New Q45 effort looks to clear up Infiniti's image

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Infiniti's new Q has a big job.

The luxury division of Nissan North America wants the 2002 model Q45 sedan and its new estimated $35 million launch campaign to clarify the brand's muddy identity. Ads break April 4.

"Our new brand identity is about performance," said Steve Kight, marketing director of Infiniti. "This car starts to tell the automotive world where we're heading."

Infiniti's identity has been blurry since it started selling cars in 1989, he admitted. The new image is based on distinctive and relevant luxury products. The new Q45 signals the start of the marketer's three-year move from front-wheel-drive vehicles to rear-wheel-drive cars, which offer improved performance. "The new Q," as the ads call it, offers 340 horsepower vs. 266 horsepower from the model it replaces.

The brand gets a new tag: "Accelerating the Future," which replaces "Own one and you'll understand." The ad airs on national cable and spot TV in April and May, although the ads will get substantial play throughout the year.

Omnicom Group's TWBA/ Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., created a trio of TV commercials, all shot in Amsterdam.

The spots touted the car's performance and technology. "We've taken the rocks and trees and added nuts and bolts," said TBWA's Rob Schwartz, creative director on Infiniti and Nissan, referring to the controversial campaign that first launched the brand.

THE CAR IS THE STAR

That "rocks-and-trees" effort from the shuttered Inglewood, Calif., office of Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos featured nature shots but never actually showed the vehicles.

In one new spot, an actor stops rain and traffic with his voice; he also commands the car's CD player to activate. In another, a motorist drives the car backward in a winding parking-garage ramp to show off the car's rear-view monitor. All three spots also show the Q45 on the open road with only revving engine sounds.

The repositioning comes as industry sales are slowing. Infiniti sold 10,938 cars and sport utility vehicles in the first two months of 2001 vs. 12,378 in the same period a year ago, according to Automotive News. In calendar 2000, though, the brand sold 78,351 units vs. 72,637 in 1999.

Mr. Kight said he expects to sell roughly 10,000 Q45s this year. But he also said he expects the car to increase showroom traffic, which in turn will boost sales of other Infiniti models. The base price is $51,095.

Auto expert Jim Sanfilippo, former VP-marketing of Kia Motors America, dubbed the new Q45 "probably the best product Infiniti has had" since the brand's debut. The car's improved styling and performance make it a "much more formidable competitor" to more conservative-looking competing models, said Mr. Sanfilippo, now an exec VP of AMCI, a consultancy that among other things certifies competitive auto performance for ads. (AMCI didn't do any work on the Q45.) Over the years, Infiniti suffered from unclear positioning and a lack of new products to keep up with the competition, he said.

Susan Jacobs, president of consultancy Jacobs & Associates, said Infiniti's unique styling is key, since competitors have staked out performance. "It will be difficult for Infiniti to dramatically change the brand's perception in the next two to three years based on their message." Still, she predicted the new message and products should help the brand "maintain and move with the pack" of luxury marketers.

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