Infiniti's Witherspoon Drives Infiniti Down New Roads

Luxury carmaker Infiniti has been in change mode since 2012 when it moved away from mass market sibling Nissan, setting up headquarters in Hong Kong. But the changes continue, with new campaign directions, new vehicle nomenclature and vehicle aesthetics, and an almost-new director of marketing for Infiniti Americas, Allyson Witherspoon, who last fall succeeded Keith St. Clair, now director of Infiniti product planning. Although she was most recently global business director for Volvo in Amsterdam, she has plenty of luxury vehicle experience on the agency side for both BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the U.S. Marketing Daily talks to Witherspoon about where the brand is driving. 

Q: You've been here for several months. Does any campaign have your signature on it yet? 

A: Yes, the first campaign was the new spring event. The idea behind it is, it's been a terrible winter throughout most of the country. Everyone is feeling it, whether you were directly affected by it or not. There's nothing more spring feeling than being in your car and going for a drive: top down, windows down, sunglasses on. That's kind of the emotion we wanted to get across. 

Q: There are issues with Infiniti, but I don't imagine an overtly negative opinion is one of them. Infiniti doesn't have a lot of "baggage" -- right?

A: Overall, there isn't strong opinion about the brand, and that's what we need to work on. You're right -- there isn't a negative opinion and that's great, and it gives us a lot to work with; so we're a blank slate. Really, it's a great brand not enough people know about. 

Q: What's the marketing focus for this that will be a springboard to awareness building and consideration?

A: We are supporting launches: we have the new Q70 (sedan), the facelift for QX80 (SUV) and we are also supporting our core models, the Q50 and QX60. Creatively, that's going to be where we are this year. Further down the road, we are developing campaigns for models coming out over the next year. 

Q: Can you fulfill strategic goals with increased digital media spend? 

A: We have increased our digital spend; it's a natural thing to do if you look at what the consumer journey is. You do have to get scale, and you need to get your message out -- and in that regard TV, radio and print are great media for that. But digital and social is about targeting people while they are in the shopping process. That's what we are trying to do, as well. So we are definitely shifting allocation of media and reallocating away from traditional and more into digital and especially mobile. 

Q: What digital channels, media types and providers are you looking at? 

A: You can't be everything in all channels; you have to pick them and focus on the ones that work. For me, streaming video is a natural thing; it’s how people are digesting content. And then mobile: you are seeing more mobile advertising with impact because I think for a while it was banners and static ads, and that's not helping as a brand builder. We are seeing interesting solutions for that now. It's how consumer behavior is going, and we need to find the right tools for that. 

Q: How is Infiniti looking at contextual advertising opportunities and branded content?

A: I think consumers don't want to be sold to, and I think they get that it happens, so we have to be authentic and respectful to them. If you have an ad-like object, it needs to be served to them in a way that feels relevant and contextual to where they are. If it's on the phone and is being served as a native ad, it has to be part of that content, it has to feel like that. And when you click into it, you need to have a relevant experience. It's "click economics" or "cognitive clicks": making sure where you're clicking to has a relevant payoff. You should be served up what you were expecting to see.

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