Nissan is pulling the wraps off of five new U.S. vehicles in 15 months -- a frenetic plan that will result in the automaker having a U.S. portfolio that is 75% brand new in 2013.
Also brand new is an ad campaign that will presage the arrival of the armada (no pun intended) of new Nissan vehicles. The effort breaks on April 5 to align with the New York International Auto Show, where the fourth-generation Altima will be unveiled.
The campaign plays on the auto show tradition of revealing a new vehicle by whipping off a silken sheet that conceals it. But while the new Altima -- which goes on sale this summer -- is revealed in the ad, the other vehicles -- including the forthcoming Pathfinder, Sentra and Versa -- stay under billowing wraps.
Jon Brancheau, Nissan's VP marketing, tells Marketing Daily that the campaign supports the overarching Nissan brand positioning around innovation and excitement, with the message that these five new vehicles evince Nissan's point position in terms of dreaming up and implementing new technology. Pointedly, it also moves away from subjugating the brand to the individual nameplates. "We are laddering messaging up to the brand," he says, "particularly because we are launching so much product so quickly."
Rob Schwartz, chief creative officer at L.A.-based TBWA/Chiat/Day, Nissan's long-time AOR, tells Marketing Daily that there's always a bit of tension in the dichotomy between the brand and the vehicles. "It's about whether to focus on the fingers or the fist."
The launch spot, which Schwartz calls the "trumpet call" ad, shows all five fingers (albeit gloved) and the fist: the five forthcoming Nissan vehicles, completely draped, are seen crossing a desert, through the wilderness and down West Coast mountain roads, their veils billowing. Cut to the cars rolling through town, veiled, to the admiring gazes of representatives of the multicultural, urban demographic to which the vehicles, and ultimately the brand, are intended to appeal: a 30-something white business guy looks at the Altima; an Asian-American woman and her two kids admire the veiled Pathfinder as it passes; an African-American guy in a sporty car admires the concealed Sentra, and a young woman on a sport bike tries to take a peek under the veil of the Versa sedan as it takes off down the road. Finally, the wind blows the veil off of the Altima.
The second ad uses the illuminated-lightbulb icon to represent the way Nissan designers dream up innovations. One guy wakes up in the middle of the night with an idea and a lightbulb goes on over his head. Another guy is in the shower when you see the light go on. The third is pouring cereal when his floating, supra-cerebral lightbulb flickers on and, distracted, he pours cereal onto the floor. Cut to Nissan headquarters (not the real one, as the ad was shot in L.A. with actors), where the place is full of lightbulbs that get passed around like currency and turn into such tech innovations as a new 3D vehicle display that will be integrated on vehicle consoles, exterior design and avoidance-sensor technology. The message hones in on the five new products in 15 months.
Brancheau says the effort will run for 30 days then transition to creative that, while specific to the launch cycle, doesn't depart from the main brand theme. "The message will still be around 'our most innovative Altima ever,' or 'most innovative Pathfinder,'" he says.
There are also print ads whose visuals are simple and monochrome, a trend Nissan began with the launch of the Leaf electric car. Now, however, the Nissan badge is set against a bright red background. Copy says things like, "Introducing the all-new everything."
"We are moving to have much more simple imagery for print and digital," says Schwartz. "And the Nissan badge on a red background is about excitement and passion." He says that it also differentiates Nissan, as "almost everyone puts their logo over a creative situation or on a white or black background."
The effort also puts big billboards around New York, with humorous messages that play on the physical placement of the boards. One that will be on buses says: "You think this is crowded? Try our showrooms." One that will be on a phone booth (they still exist) says, "Competition: It's Time To Make That Emergency Call."
Nissan will also begin a preorder program for 25,000 people on a first-come basis. Brancheau says the pre-order program will be as much about learning as revenue. "There will be massive learnings from this that we will apply to subsequent launches," he says.
Meanwhile, Nissan will keep the lightbulb on over the Nissan Leaf electric car, with new advertising coming down the chute that focuses more on the practical benefits of the vehicle -- such as that it seats five and gets 27 miles on one buck's worth of electricity -- versus the more idealistic creative program for the initial Leaf launch in late 2010. "We will focus on what makes it cost-effective," says Brancheau, who adds that the effort will include a new microsite and media focus on L.A., Chicago and Atlanta.
Nissan is also making a pretty big deal in the Big Apple about the manufacturer's having been chosen as the N.Y. Taxi of Tomorrow, beginning with the unveiling of the vehicle on the evening of April 3, the night before press days at the auto show. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn will preside at the event.
The automaker will also take over the big billboard opposite the Jacob Javits Center that houses the show with a dynamic multi-sided display that features a mockup of the taxi's side, with a door that will slide open and shut. And on the rooftops of some 400 taxis Nissan will run two-sided toppers, one side of which has statements like "Taxi 2.0," and "Limousines Will be Jealous" and the other "Taxi of Tomorrow."
Street teams will hand out pointing-finger gloves and offer $15 cash cards if consumers use the "Hail Nissan Taxi of Tomorrow"-emblazoned sponge glove to grab a cab. "We will have a lot of fun with this," says Schwartz. "We'll be tweaking this on Facebook and Twitter."