The campaign marks the first big national marketing push for [email protected] The service is now used by 460 of Nissan's 1,073 U.S. dealers, Automotive News reported this week.
Nissan will begin a dedicated campaign for [email protected] in November but the automaker wanted to introduce it with its college football marketing because it reaches a younger, more digitally savvy audience, says Allyson Witherspoon, VP and U.S. chief marketing officer at Nissan. “These are more of the digital natives and so it felt like a natural fit,” she says.
[email protected] was in the works before the pandemic struck last year, but COVID-19 accelerated its development, as dealership closures led to more interest in online auto purchases, Witherspoon says.
State franchise laws generally prohibit automakers from selling directly to consumers, although electric vehicle startups such as Tesla have carved out exceptions allowing for their e-commerce models to flourish. [email protected] relies heavily on dealer involvement, Witherspoon says. “This isn’t factory versus the dealer—this is all done through the dealer. For us it’s done very much hand-in-hand,” she says.
She expects consumer demand for completing purchases completely online to be “small at first.” She predicts that over time it could evolve into the “primary experience,” but adds that “I think there are always going to be people that will want to go through the dealership and do test drives.”
Car shoppers for years have been cutting back on in-person car shopping, with the average buyer now only visiting two dealerships in the vehicle buying process, down from 2.7 in 2016, according to a study released earlier this year by Cox Automotive. Still, automotive e-commerce remains in its infancy: Cox reports that only one in three franchised automobile dealers in the U.S. offer all the purchase steps online.
That people would buy cars entirely online seemed like a longshot as recently as five years ago because of the perception that they are such a “physical product” that people want to see in person, says John Loehr, a managing director in the automotive and industrial practice at global consultancy AlixPartners. Plus there are complications such as figuring out trade-ins. “The analytics have gotten very good, consumers have gotten more comfortable with it," he says. "COVID has certainly accelerated it but there were forays into this direction even before COVID.”
On-campus tours return
Nissan’s inclusion of [email protected] into its “Heisman House” campaign is significant as it is among the automaker’s most closely-watched annual marketing efforts. Nissan each year adds elements to keep it fresh. This season Nissan and TBWA sourced ad ideas from a decade’s worth of tweets referencing “Heisman House,” which led to 10 storylines.
One ad is in response to a fan wondering who would win a spikeball tournament. It shows Mayfield, Desmond Howard and Bo Jackson playing the game. Barry Sanders joins in but soon hands the ball to a referee (a reference to his famous refusal to engage in touchdown celebrations when he played).