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Nissan Motor Corp. USA's new Altima went on sale last week, and executives believe the ad push is a critical one for the company.

Nissan has spent $200 million in the past year for its "Enjoy the ride" campaign to raise its corporate image and sharpen its identity in the market. The second goal of that five-year effort is to create a brand umbrella under which Nissan can more efficiently market its cars and trucks. It will fold the new Altima into the branding campaign, the first vehicle to be marketed under the strategy.

900,000 BY 2000

Nissan wants to hike U.S. sales-now 693,696 cars and trucks-by 29.7% to 900,000 by 2000. To do that, every new model launched-one every six months for the next four years-must do better in sales than the one it replaces.

Some Nissan dealers have been critical of the branding campaign, saying the advertising focuses too much on the brand and not enough on product. Nissan responded in April with five TV spots that feature product and deals.

VP-Marketing Tom Orbe said there will be three tiers to the Altima advertising: national product spots, price advertising and local retail ads.

Nissan will spend $100 million on regional retail ads in the current fiscal year, which began April 1.

"We will have a blended approach that will combine the Altima in a brand characterization, product attributes and pricing spots," Mr. Orbe said.


The teaser portion of the Altima launch, with outdoor boards and signage and 15-second TV spots, will feature Nissan's mystic Mr. K character. In the spots, Mr. K will ask: "Have you seen it?"

That advertising from TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., breaks July 20, and will lead into the national TV and print drive that begins July 28.

Nissan must repeat the process again this fall when it launches the Frontier compact pickup truck. Although the company has marketed a compact pickup in the U.S. since 1959, this is first time it has been given a name; that makes the Frontier a new nameplate.

The task ahead for Nissan is to blend eight replacement models and new nameplates-a compact sport-utility and coupe/roadster-into the brand campaign during the next four years.

"If we try to have every product stand independently, we ultimately [have to] develop eight, or nine or 10 separate messages. We didn't want to do that," Mr. Orbe said.

That is one reason Nissan chose to create the brand umbrella and then focus on one aspect of its new cars and trucks during their launch and subsequent marketing.

Mr. Washington is a reporter for Automotive News.

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