Clever Nissan Campaign Too Slick for Its Own Good

The Whole Advertising Exercise Exudes a Faint Air of Fraud.

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Do you know who Marc Horowitz is?

Neither did we. We discovered him in the new TV and web campaign for Nissan, in which this young man lives for a week in a Sentra and makes little ad-sized movies about the experience. They're pretty funny.

Road rules
Horowitz doesn't explain why he's decided to make a domicile of his subcompact, but he does list his rules for the experiment. He has to sleep in it, of course. He has to go to work every day. He has to bathe. He has to prepare at least four meals in the vicinity of the car. He has to entertain.

That yields some laughs, once when he has a date and once when he has a card game with the boys. But along the way, lo and behold, Horowitz dramatizes various features of the car. Roomy reclining seats, for instance. Built-in Bluetooth hands-free phone technology. Powerful sound system. And handling so stable he can zigzag through a pylon course without disturbing any of his CDs or his Big Gulp.

Absurdly extreme premise
It's all very witty and engaging. The idea, obviously, is not to sell Sentras as shelter, but to find an absurdly extreme premise and engaging narrative with which to bathe the car in a flattering light. Mission accomplished there. How can you resist a guy who wears goggles to run a pylon course? Or who parks in a garage to order a pizza? (Pizza lady: "What's your address?" Marc: "Uh ... I see a P2 over there. Does that help you out?") LOL.

Yet there's something about this series of commercials and webisodes that just doesn't seem quite right. We're allowed to believe this is citizen video, as if some guy off the street just decided as a piece of performance art to live in his car for a week. Or maybe even some guy who just really loves his Sentra taking it upon himself to showcase the car's many charms. Certainly nothing in the TV spots or the webisodes disabuses you of the notion that this was a spontaneously forming fan video, along the lines of George Masters' now-famous unsolicited commercial for iPod.

But wait
But wait. This stuff looks too much like advertising. The Bluetooth and sound-system demos, for instance, are just too explicit. So what is actually going on here? Well, here's what. TBWA/Chiat/Day was familiar with the work of Marc Horowitz, who is, in fact, a San Francisco conceptual artist. He made a bit of a splash in 2004 by scrawling "Dinner w/ Marc 510-872-7326" on a piece of furniture being shot for a Crate & Barrel catalogue, then documenting his actual dates with the people who called.

So he wasn't just some random guy; he was recruited by the agency, given a list of copypoints and otherwise told to just go crazy with the idea-which he did, rather impressively.

But, in the end, it is still clearly inorganic -- i.e., staged. The charm of George Masters and various other product-centric web videos is their passion and their authenticity. Yes, the vlogosphere is happy to accept, even embrace, clever citizen ads and even clever agency-produced commercials. Wieden & Kennedy's wildly popular "Ronaldinho" soccer-crossbar video proves that. But that community will not tolerate stealth or masquerade.

This campaign implies that it has sprung fully formed from the imagination of Marc Horowitz. That is a deception that could horribly backfire-on him and on Nissan. A single line: "We asked Marc to live in a Sentra for seven days and document the experience" would have more than taken care of the problem. Instead, the whole exercise exudes a faint air of fraud.

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Review 2 stars
Ad: Nissan
Agency: TBWA/Chiat/Day
Location: Playa del Rey, Calif.