Nissan's Joel Ewanick Puts It All On Leaf

Nissan Leaf

Joel Ewanick became VP marketing, Nissan Division, on March 22. Literally. Ewanick, who replaces Christian Meunier (tapped as president, Nissan Brazil) went right to work, attending agency strategy sessions and dealer meetings. The former VP marketing at Hyundai Motor American since early 2007 now orchestrates the whole marching band, from marketing communications to incentives to pricing and product management.

At Hyundai, Ewanick helped develop a media strategy that put the brand on big events like the Oscars, the Super Bowl and Olympics -- while other automakers were fleeing. And he has his name on the Hyundai Assurance Program, a unique proposition for the recession that offered a buyback on cars if buyers lost their jobs or faced other calamities. Ewanick talks with Marketing Daily about his "shift" to Nissan.



Q: How difficult has the transition been from Hyundai to Nissan?

A: It hasn't been. What makes the transition easier for me is that I'm really familiar with Nissan. I have a level of comfort in terms of understanding issues facing the dealer body today following the worst recession in 100 years. I know the profitability issues they are facing.

Q: There must have been an education period ...

A: As a matter of fact, when I left Hyundai on that Friday four weeks ago and started on Monday with Nissan, that very first day I spent at the ad agency in Marina del Rey. I was really fortunate because they happened to be having a full-day immersion on where they think they need to go with Nissan, and I was able to participate. The next day I went to a dealer council meeting in Ft. Lauderdale with the five biggest dealers in the country and was able to see things and understand things from the dealer perspective right away.

Q: But weren't the issues different from those you faced at Hyundai?

A: What was interesting to me is that the issues and topics were actually identical with topics that I dealt with at Hyundai. [Nissan North America] is an incredibly professional and well-run organization that also proved to be well beyond my expectations when I walked in the door.

Carlos Tavares [EVP and chairman of the Management Committee-Americas] has a very strong grasp of the entire organization, and my direct boss, Brian Carolin [SVP, sales and marketing], understands what I do and has the confidence to let me do it. It just felt right, like we had been working together for years.

Q: How quickly do you expect to start making changes?

A: In the next 36 months it is possible that we can far surpass what has happened in the past 36 months at Hyundai with the dollars we spend on marketing and the models we have coming. We have product launches in 2012 that cover over 60% of our annual, plus next year we have in my mind the most significant car launch in the history not only of Nissan but of the car industry: Leaf.

It's a bold decision to step up to electric vehicles coming out of this recession. It's incredible that they would make that kind of decision. I want to be part of that. I think the Leaf can change the way people look at Nissan, and the kinds of cars they drive. They will look at Leaf like they look at cell phones and laptops.

Q: Are you happy with Nissan's ad creative?

A: I don't think anyone here is satisfied about where we are with creativity in ads and communications. They all know that.

Q: What are your thoughts about Nissan's AOR, TBWAChiatDay?

A: We have an excellent partner in Chiat/Day. I have lots of experience with this agency -- I know the people and frankly, knowing who they were was part of my decision to take this job. And I didn't take this job to do an agency review, to switch agencies, and I said that to the dealers on day two.

I said that the solution is inside the walls of our existing agency; even they would agree we need to find another solution to creative long-term. But drastic changes turn into distractions and will not solve our problems. We need a solution from inside, and I think Rob Schwartz [TBWAChiatDay executive CD] and Lee Clow [CCO and chairman of the agency] will come up with it.

Q: What are some of these solutions?

A: We have already had many meetings on this; you will see the results in the campaign for Quest [Nissan's competitor in the minivan segment] this fall, in the early stages of the Leaf launch, and you will see it in the evolution of thinking among my counterparts at Infiniti; in fact, they are already making those changes.

Q: So what are the major challenges Nissan faces besides overhauling creative?

A: We have identified four or five key things we need to accomplish to be more competitive in the short term and the long term. We need to increase competitiveness in terms of overall ad spend -- competitiveness in terms of tier II [regional] creative and ad spend.

Besides taking a hard look on how we go to marketing in terms of creative, those are the big ones we will work on immediately. I think our incentive levels are outstanding. No big changes need to be made there. But messaging, share of voice, tier one and tier two? Wait till later this summer -- we will make bold moves. And the next big thing for me is to really make sure people understand the significance of Leaf.

Q: What's the toughest thing about the move from Hyundai to Nissan?

A: My wife and kids are still in Southern California!

1 comment about "Nissan's Joel Ewanick Puts It All On Leaf".
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  1. John Morgan from Motozuma, April 13, 2010 at 3:21 p.m.

    Good luck to Joel - it will be interesting to watch the changes he makes and how consumer opinion & consideration for Nissan will change. I am also very interested to see how the marketing approaches for Leaf will differ from that of the Chevy Volt and which will be more successful. Both have a huge amount riding on them and are very important to their brands overall perception.

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