East Meets West in Nissan Social Media-Bollywood Link

India Campaign Combines Popular Film Genre With Not-So Popular Facebook in Bid to Own Both Spaces

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Nissan is attempting a double play with its latest campaign in India.

The effort is "New Star of India," a five-minute film made with creative agency AKQA and unveiled online March 30 on Nissan India's Facebook page and YouTube. It's the automaker's attempt to own both the Bollywood and social-media spaces there.

Leading man and Nissan ambassador Ranbir Kapoor
Leading man and Nissan ambassador Ranbir Kapoor

Featuring one of India's most popular actors, Ranbir Kapoor, "New Star" is a Bollywood production in which Nissan unites star-crossed lovers. It has the requisite singing, dancing and melodrama, but also a huge social-media component: Other than the star, the film was cast via Facebook.

It wasn't easy. Because Facebook has just 3.5% penetration in India, Nissan had to bring Facebook to wannabe Bollywood talent. AKQA and the carmaker set up stages in shopping malls where consumers could film themselves dancing and upload the clip to Facebook right there. The more than 2,000 entries were whittled down to 100 through public voting. Mr. Kapoor and the production team picked the final 20, who all appear in "New Star."

Mr. Kapoor helped choose his costars from Facebook clips.
Mr. Kapoor helped choose his costars from Facebook clips.
If social media is a virtual unknown in India, Bollywood is the opposite. Its cultural influence is hefty, and the use of its celebrities in ads is the norm. TAM AdEx, a division of TAM Media Research, and Hansa Research Group estimate that Bollywood actors had appeared in 78% and 76%, respectively, of TV commercials last year.

Positioning the campaign as a movie rather than as a spot helped cut through celeb-infused brand clutter, said David Parkinson, social and digital engagement GM for Nissan EMEA and India. "Everyone does advertisements, but we're the only one doing a film. It's memorable on its own."

Mr. Kapoor was chosen as Nissan's brand ambassador in India almost two years ago but has appeared in mostly mainstream ads until now. "We wanted to play up the Bollywood aspect of Ranbir," said Duan Evans, exec creative director at AKQA London. "It's a slightly risky thing to hijack something so culturally deep, but we already had Ranbir on our side."

Vathsala Ravindran, director of Hansa Research, said a link between the celebrity, campaign and product is important in motivating consumers. While most brands successfully link the campaign and product, she said, "New Star" differentiates itself by attaching the endorser to the effort.

The film highlights the Nissan Micra, an entry-level car aimed at affluent young men. AKQA used local talent to ensure a balance between the Western and Indian elements. Offroad Films oversaw the shoot, which took five days, while small local startups Showbiz Entertainment and Phonetics handled the experiential and community-management aspects. Using local outfits helped mitigate what Mr. Parkinson called the "organized chaos" of doing business in India.

"New Star" embeds the Nissan brand extensively, though you may have to watch it several times to detect the things a typical sheet-metal ad would show off, such as the keyless start button Mr. Kapoor pushes as he speeds away to get his girl.

In preparation for shooting, AKQA's team viewed Bollywood movies, as well as Hollywood films set in India, such as "Slumdog Millionaire." They also drew from Indian movies with a more traditional aesthetic. "We wanted a surreal but classic story with an epic feel, so we watched a lot of over-the-top movies," said Mr. Evans.

A few of the edited versions of "New Star" were almost too raucous. "We wanted the ridiculous, but it also had to make sense," said Mr. Evans. The score, by independent Bollywood composer Pranay Rijia, weds a fun Western vibe with classical Indian roots.

"New Star" will "premiere" at a press event this month. A 60-second trailer has been running in 3,500 Indian cinemas since its web launch.

The campaign has also helped Nissan's Facebook presence. The company now has 500,000 fans, making it a top automotive brand on Facebook in India.

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