How do you make something that 's marginally interesting very interesting?
With a striptease. So think of Nissan's marketing strategy this month as an extremely slow-motion burlesque.
Take, for the example, the 2013 Nissan's Altima, the company's crucial midsize-sedan entry in the North American market. The model has accounted for sales of nearly 269,000 cars in 2011. For weeks leading up to its official premier this week at the New York International Auto Show, its agency, TBWAChiatDay, Los Angeles, has been sneak-peeking certain components online: a headlight here, a rear bumper there. A five-spoke alloy wheel over here. It's a slow drip of still images and short video clips.
The push exemplifies the art of the teaser, as executed by the agency's Chief Creative Officer Rob Schwartz.
"It's seducing ... not giving away the whole story. Seducing is a way to get people on the edge of their seats," said Mr. Schwartz, snacking on a skewer of Chilean sea bass in a midtown Manhattan bistro recently. "Teasing like this is something that hasn't been in vogue for a while ... part of it is to reawaken the love affair with the car. People haven't been romanced by a car in a long time."
Another part of it is about engagement. "With teasers, we got a couple hundred thousand people to look in a matter of days," Mr. Schwartz said. "[Teasers] invite you to engage with the brand. We live online, we love to dig; we love to search."
Globally, Nissan's is the No. 2 Japanese brand in sales, behind Toyota, said Jon Brancheau, VP-marketing at Nissan's North America. The company has gained market share in the past year because it recovered more quickly than rivals from last year's disaster in Japan.
"We shifted ad dollars to [company-sponsored national advertising] after the tsunami, because Nissan's had the products to sell," said Mr. Brancheau. "We took all kinds of advantage of that opportunity." Moving into Nissan's new fiscal year this month, he added, "we'll be spending considerably more, with [regional dealer spending] doubling."
The company spent nearly $500 million in advertising last year, according to Kantar Media, and is expected to increase that amount by about 20% in 2012. Nissan local dealer associations spent $40.1 million on measured media last year, according to Kantar.
"A little better than 25% of our spending is digital," Mr. Brancheau said. "We're doing social, not driving people to us with sweepstakes and giveaways [but ] measuring the time they spend with our content. We've also reduced our print presence."
The theme of this year's promotion remains "Innovation for all," and Nissan expects to launch five models during the next 15 months: besides the Altima, a new Sentra, Versa, Pathfinder and Rogue, its small SUV. The campaign's first TV spot, "Epic Unveiling," premiering April 5, will show five vehicles draped in white silk but in motion as the silks shift to show bits and pieces of the cars underneath. Print ads and billboards follow the same theme.
Nissan is also chirping about its NV200 van, which was selected last May as New York's "Taxi of Tomorrow." That campaign, also produced by TBWA/Chiat/Day, goes into full gear at the auto show, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg will introduce the vehicle. It's scheduled to go into service in late 2013. Among the taglines decorating billboards and taxi-toppers around the city during the show are "Soon You'll Hail the Future" and "Taxi 2.0."
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said last year that he was targeting a 10% U.S. market share by 2016, which would be about 1.4 million cars and trucks based on current sales. The brand sold more than 944,000 total vehicles in the states in 2011.