Nikon Unveils New Cameras, But Plans No New Marketing

Nikon tore the wraps off eight Coolpix digital cameras and a photo hosting service called "my Picturetown" that lets users store up to 2 GB of images and videos. But there was something missing from Thursday's product launch--an innovative marketing and advertising strategy highlighting the cameras' features and prices aimed squarely at a range of consumers, analysts said.

The my Picturetown hosting service, rebranded from CoolPix Connect 2, ties into an ad campaign for the Nikon D40 that ran in print, on TV and on Google's YouTube in April. Ad agency McCann Erickson, in part, created the grassroots campaign in which about 200 Georgetown, S.C. residents received the 6.1 megapixel digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, which retails at Best Buy for about $600, to document daily life.

"You don't often see many TV ads about cameras," says Ron Glaz, IDC's director of digital imaging program. "This one was unique because Nikon just didn't talk about the camera, they talked about the experience."

Nikon does not have any advertising or marketing planned for the recently launched CoolPix cameras or my Picturetown photo and storage site, according to Nikon spokesman Kevin Pchola.

Nikon spent more than $17 million for advertising through the first half of 2007, compared with $36.6 million in 2006, and $27.8 in 2005, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

While camera makers typically prefer to highlight consumer experience in advertising campaigns rather than brand or to market just one feature, some analysts say Nikon may be missing an opportunity to connect with potential tech-savvy buyers who are unaware of Nikon's Expeed image processing system--central to driving the speed and processing power needed for many of the camera's new features.

Or, wireless capabilities on the Nikon Coolpix S51 camera that enable users to upload and transmit pictures through e-mail to my Picturetown and Flickr over wireless networks. "Nikon needs to demonstrate the experience at a mall or store because it's difficult for the consumer to understand the transition," Glaz says.

Nikon sold about 8.1 million units worldwide in 2006, up from 7.2 million units in the prior year, according to IDC. The research firm ranks Nikon No. 6 in worldwide market share, and No. 4 in the United States.

The challenge Nikon has faced in the past has been turning consumer desire for the camera into purchases, says Ed Lee, digital camera analyst at InfoTrends, Weymouth, Mass. "The brand has high awareness and consideration, but getting the right message to consumers who could purchase the cameras has been difficult," he says. "Most people think Nikon is a high-end product, but they do offer a nice line of affordable cameras with great features."

Some of the Nikon cameras introduced include the Coolpix S51 that offers 8.1-megapixels with 3x Zoom-Nikkor lens and 3.0-inch LCD display. The camera launches in September, available in both wired and wireless versions, for $279.98 and $329.95, respectively. Then there's the P5100, a compact 12.1 megapixel model with 3.5x optical zoom, shutter, and the P50, an 8.1 megapixel camera with 3.6x optical zoom, 2.4-inch LCD display, electronic vibration reduction and in-camera red-eye fix. These cameras retail for $399.95 and $229.95, respectively.

Still, Nikon's branding and marketing effort appear to work. Earlier this week, Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates released a report recognizing Nikon as the leader in customer satisfaction among DSLR customers in the United States. The survey measures customer satisfaction among about 7,500 buyers, rather then product quality. Nikon scored 822 out of a possible 1,000 on a ranking of how well the camera measured up with qualities customers find important.

The study also found that brand loyalty affects customer satisfaction. "The product must deliver on the promise, from the brand messaging, to the experience using the camera," says Larry Wu, senior director at J.D. Power and Associates. "When you've delivered on that, you've created loyalty."