I Ran Out Of Gas On The Way To the Brand Experience

In the last few days I think I may have spent more time monitoring the state of the Nissan Cube car brand on mobile handsets than have the brand managers behind the new and quirky car. And I am still trying to figure out what the car is about. As I tooled around a wealth of branded media as well as third-party auto sites, it left me wondering whether it's too early in the mobile lifecycle to expect a product to have a coherent mobile footprint.

My curiosity about the Nissan Cube started with the branded game cubeparty that appeared in the Apple App Store the other day. The game is a mediocre and highly disposable driving trifle. The accelerometer controls for steering are muddy, and the pavement remains static beneath your car, so any driving sensation is muted. You can personalize the model of Cube, of course. The object is to drive around town picking up friends and items for a party.

It is a "party roundup" that I imagine is meant to appeal to the social instincts of the younger demo. The multiplayer mode, which admittedly I couldn't find partners to play (where is that younger demo when you need it?), is supposed to have a unique form of hand-off, where the car drives off your screen and onto another's iPhone.

The staggering thing about the app is the dearth of information or inspiration it offers about the Cube itself. Aside from an appealing opening screen that zooms into a spinning model of the unique car design, the game does nothing to sell the core concept that the Cube is pushing: that it is a "mobile device."

Seems like you would want a real mobile marketing strategy with such a brand promise. Ordinarily, the pitchy part of a branded app is the least interesting and most forgettable. But in this case, I was actually hoping for more information about a car whose very design invites questions. After all, it has a strange wraparound rear and side window, and the boxy stance of the vehicle bravely eschews most sexy car aesthetics. As the proud owner of a bulldog-shaped Mini Cooper, I am intrigued by the quirkiness. But the branded app gives me next to nothing.

The search is on. To Nissan's credit, the company seems to have optimized for mobile search. A "Nissan Cube" query in mobile Google brings the Nissan site to the top and lands me on a mobile site for the entire Nissan catalog. This is the same site that some banner ads have pushed me into when I visited third-party mobile auto content sites. The site is serviceable but not model-specific. It rolls me through page after page of uninspiring specs and some images. It invites me to "build my own Cube" of Nissan products, but that is a bit of a dodge. After picking a color, I get dropped into a form page to get a dealer quote. Psych!

I am still looking for something that communicates the clever "mobile device" tagline or offers up an experience of driving the silly-looking thing. So I try the usual suspects, the third-party auto sites. CarandDriver.com's mobile site is among the best in the category. Searching "Cube" at the home screen gives me links into reviews and road tests, although the video won't run on my iPhone and the articles stretch across more than a dozen page views. A lot of the links are dead-ends.

KBB's mobile site succeeds in giving me a firmer sense of the car visually than Nissan's site does. It fills the screen with a series of images from different angles. The Review is beautifully formatted for mobile, with shorter text and nice summaries set off in sidebars. Edmunds is the lesser experience, more about specs, pricing and a lot of prose.

Curiously, none of the auto content sites had Nissan promotions targeted into my drill-downs for the Cube. Unlike the Web counterparts, where Nissan ensures it is there when I am on the Cube page at Edmunds.com, for instance, we are not there yet on mobile.

It seems the auto segment should be farther along in mobile than this. I was trying to mimic the curious consumer, but it proved too hard to scratch the itch that a mediocre branded app experience had caused.

Admittedly, even on the Web I don't find the Cube promotions very engaging. The product site is also a relentless stream of specs that fails to extend the fun and sprightly brand promise of the car being a "mobile device."

Shouldn't a branding exercise on mobile have situational awareness, some sense of how and where a potential buyer will come at the brand? Shouldn't all brand managers do a kind of "Can You Hear Me Now?" test of their brand identity on mobile? If some piece of ad creative or a situation out in the wild piques a consumer's interest in your brand, what will they find? How will they find you? What will you do with them if they find you?

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1 comment about "I Ran Out Of Gas On The Way To the Brand Experience".
  1. Mike Kelly from LIN Media , July 14, 2009 at 12:56 p.m.

    Agreed...there's too much "techno-design cool widgetry" that goes into apps/mobile and less about what the consumer expects from the brand.
    Taken to the lowest, simplest level...I laud Charmin for coming up with an app that shows the nearest public restroom...simple/valuable...not a comparison of which roll runs out first..something that belongs on TV.