Nissan has over 100 virtual vehicles in the "Gran Turismo 5" game in which consumers can compete in virtual time trials. The effort includes lesser rewards for playing, such as free digital content and prizes for winning regional time trials. The top 32 virtual racers in the country go on to compete in a live national finals event scheduled for March.
Sixteen finalists go on to compete in real Nissan racecars. The winner has a bona fide shot at being a pro racecar driver as the GT Academy winner for the U.S. The winner will have the opportunity to train with elite racecar drivers at international tracks and race as part of a professional team.
The 16 finalists' competition will be documented in a multi-episode reality show airing exclusively on Speed channel in 2011. The reality show series will begin filming in March from the GT Academy finals through training as a pro race driver. The show details their training and racing in real Nissan 370Z and GT-R cars at a comprehensive GT Academy "boot camp."
People can register for the GT Academy competition beginning on Dec. 1, and fans who think they have what it takes can find more information about the program at http://us.gran-turismo.com/.
Erich Marx, director of marketing communications, tells Marketing Daily the program is, in some respects, an import from Europe, as Nissan of Europe and Sony have run two seasons of GT Academy there already. "It was a huge success there, so the launch of GT5 presented an opportunity to bring it here," he says.
According to Marx, the first year of the GT Academy in Europe brought in 25,000 entrants and the second year over a million. The winner of the first year's competition, Lucas Ordonez, who competed in the online competition while in law school, has since left that path to become a professional racecar driver. He drives a Nissan GT-R in Europe. "From a PR standpoint, we were able to promote that, and the second year's million-plus entrants reflect his success."
The "Gran Tourism 5" game is the right sort of starting point for the competition, according to Marx, because it is so realistic. "It really does serve as a viable filter for those who have the instincts and capability to turn it into real racing." He says participants can't have raced professionally; "as a matter of fact, anyone with signatures of certification [for racing] is disqualified."
Sony and Polyphony are promoting the competition both in packaging for the game, which lands on shelves on Nov. 24, and online. Each box will have a stamp in front announcing the program and the owner's manual will have a page about the GT Academy competition and how to register, per Marx.
"Sony will do as much as we are," he says. "They are going to be promoting it at the PlayStation with banners running throughout the Web site." They are also doing press to bloggers and gaming organizations, and a mass email on Wednesday to owners of GT games, notes Marx.
He says auto gaming hits a broad target, although the sweet spot is among males 18-29. "But it does span the generations more so than other games," he says. "Driving games have a much more uniform spread across generations." He says Nissan does not have branding, as such, in the game. "We wanted that, but weren't able to negotiate it."
Nissan is promoting it through advertising on Speed, at NissanUSA.com, and via email and newsletters to customers. "We are also going to be marketing at auto shows. We will have several of the games at our disposal, so we are looking at places to set up kiosks such as in our lobby for employees to play. We are kicking around ideas for employee activation."