Nissan packs $200 mil into yearlong drive for brand

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Nissan Motor Corp. USA will put 100% of the Nissan division's $200 million national TV budget into a Nissan brand campaign through next August, a calculated shift from product advertising. The massive TV effort represents a fourfold increase in the division's network/cable spending, the company said. About half of the spending is incremental, with the division cutting promotion and rebate budgets to help pay for the TV campaign, said Robert Thomas, company president and the driving force behind the new effort, which aims to restore heritage to the Japanese brand. "It's not an irresponsible shift but it is a shift" away from promotions, said Mr. Thomas, who acknowledged the risk in emphasizing brand in an industry dominated by product, price and promotional marketing. Mr. Thomas said Nissan has to define its image to stand out in a market where consumers have access to an abundance of quality cars, neatly defined brands and new shopping alternatives like the Internet and used car superstores.


The campaign broke Aug. 4 on NBC's Olympics coverage with a much-hyped 2-minute spectacle called "Dream Garage" (AA, July 15). In the commercial, a young boy stumbles upon a car collector's palatial garage of vintage Nissans and Datsuns. The collector is Nissan's new spokesman, an affable Japanese man who soon will be identified as Mr. K. The strategy stands out from rivals Toyota and Honda, which have gone to great lengths to show the public how Americanized they have become.


Nissan isn't abandoning product advertising: It will spend an additional $100 million on TV, print and radio product ads through regional advertising, said Monica Karo, media director at TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., the Nissan and Infiniti agency. Also, the Nissan division will spend $15 million on a national print buy from mid-November through March with brand and product ads, and $5 million on Nissan's Web site and interactive advertising, Ms. Karo said. The agency also is developing Nissan's first major infomercial,Mr. Thomas said. The Nissan brand campaign begins two months after Mr. Thomas orchestrated a similar drive restaging the sister Infiniti division. That included major cuts in retail prices. The executive contends Nissan mishandled the early '80s switch in the U.S. from the Datsun name to the globally used Nissan.


"When we changed ... we lost all our heritage," he said. "We could have done that [transition] so much better. This is our way of getting our heritage back." Lee Clow, TBWA Chiat/Day chief creative officer, blamed former agency William Esty Co., Los Angeles, for the bungled name switch. "They dragged it out over many years," Mr. Clow said. "They passed along none of the equity of Datsun to Nissan. ... Maybe this is rectifying that to some extent--to finally transfer some of the Datsun heritage and equity to the Nissan brand." When Chiat/Day won the account in 1987 from Esty it did image ads featuring engineers talking about the virtues of their cars. Those drew much criticism, and Nissan quickly shifted to product ads.


Earlier this year, Nissan came to the agency with a request for its version of the Energizer bunny or Apple Computer's "1984," two of the agency's best-known creations, said Nissan Worldwide Account Director Tom Patty. The result was the Japanese character. Over time, Mr. Thomas said, the character will be introduced as Mr. K in point-of-purchase materials or on the Web, though he may not be identified in ads. He is based on Yutaka Katayama, the charismatic salesman who ran Nissan Motor Co.'s U.S. arm in the 1960s and '70s. "The man is a legend; people loved him here. And we felt that if we used a brand icon who was a founder, it would give us more credibility," said Mr. Thomas, who compares the real Mr. K to Walt Disney. With the new tagline "Life's a journey. Enjoy the ride," Nissan will try to break away from past advertising that focused on product and national accolades.


"The message we want to give is that 'Nissan understands you.' We want people to have a really good feeling about us," Mr. Thomas said. "Nissan had become known only for producing good cars and good deals. The credibility and value were there, but the corporate piece wasn't."

Contributing: Laura Petrecca. Mr. Rechtin is a reporter with Automotive News.

Copyright August 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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