Mr. Patty, a 22-year veteran of the agency, took an unexpected six-month sabbatical in late June, and won't return to his former role on the account. Mr. Mignanelli was pressured to leave Nissan in 1993, and since April has been a search consultant at D.L. Weiss & Associates, the company that contacted him at Ford Motor Co. in 1986 about becoming Nissan VP-sales and marketing. He became president-CEO in 1990.
That Nissan/Weiss tie may indicate the car marketer is in the driver's seat on picking Mr. Patty's successor at its agency, according to a former Nissan insider. But Mr. Mignanelli, in confirming the assignment, said he's doing the search for the agency.
TBWA's worldwide billings on Nissan are about $800 million annually. In the U.S., the agency handles the combined $557 million Nissan and Infiniti brand accounts.
Mr. Patty's respite comes at a time of continued slumping sales and losses for Nissan. Last week, the car marketer reported June sales in the U.S. of 55,420, a 20% decline from June 1997.
LOSSES AT NISSAN
Parent Nissan Motor Co. shuffled its top U.S. management in recent months and reported its fifth annual loss in six years. The U.S. arm also is unprofitable.
Messrs. Mignanelli and Patty were closely associated with the successful launch of Nissan's first Altima, a midsize sedan, in 1992. The redesigned 1998 Altima, introduced last August, was a sales flop until Nissan changed advertising and offered more incentives.
Mr. Patty also was closely associated with Mr. Mignanelli's successor, Bob Thomas, who resigned under pressure last fall.
Mr. Thomas was the sparkplug behind Nissan's quirky "Enjoy the ride" branding campaign that ran from summer 1996 through early '98, when Nissan switched to the more product-focused and price-oriented advertising.
Another irony: Mr. Patty had disagreed with Mr. Thomas' push for the branding campaign, yet he appears to be the fall guy for the campaign's failure to boost sales.
"He represented the old guard, and the new guard at Nissan is saying we got to do business today," said a former Nissan manager.
Mr. Mignanelli, between the time he left Nissan and joined Weiss, was with a business he bought from Ford, Predelivery Services Corp., which modifies Ford vehicles for overseas and inspects imports for North America.
NEW MODEL ADS
In the meantime, TBWA and Nissan are developing new ads for the coming model year.
Nissan will stick to product-focused advertising in the 1999 model year, said John Rinek, director of advertising at Nissan.
"We are going to be building our brand primarily through products," he said.
Mr. K, the smiling brand icon in the quirky "Enjoy the ride" commercials, has been relegated to Nissan's Web site (www.nissan-na.com) and point-of-purchase materials at dealerships. But he may make infrequent appearances at the end of ads as a "periodic refresher," Mr. Rinek added.
While media plans aren't finalized, the marketer may be shifting dollars from one medium to another, depending where its focus is, he said.
Nissan will have a significant presence on network TV, primarily for Altima, which Mr. Rinek described as the cornerstone of Nissan's ad plans.
Other vehicles, like the Pathfinder sport-utility vehicle, will get more regional ads.
Nissan's new six-cylinder Frontier pickup goes on sale in August, but the ad campaign will follow later. The redesigned Quest minivan arrives this fall.
Contributing: Bradley Johnson.