Nissan's college marketing, which has included an ongoing partnership with the Heisman Trophy, and on-site activation with its Heisman house at games, has just gotten a whole lot bigger. The automaker is now Official Sponsor of 100 colleges and universities nationwide and a few NCAA Championships. It's a four-part deal that is probably the biggest sponsorship in the history of college sports in sheer gridiron acreage, as it involves a presence in over 100 college sports venues.
It's in line with Nissan's effort about getting on top of big events and properties in a different way. Says Jeremy Tucker, VP marketing at the Franklin, Tenn.-based Nissan North America: "This all started as a genesis of an idea. Our strategy is 'fewer, bigger, better,' and we added a word this year: 'best.' We really want to push that, and I challenged my team to be uncommon about things that are really making an impact for Nissan."
He tells Marketing Daily that the program, requiring separate deals with a panoply of college rights organizations, made sense partly because Nissan's decade-long sponsorship of the Heisman Trophy Trust made the deal-making easier. He says the tour -- which involves a 13-city tour this year, and featuring a Heisman House mockup venue -- was made through a couple of the big sports media partners. "We saw how successful that was and thought about what could be bigger than that. We realized the power of the schools, and our dealers have been asking us how do we get involved and build this fewer, bigger, better best strategy together.
Nissan says specifics of each sponsorship were negotiated throughout the summer with the big dogs of the college media rights business, IMG College and Learfield Sports, as well as Fox Collegiate Sports Properties and JMI, Outfront Media Sports, and Sun Devil Athletics. The series of sponsorships will cover 22 sports (men's and women's), 100 schools, thousands of student-athletes, 22 million alumni and 188 million fans across the nation.
As for the biggest deal in NCAA? That's all relative, says Barry Janoff, founder and editor of NYSportsJournalism.com. He notes that ATT, Capital One, and Coca-Cola are NCAA corporate sponsors with massive media commitments. "All three are involved in 89 championships that the NCAA oversees and ATT has naming rights to some venues," he says. Nissan's deal might be the biggest in terms of individual school partnerships, and the the biggest in terms of the number of media rights companies they had to do deals with, but it's hard to say unless you see the spend and reach, so there are a lot of factors."
Nissan also says it will build on sibling Infiniti's status as an Official Corporate Partner of NCAA Men's Basketball, with activation rights at select NCAA Championship events. What Nissan gets for its troubles is Nissan signage at the sponsored stadiums and arenas for multiple sports, as well as media opportunities and incentive tickets for consumers. Janoff says that while Nissan is certainly getting a lot of synergy, as they are aligned with Heisman and have gotten a lot of awareness around NCAA football for that. "The push for them I think is also to go beyond, to get into other sports, like baseball."
To support the program on social media, Nissan also launched an augmented-reality app playing on the tradition of team color face-painting. The effort, at diehardfan.com and created by digital agency Critical Mass, uses facial analysis technology, where users can select from a thousand game faces, per Nissan, representing almost all of the 100 teams in Nissan’s sponsorship roster. The technology lets them "paint" a photo of their face.
The program officially kicks off Nov. 7 with games at Ohio State, Alabama, Texas A&M, Oregon State and USC. Next weekend come more kickoffs. Nissan says that by the end of 2015, its on-campus activation will extend to 27 colleges and universities nationwide.
Separately, the automaker is launching a marketing program called “ALT16 Challenge,” a social media contest showcasing the 2016 Altima before it goes on sale this month. Over the next two weeks, consumers have to prove, they are "smart, agile and stunning" a reference to the new car. Nissan is using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where consumers have to capture screenshots, and answer questions about the footage, which features the Altima in the midst of flashing lights, reflective glass, fast-moving street scenes and other eye-catching elements. The prizes: ten $500 cash gift cards. The name is hashtagged at #ALT16Contest across social media.