Nissan takes ad model for spin

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Nissan North America is one marketer that places a priority on measuring return on investment for both the media and creative sides of its advertising, and John Rinek, director-media and agency management, was surprised at one key finding of the outside media audit for the fiscal year ended March 31.

The carmaker's Nissan and luxury Infiniti divisions got very competitive pricing on their broadcast TV advertising vs. competitors. "The degree of how well we're buying was more than I had expected," Mr. Rinek says. "I was encouraged at how well we are planning and buying."

Not only did Mr. Rinek reach his annual goal on media productivity for the last fiscal year, but he was able to reach his undisclosed stretch goal. The benchmarking also helped the automaker push TV networks for more early placements in commercial pods because they tend to get more eyeballs.

Measuring ROI is no little concern for a marketer like Nissan North America, which, according to TNS Media Intelligence, spent just over $1 billion in U.S. measured media last year. Nissan became an ROI pioneer in the U.S. auto industry in 2004 when it hired Media Performance Monitor America. MPMA's verification of media productivity is part of a global, ongoing initiative at Nissan, Mr. Rinek says, noting, "Third-party verification continues to be important."

He says the outside auditor didn't really affect how Nissan dealt with its media agency. Omnicom Group's OMD West, Los Angeles, "is part of the solution," he says, and helped MPMA develop the metric for measurability.


Monica Karo, managing director of OMD West, says her agency's relationship with Nissan hasn't changed that much since 1999, after Renault AG bought a stake in Nissan Motor Co. and installed Carlos Ghosn as chief operating officer. Mr. Ghosn, now CEO of both Renault and Nissan, cut the number of suppliers, including agencies, but gave the remaining ones more business. In exchange, he sought annual productivity increases of 5%. OMD is the automaker's global media agency.

Mr. Rinek's mission is to determine the right media mix to reach targets that can vary by model. He's also working with OMD to develop a methodology to measure branded entertainment efforts.

The automaker is trying to adapt a media-mix modeling system used mainly by purveyors of package goods. Mr. Rinek says he wants to learn how different media spark vehicle shopping as well as sales in various markets. Nissan hopes to learn what percentage of specific media works best for each.

"We know TV has been effective for us, but is there a point of diminishing returns?" he asks. He admits this approach is likely to be trickier for Nissan since vehicle purchases have longer consideration periods than package goods.

Nissan has continued to adjust its media buys this year, again reducing spending on broadcast network TV and increasing cable TV and online. The automaker is trying to do more integrated advertising, with traditional media like TV, magazines and outdoor driving traffic to its Web sites for better tracking of consumers who opt in, Mr. Rinek says.

The biggest shift has been from traditional to nontraditional media. Both auto brands have dramatically beefed up online ad spending, Ms. Karo says, though TV remains a virtual requirement as a broad-reach medium. The subtlety is in matching vehicles to the right TV program mix. The process gets more detailed for a launch as the automaker considers which competitive models have launched and when. Incentives on competing models are also a consideration.

ROI programs aren't all centered on reducing costs. "For a long time, efficiency was the focus, and now the focus is effectiveness," Ms. Karo says. She dubs Nissan a leader in those efforts. ROI goals can range from awareness to likability or sales. But tying every dollar to a vehicle sale as an ROI formula is very difficult to do as a branding exercise, she says, adding, "ROI can get in the way of branding if the intended results are not clearly stated upfront."

Nissan's drive for ROI and accountability also extends to creative, handled by OMD sibling TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif. With Nissan and Infiniti expanding into new places to reach consumers, more creative executions are needed. The automaker pretests TV commercials and other ads to ensure effectiveness.

TBWA's relationship with the marketer has changed because of ROI, says Rob Schwartz, executive creative director. "We're looking for more interesting and more immediate media that force us to be more creative," he says.


For example, his teams in the past year developed work for the Nissan Altima's monthlong "station domination" of Grand Central Station, in which the sedan took all the available ad space. To tout Infiniti's design positioning and drive prospects to, TBWA created a Times Square presentation headlined "A study in white" and the URL. The board displayed a white G35 coupe and flashed the white works of different artists. "Integration is just a fancy way to say you force people to look at it," Mr. Schwartz says.

Nissan and Infiniti will continue to do "bold outdoor" ads in major markets even as it keeps trying to develop ways to measure their effectiveness, Mr. Rinek says. "We're learning to measure things that are unique," he says.

Ms. Karo perhaps sums it up best: "We don't want to eliminate the art part. We are trying to bring science to the art part."

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