Nissan ups its college sports marketing, adds NCCA hoops sponsorship
College football season is just getting started, but Nissan is already thinking about hoops. The brand today announced it is now an official sponsor NCAA men’s basketball, including the Final Four, giving it the rights to use trademarked phrases like March Madness.
It is not exactly a new deal. Parent company Nissan Motor Co. has had a deal with the NCAA since 2011. But the automaker has been using its Infiniti brand for the sponsorship. Nissan will now take over as the deal enters its final two years.
Nissan, which has poured major money into college football since inking a sponsorship of the Heisman Trophy 14 years ago, is leaning into college sports even more with the NCAA deal, which is jointly managed by CBS Sports and Turner Sports.
Nissan wants to tap into “people's passion points and basketball, especially in the United States, is huge,” says Allyson Witherspoon, VP of marketing communications and media for Nissan North America.
According to a press release on the deal, Nissan is planning a “robust presence on linear television and streaming in the form of commercial inventory, in-game features and vignettes throughout the season.” It is also plotting on-the-ground marketing at the 2020 Final Four in Atlanta. But Nissan won’t have automotive exclusivity. General Motors-owned Buick is also a sponsor.
The NCAA sponsorship comes as Nissan continues to battle declining sales amid shifting priorities. U.S. sales dropped 7.8 percent through July as the brand moved away from less profitable fleet sales, Automotive News recently reported.
Witherspoon told Ad Age Nissan is committed to increasing its marketing, saying spending is up about 10 percent this fiscal year. Nissan spent $496 million on measured media last year in the U.S., according to Kantar Media figures reported by the Ad Age Datacenter.
The sales drop “means it’s even more important for us to be talking about the brand,” Witherspoon says.
That includes continuing its “Heisman House” college football campaign, which is entering its ninth year with new ads debuting today. This season’s campaign includes five ads, jointly created by ESPN and TBWA. They continue the approach of spotlighting former Heisman Trophy winners by fictionalizing them living them together, fraternity-style. New to the roster this year is Kyler Murray, the former Oklahoma Sooner and current Arizona Cardinal who won the Heisman last year; and Paul Hornung, who took home the trophy way back in 1956 when at Notre Dame.
This year, Nissan made a concerted effort to put more of its vehicles in ads, which had in the past mostly spotlighted the players inside the house. “This is the first time we have the [Heisman winners] in the cars and engaging with the technology,” Witherspoon says.
One of the ads shows the former college stars, including Murray, Tim Tebow and Bo Jackson, bantering inside Nissan vehicles as they drive to the house.