NISSAN TO STICK BY AD EFFORT AFTER ITS TOP BACKER LEAVES: SPECULATION FOLLOWS EXIT OF CEO THOMAS

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Nissan Motor Corp. USA for now remains committed to its "Enjoy the ride" ad campaign despite the departure of its patron saint, Robert Thomas.

"The Nissan campaign is just as important as it was last week [before Mr. Thomas resigned as president-CEO]. It will continue to evolve as needed in the marketplace," said Thomas Eastwood, general manager of the company's Nissan Division.

AWARENESS UP, SALES DOWN

Mr. Eastwood noted that all indicators of brand awareness, familiarity and purchase intentions are still on the upswing. Sales, however, haven't responded as yet; Nissan suffered a 32% decline in unit sales in September.

Dealers squawked earlier this year that the branding ads didn't have enough of a retail hook, a situation Nissan remedied with product-specific ads. Mr. Eastwood said he feels the campaign now has the right mix.

Beginning this week, the Altima launch campaign will delve more deeply into product features and comparisons with the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. That move was planned all along, and does not signal a sudden shift from brand advertising toward product spots, Mr. Eastwood said.

MR. K IS SAFE

John Rinek, director of advertising for the Nissan and Infiniti brands, also said Nissan will stay the course. And that includes staying with the Mr. K character.

"There are no plans we're contemplating that he's going to be phased out," Mr. Rinek said.

Mr. Rinek said regional spots for Altima with prices and feature information had already started to appear on national TV.

"They've been on spot primarily, but we put some on network with the price," he said. "We're starting to segue into another phase" of the Altima launch, he added.

The 1998 Altima is getting a $100 million ad push via agency TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.

Tom Patty, worldwide account director for Nissan at the agency, predicted Nissan will "put a more concerted focus on traditional car marketing and more product-focused marketing" in the future.

Mr. Rechtin is a reporter for Automotive News. Alice Z. Cuneo also contributed

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