in Catholic school uniforms double-dutching; graffiti artists spray painting the metal gate of a hardware store; black guys shooting hoops in the park; and teenage girls trying out their best curbside hip-hop dance moves.

It is such a breathtaking assemblage of hoary urban clichés, it’s a wonder that Lopez & Co. forgot to include a shot of some grizzled pensioners playing dominoes or a Puerto Rican enjoying some shaved ice.

But the commercial (as seen above) did make sure to include footage of a shabby barber shop and its hardworking proprietor, Eligio Cueto. The 46-year-old owner of the Mott Haven barber shop seen in “My World” told TSG that the spot’s producers recently spent a few hours shooting in and around his East 136th Street business.

Cueto said that as the Fiat 500 drove past his storefront, passers-by were filmed as the vehicle--and its famous driver--purportedly caught their eye. “But it wasn’t her,” Cueto added, “it was a double that looked like her.” Cueto’s disappointment in having to settle for a Lopez stand-in was tempered by the $1800 he was paid by the commercial’s producers.

A new 60-second Fiat spot that debuted last Thursday supposedly shows Lopez (whom Fiat describes as “Actress, entertainer, film, TV and music producer, fashion designer, entrepreneur and humanitarian”) purportedly driving a limited edition Fiat 500 through Manhattan. Like “My World,” Lopez was digitally piped into Gotham.

The new commercial, titled “Elegance,” touts a Gucci-branded version of the Fiat 500. Starting at $23,500, the vehicle is sporty and brimming with European flair. And almost small enough to fit in the trunk of Lopez’s Maybach. (3 pages)