Rob Schwartz, executive creative director at TBWAChiatDay's L.A. office, which has handled Nissan creative chores for 23 years, says the new campaign and its timing are a bit of marketing jiu jitsu for Nissan. The company is launching the campaign after having regained footing in the U.S. and enjoyed several consecutive months of sales growth, he says, while some of its main competitors are off balance. "There was this moment where we looked around at the landscape and said, 'Why be number three? It's time to be number one.'"
One of the new ads shows a dime on a desert floor. A car races toward it from a distance, stopping, literally, on the dime at the last minute. Without naming competitors with brake issues, the ad says the U.S. government will soon require brake override technology on vehicles, and that Nissan has had that technology for years. Another focuses on current and future technology that Nissan is working on, with a rib-poke at the end: a visual of a force field enveloping a car.
While the campaign makes the electric Leaf vehicle halo for the entire brand, Nissan's new VP of marketing, Jon Brancheau, concedes that a major challenge will be explaining to consumers in a market full of hybrids, mild hybrids, and gas-assist hybrids just what it is, precisely, that's under the hood. One of the new ads explains, for example, that -- as a pure electric car, the first mass-market electric -- there's no tailpipe.
"There are really two key challenges," he says. "First, differentiating Leaf from a hybrid vehicle. The second challenge is that Leaf is simply not the right vehicle for everyone. And we want to make that clear up front." He says the company has been talking with hand-raisers about the vehicle, its technology and requirements.
Also on tap is a series of test-drive programs for those who have placed a deposit or expressed interest in the car. "We will deliver 50,000 test drives over the course of the next 12 months to ensure consumers can feel if the vehicle is right for them."
Brancheau says the company is doing several press events, including bringing reporters to Franklin, Tenn. for a deep dive on the car in mid-October. "The driving experience is critical," he says, adding that Nissan is also engaged in a "massive" training effort at dealerships.
About 17,000 people have put down a deposit on Leaf, and the first 3,000 will have an opportunity to place orders starting next week. He says that 70% of them don't own a Nissan now, "so we are attracting a lot of Prius owners, and early adopters -- people who travel less than 80 miles a day in a car."
He says the Leaf is also the hood ornament on a nine-vehicle launch program for the U.S. market, including the Juke in October, a new Quest minivan in January, a new Versa sedan next year and new versions of Sentra, Pathfinder and Altima in 2012. "It's time to rally, to push communications strategy around launch of products," he says.