Nissan circles back to a familiar style

By Published on .

Marketer: Nissan North America
Agency: TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif.
Ad Review rating: Two stars

You remember quality circles, the '80s labor/management encounter groups that were going to transform shop floors into petri dishes of industrial-engineering inspiration. And, of course, you must remember the Nissan "Built for the human race" campaign, which filmed such groups of yuppie Nissan "engineers" congratulating themselves for their insight into the car/driver interface.

That was back in 1986, Chiat/Day's debut on the Nissan account, a debut so widely ridiculed the agency has been trying to live it down ever since.

So now, after years of brilliant product advertising that ultimately failed to serve the overall brand--and immediately following a disastrous, extravagant "Enjoy the ride" brand campaign that scarcely bothered to mention the product--here comes TBWA/Chiat/Day trying at long last to get both jobs done right.

No semi-mythical, semi-magical Japanese icons this time. No dive-bombing pigeons. This time it's a flesh-and-blood embodiment of the Nissan ethos: Jerry Hirshberg, Nissan North America's chief designer, speaking about cars.

"They are our offices. They are our living rooms. They're even our decompression chambers," he says in one new spot. "Americans love cars. And we have a passion for making cars that have an awful lot of soul under the skin."

My, that sounds familiar.

"It's a company that loves cars," he says in another spot. "It's a company that gets it. When you love the process, that love gets into the product."

And in a third, speaking of the bigger, but-not-Navigatorishly bigger new Pathfinder: "Ease of entrance and egress, you know. Clearly high command seating. It's a question of looking at it intelligently . . . "

Oh, no. No! Could it be? Yes . . . they're back! We thought they were gone, but the quality-circle jerks are baaaaaaaack! Channeled, like evil spirits, into the suddenly ubiquitous--nay, circumjacent--Jerry Hirshberg.

God help him, and God help us. It's all coming back as if it were yesterday. The cinematic style, annoying and mannered. In '86 it was shaky-cam. This time: too many camera angles of a guy lighted as if he were being sweated by the Serbian secret police.

On top of that, the spots are filled with that irritating strobe effect. Very artsy-fartsy. Very distracting. This beleaguered automaker finally has some new product to show off, and the pictures of the vehicles are flashing like the dance floor of Studio 54. It might trigger consumer desire. More likely it will trigger epileptic seizures.

As for Jerry himself, he is a talented designer and reasonably articulate speaker. But, as this advertiser should have long since learned, nobody cares that Nissan thinks that Nissan "gets it." This is a conclusion consumers must draw on their own. And so Jerry comes off, like the engineers before him, a little too ingratiating, a little too glib--like a funeral director trying to sell you the perpetual-care package.

That's a shame, because the campaign is conceptually quite sound. And the tagline, "Driven"--a condensation of Datsun's old "We are driven"--is very strong. It is, of course, in automotive terms, literally true. But it also meant to describe a corporate passion to make great cars and trucks, encapsulizing in a single word what Lexus requires five words to communicate: the relentless pursuit of perfection.

In substance, this campaign has much to commend it. But in style it has come full circle. And we are driven . . . to distraction.

Copyright April 1999, Crain Communications Inc. ;

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