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Nissan is sticking with its quirky "Enjoy the Ride" brand campaign but restaging a companion retail effort to drive traffic to dealers.

The first round of the revised retail spots will hit in April-without "Mr. K," the ethereal Japanese spokesman, who will continue to appear in brand ads.


Nissan isn't changing its overall budget for the fiscal year starting April 1. It will spend $200 million on a national brand campaign, consisting of brand ads and ads featuring the brand and product. It will also spend $100 million on the regional retail campaign, featuring product ads and promotions.

"Our research confirms that our brand campaign has had a huge impact on the awareness and imagery of the Nissan brand," Nissan Motor Corp. USA President Robert Thomas said. "It's inarguably a huge success."

But while the campaign is seen by rivals as entertaining and sure to clean up at ad award shows, they question whether it's delivering results. And Nissan dealers, while recognizing the need to establish a brand identity, said Mr. K has done little to spark sales.

In the campaign's first six months, Nissan sales fell during four of the months vs. year-earlier periods. In January, Nissan sales jumped 8.4%, but, at the same time, Toyota's surged 52.8%, paced by the hot-selling Camry. Honda's sales were up 21.7%.


Mr. Thomas admitted Nissan has to do more to boost dealer traffic. He said Nissan's recent regional retail ads, such as one of an Altima pulling a tow truck, too closely mirrored the mood of the national Mr. K is OK: Nissan's ad character is scoring points for consumer awareness.

Nissan rethinks retail ads brand campaign-so much so, in fact, that it was impossible to put an effective promotional retail tag at the end.

Product and traffic-building ads will account for "more than half" of Nissan's ad spending, but that's the same ratio Nissan has used since launching "Enjoy the Ride" last August, Mr. Thomas said. Brand and retail ads from TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., will be easier to tell apart, he added.


Mr. Thomas last year asked TBWA to give Nissan its own version of the agency's Energizer Bunny, and the resulting Mr. K campaign has been a hit with consumers. In a USA Today consumer poll, for example, Nissan has ranked as the most popular recent car advertising.

Mr. K also is the talk of the car market. One ad agency for a rival carmaker has assembled a reel of 18 Nissan ads and priced out what they would cost to produce-an estimated $750,000 per spot. Another agency is keeping a "Mr. K Watch," tracking data to determine whether the campaign is producing results.

"I do applaud them for breaking through," said Mike Bevan, national advertising and merchandising manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota division. "Whether this is the right execution remains to be seen."

Toyota later this year plans its own brand campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi/Pacific, Torrance, Calif., possibly with a new tagline, to bring a common theme to ads for new cars, used cars, and parts and service.

According to surveys by researcher Allison-Fisher, the Nissan brand campaign has resulted in increased consumer perceptions of Nissan as "fun to drive, sporty and a good value" among consumers planning to buy down the road.


"But none of this translates into sales," said Allison-Fisher President Doug Scott. "In 1997, we'll see if this creates enough attitude change to make Nissan a one-make preference."

On the positive side, awareness among adults of Nissan leaped from an abysmal 15% before the campaign to 42% last month, according to CNW Marketing/Research. Nissan in January was on the consideration list of 11.8% of adults planning to buy over the next year, vs. 4.2% before Mr. K.

The next step is for Nissan to drive those prospects into dealerships-something Nissan could do with its upcoming, retail-oriented campaign.

Despite all the talk about brand, much of Nissan's volume still comes from promotion: The January sales rise could be linked directly to Sentra, which had up to $1,500 in regional incentives.

Some inside Nissan want separate product campaigns, but Mr. Thomas said Nissan doesn't have the financial resources to market 10 separate product-brands. The campaign for the new Altima, which hits in July, will have a Nissan brand flavor.

"It will show Altima as the newest expression of Nissan," Mr. Thomas said. "You can take a characteristic or an attribute and make it into a brand spot. Models that have their place don't need the product story told over and over."


Dealers are pleased by the increased emphasis on retail ads.

"From a concept point of view, Nissan was correct in trying to improve its image," said Fred Miller, a major southern California dealer. "Unfortunately, in its execution, Nissan put too much weight in image and went too far off retail."

Mr. Thomas agrees the revamped retail ads will do the trick, combining with the brand campaign to boost sales.

"If the traffic issue gets resolved, in whatever manner," he said, "the brand campaign issue will go away."

Mr. Rechtin is a reporter at Automotive News

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