How Would You Market the Robotic Driving Machine?

Nissan's Driverless Car Might Present a Challenge

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How do you go about advertising a self-driving car?

Nissan Autonomous Drive
Nissan Autonomous Drive

Come 2020, that could be the task facing Nissan global ad agency TBWA Worldwide.

During a press event in Irvine, Calif., today Nissan executives pledged to market multiple "Autonomous Drive vehicles" that the car maker believes will cut down on automotive fatalities and give disabled consumers new freedom on the roads. Unlike the expensive all-electric Tesla Model S, which can run $100,000, Nissan promised its autonomous vehicles will be sold at "realistic prices." The company, however, didn't specify what those will be for consumers.

"In 2007 I pledged that -- by 2010 -- Nissan would mass market a zero-emission vehicle. Today, the Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric vehicle in history," said Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn in a statement . "Now I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realize it."

Nissan's not alone in believing that futuristic self-driving cars could become a reality on American streets and freeways within a decade. Ford, Toyota and General Motors are working on similar technologies. Ditto for internet giant Google.

The rollout of true, self-driving cars would inevitably rewrite the rules of car and truck advertising. So much of today's automotive marketing revolves around the notion of a vehicle swiftly and surely responding to the expert (in car commercials anyway) skills of the driver. See BMW's long-running "Ultimate Driving Machine" brand positioning, which celebrates the exhilarating feeling that drivers get behind the wheel of a nimble, high-performance car. Or the hundreds of ads featuring a car rolling down a winding road.

And in America, when cars aren't sold as highly-sophisticated driving machines, they're often marketed based on concepts of individuality and fun.

So what would TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles, do to sell Nissans to Americans? The agency, which didn't respond by press time, will have to figure out a way to get average drivers -- as opposed to Silicon Valley folk who get excited about robots -- interested in vehicles that can potentially react better and quicker than they can when it comes to avoiding accidents, changing lanes and making the correct turns to navigate to specific destinations.

In other words, it's likely to be a safety pitch.

Automotive safety experts have predicted autonomous vehicles could cut down the millions of accidents caused by driver error, drunken driving and distracted driving. Deaths from motor vehicles crashes rose 5.3% to 34,080 in the U.S. during 2012, according to a statistical analysis by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released in May. If accurate, that would reverse a steady, six-year decline in auto fatalities.

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