Nissan Becomes Latest Carmaker to Set Up a Bespoke Agency

New Unit Dubbed Nissan United Forms Under Omnicom Group to House Creative, Digital, Media

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Nissan has signed a new three-year contract with Omnicom Group, as part of which the Japanese carmaker is launching a new global agency unit to centralize all its marketing.

TBWA/Chiat/Day has been the lead creative shop for Nissan for 26 years. Over the course of the relationship, the shop has partnered with a number of other sibling agencies for media, dealer duties and other services. But going forward, all communications, advertising, digital, media and promotions for Nissan will reside under a single roof.

The global ad relationship will be managed by an Omnicom Group team called Nissan United. The new unit will be multidisciplinary -- made up of members from TBWA, OMD, Interbrand, Emanate and Hakuhodo -- and will be based in New York. Infiniti work will continue to be managed globally out of Hong Kong.

Bespoke Agency Trend

In setting up a bespoke agency, Nissan is following in the footsteps of numerous automakers that have asked ad holding companies to create a dedicated unit to handle their advertising needs. That list includes: Team Detroit for Ford, Hudson Rouge for Lincoln and Team Mazda at WPP; and Commonwealth for General Motors' Chevrolet and Rogue for Cadillac at Interpublic. Hyundai also has its own dedicated shop called Innocean.

So why is Nissan setting up an agency team now?

Nissan's global head of marketing, Roel de-Vries
Nissan's global head of marketing, Roel de-Vries

The moves are understood to be driven by Roel de-Vries, who was appointed Nissan's corporate VP and global head of marketing, brand and communications in April. According to executives familiar with the matter, Mr. de Vries, who's been at the carmaker for several years, cutting his teeth in Europe and South Africa, is said to be a champion of the company moving to a less regionally driven and more globally centralized structure.

"In Omnicom, we have a strong partner and the new, industry-changing Nissan United structure is a perfect setup to deliver on our promise of innovation and excitement for everyone," said Mr. de Vries in a statement. He added: "Our ranking on both the 2013 Best Global Green Brands list and this week's newly announced 2013 Best Global Brand rankings further demonstrates our momentum in building and maintaining a strong global brand for Nissan," said de-Vries. "Omnicom has played a huge role in driving our brand success, and we look forward to even greater progress in the coming years."

Omnicom is currently awaiting approval of a merger with Publicis Groupe, which handles work for General Motors. Asked if the new agency structure would help insultate the Nissan account from any conflicts, execs did not immediately comment. But in the wake of the merger, Nissan Americas said it saw no conflict issues. Said spokesman Dave Reuter at the time: "Renault and Nissan are both major global clients of both Publicis and Omnicom. We welcome the direction taken by Publicis and Omnicom to create a best-in-class communications, advertising, marketing and digital services company and will continue to work with them during the transition period and beyond."

Nissan United's Structure

Omnicom Group has named Jon Castle -- who joined TBWA/Chiat/Day to lead the Nissan/Infiniti account in 2007 -- as president of Nissan United. Prior to arriving at Omnicom, Mr. Castle worked on the Volkswagen of North America account at Arnold Worldwide, where he was on the team that guided the famous "Drivers Wanted" campaign.

He will be supported by other leaders at Omnicom. "We are thrilled to extend our partnership with Nissan and remain dedicated to bringing together the best Omnicom resources around the world to continue to strengthen the Nissan brand," said Mr. Castle in a statement.

Sales, Self-Driving Cars

September sales for Nissan North America's Nissan and Infiniti's divisions sales dropped 6% and 4% respectively, according to Automotive News Data Center. While Nissan division's sales climbed 10% for the first nine months of 2013, Infiniti's sales over the same period fell 7%. That tied Infiniti with Volvo for the worst year-to-date sales drop in 2013. But the company has scored a hit in the electric sector with its strong-selling Leaf vehicle. The automaker's CEO, Carlos Ghosn, recently went out on limb by promising to deliver a range of futuristic, self-driving cars at affordable prices by 2020.

Meanwhile, Infiniti's luxury competitors continued to grow their business in 2013. General Motors' Cadillac led the way with a 29% sales boost through the first nine months of the year. Infiniti's closest Japanese luxury competitors, Toyota's Lexus, posted a 12% increase over the same period.

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