Nissan is making a new safety pitch in ads breaking this week as part of a larger marketing overhaul that will take full effect in June.
The changes come after much soul searching among Nissan marketing and sales leaders and its agencies as the automaker in recent months studied how to improve its brand positioning. The process was sometimes painful, as evidenced by recent comments made by new U.S. sales boss Christian Meunier. In a recent interview with Automotive News, he critiqued the Nissan brand as "vague" despite billions of dollars spent on ads in recent years.
"I was really upset with the agency in the beginning," Mr. Meunier told Automotive News during the New York auto show in March. Nissan's advertising is handled by a dedicated Omnicom unit known as Nissan United that includes TBWAChiatDay, Zimmerman Advertising, OMD and other Omnicom agencies. "I challenged them. I locked them in a room for a week in New York, and came back after a week and it was still shit. … I came back after two weeks and it was still shit," Mr. Meunier said. "I said, 'You guys better deliver something. You'd better come to Nashville next week with a plan that works.' And they came back with a very good plan."
That plan will begin rolling out this week via so-called Tier 2 advertising that will promote a national sales event but be tailored to dealerships in individual markets. A broader brand campaign will break in June in which the new strategy will come into full view. The Tier 2 ads promote technology-fueled safety features such as predictive forward collision warning and blind spot warning.
A spot breaking this week (above) by Zimmerman called "Safety Today" features people who treat auto accident victims, such as firefighters, emergency medical technicians, police officers and nurses. They are given an up-close view of how Nissan safety features can prevent accidents and their positive reactions are shown in the ad.
"Safety doesn't have to be boring. And that was part of the brief that I gave the team," said Jeremy Tucker, Nissan North America's VP for marketing, communications and media. "How do you make safety compelling and exciting and give it some punch."
Nissan has historically shied away from such messaging because "we thought the brand DNA and safety didn't match," Mr. Tucker added. But the the "advanced driver assistance system that we have in our cars can help prevent 30% of [auto] crashes," he said, citing research and analysis from The Boston Consulting Group. And as that idea was presented to consumer focus groups, "there was a lightbulb that went off," he said. "It got them to understand that this is what a new car can offer."
Safety will also be a key message in the bigger brand campaign launching in June. But the campaign -- which will keep Nissan's "Innovation That Excites" tagline -- will also plug at least two more attributes, Mr. Tucker said without naming them. "Safety is one of the things people seek and there are many other things they look for and this new campaign will articulate what consumers are looking for in their lives."
Mitch Hershey, Zimmerman's executive VP for the Nissan division, said the safety message will be used for ads about sedans, while the marketing planned for crossovers "has much more to do with capability."
The safety ads come in the wake of a Friday announcement in which Nissan said it was recalling 3.53 million vehicles worldwide, including nearly 3.2 million in the U.S., because of a potential airbag deployment issue. Asked if that issue would affect the safety ads, Nissan said in a statement that "it's two different topics. The Safety Today event focuses on advanced safety technologies in Nissan vehicles and educates consumers about the important benefit of active safety. The unrelated safety recall is a precautionary measure to remedy a potential defect to ensure the safety of our customers."
The goal of the marketing changes is to better unite the dealer-focused Tier 2 ads with bigger brand campaigns, which are known as Tier 1. "Tier 1 and Tier 2 historically have been a little bit opposed. They now have one voice and one shared purpose for Nissan," Mr. Tucker said.
Nissan leaders have also demanded greater teamwork among the individual agencies that comprise Nissan United. All the shops are now briefed together on big ideas, for instance. "I demand collaboration," Mr. Tucker said.