Nissan's Marx Presses The Social Accelerator

Erich Marx, Nissan North America's director of social media and interactive marketing, was in New York recently to meet with principals at Nissan United, the automaker's new global agency “conning tower” under TBWA Worldwide. The topic was global social media strategy.   

But Marx has his hands full in the U.S. with a raft of digital programs on the docket for this year, including new plans for Nissan’s marketing program/quasi-startup incubator, Nissan Innovation Lab. “We see social media as an amplifier; an accelerant," he says. "But while we are spending enough to make a difference, we aren’t spending enough to lose sleep. So I'd argue Nissan has made a small bet on it." 

He tells Marketing Daily that the Nissan United group will make it easier to take global the social media learnings from the U.S. and other markets. "One of the charters is how to introduce a social strategy in markets like Russia and Brazil. And since digital has no borders, if we have a campaign that does well in Europe, why not take what's working there and apply it more efficiently?"

That may come in handy this June when, per Marx, Nissan launches social media around the FIFA World Cup game in Brazil. He says Spanish-language channels will be central to the program. “Spanish language social media campaigns are a growth opportunity since we have the largest Spanish-language Facebook and Twitter following among automakers already,” he says. "So we are working with our Hispanic agency to generate original content that ties Nissan to the World Cup." He says Nissan will advertise around the games as well."We plan to have a big presence socially for three weeks this summer. We think our engagement on our Spanish-language Facebook page is very strong."

The company has also expanded its Marketing Innovation Lab program, which it launched last year. It has gone from working with just two startups in 2013 to ten now. The goal of the program is twofold: to open new digital and social marketing channels and to take an equity stake in startups meeting its needs and proving to have a successful business model. 

Marx says a major focus for the lab this year is finding startups that address digital advertising viewability. “That will be the catchphrase in 2014. We spend millions on digital ads you never see,” he says. “We pay for pages you never get because they are showing far down on Web sites. So we are looking at companies that can measure this, because where an ad is placed and what sites it ends up on are critical. There lots of startups in the ad tech space coming up with ways to audit this."

On the product side, Marx says several vehicles in the lineup over-index for social engagement, starting with the Nissan Leaf electric car. The automaker has over 200,000 fans on Leaf's Facebook page and high engagement along with it, per Marx, who adds that the GT-R and 370Z sports cars are also huge for social media. "When we post about sports cars, we play into the heart of social," he says, adding that the cars are the keys to bringing Nissan to younger people, a strategy evinced by the automaker's GT Academy social, digital and owned content program. "With these cars, we are talking to males 18 to 30." 

He says the automaker also has a strong social base for its Cube and Juke cars, both of which have their dedicated fan bases, as tends to be the case with vehicles with polarizing designs. "We believe we have opportunity to turn those fans -- and owners -- into advocates, and evangelists. They have a propensity to recommend Nissan.”

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