Nissan accelerates vehicle ad spending in pair of campaigns

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Nissan North America's Nissan Division kicks off the first of two ambitious product launches tonight.

The brand unveils the first of seven national spots for the redesigned Sentra small sedan on network TV. The first of five commercials for the Pathfinder sport-utility vehicle arrives April 17 on national cable and spot TV in 15 markets.

The two vehicles are getting bigger ad pushes because Nissan wants to attract younger buyers to Sentra and get the word out that Pathfinder has a more powerful engine, said Scott Fessenden, marketing director at the division. He declined to reveal spending, but said Pathfinder's ad budget is more than 50% higher than a year ago. Nissan spent $36 million during the first nine months of 1999 on the SUV, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

HIRSHBERG RETURNS

Media spending on Sentra, which got less than $2 million in the first nine months of 1999, will be more than was spent on the Xterra SUV last year but less than on the Maxima sedan, according to Mitch Davis, Sentra model line manager. That would indicate a budget of about $60 million.

TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., retains a year-old ad formula for the two new blitzes. Jerry Hirshberg, president of Nissan's International Design studio in southern California, appears in the first round of ads to explain positioning, while follow-up spots will discuss specific model benefits.

"Jerry gives you the initial news about the new product, like a planned pre-launch," said Rob Schwartz, co-creative director on the account.

In the two initial Sentra spots, Mr. Hirshberg emphasizes that the redone car is bigger than its predecessor by crossing out the word "compact" with red spray paint. "This is a lot of car," he says.

YOUTHFUL APPEAL

The five spots in the second phase break April 17. All start with the car on a stage. Lists of words appear under headings,with those that don't apply crossed out in red paint. Under the heading "Turn Ons," for example, the phrases "slow wet kisses" and "bubble baths" are crossed out, while "hugging curves" stays on the list; then the car zooms around a winding road.

Nissan expects sales of the new Sentra to double last year's level -- to roughly 115,000. Music in the spots (from Smashmouth, The Cult, Blur, Kinder Atom and The Breeders) is designed to appeal to the 25-to-34-year-old target.

The last time Sentra got a redo was 1995, so a new generation of the vehicle was overdue, said James Hall, VP-industry analysis at consultancy AutoPacific. He added that "Pathfinder was always underpowered, so they needed to fix it."

`DOABLE FANTASIES'

The SUV will be backed by a trio of spots featuring Mr. Hirshberg, who discusses the added horsepower in a six-cylinder engine. "You could pass a sports car on the Autobahn," he says. "Not that you would, but you could."

That final line becomes the campaign theme, carrying into the two commercials arriving May 8. Those spots, said Mr. Schwartz, aim to portray "doable fantasies," since research revealed consumers in the SUV feel invincible. "We tried to make the truck do deeds of heroic proportion."

One spot shows polo players driving Pathfinders instead of riding horses. In the other, the SUV runs slalom gates on a snow-covered ski hill.

Nissan's total sales have been rising. The brand sold 604,575 vehicles last year, up from 560,808 in 1998, according to Automotive News.

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