– Todd Wasserman
Earlier this year, when Toyota was facing its PR disaster over recalls of faulty anti-lock brakes and accelerator pedals, Rob Schwartz said Nissan looked at the situation and asked, “Why do we have to be No. 3?”
Nissan, which Schwartz dubbed an “alternative” Japanese brand that formerly stood for performance and design, is attempting to change that with a big boost in ad spending and a new campaign built around the theme, “Innovation for all.”
Schwartz, chief creative officer at TBWA\Chiat\Day, said the Toyota episode “opened our minds” to the fact that an opportunity existed. The strategy, outlined in the agency’s new campaign, is to own “innovation” in the auto category by using Leaf, the brand’s electric car, as a halo.
The “Innovation for all campaign” soft launched in July with a TV spot featuring Lance Armstrong bemoaning all the tailpipes he’s followed over the past 20 years of biking. Then Armstrong lauds the Leaf, which he notes is “100 percent electric, no tailpipe.”
Nissan is breaking five more spots echoing the theme, including one called “Innovations” that celebrates new technologies the brand is introducing, like smart phone apps and the use of recycled materials in the cars. On Sept. 9, the brand plans to introduce “Polar Bear,” which takes on global warming by showing the threatened species hugging a consumer who bought the Leaf.
Jon Brancheau, vp, marketing at Nissan North America, said the Leaf is meant to be the “poster child of innovation” for the brand. Brancheau acknowledged that the model, which goes on sale in December at $32,780 (not including a $7,500 federal tax credit), is not for everyone. He said communication at the dealer level will stress that the model only gets about 100 miles per charge, so it wouldn’t be ideal for long trips.
That said, the Leaf, along with a significant boost in ad spending, will cause consumers to reevaluate Nissan. “Someone coming in to look at the Leaf might leave with a Maxima,” he said. The shift in expectations is important.
Brancheau said Nissan plans to release nine new models over the next two years, accounting for 85 percent of volume. In October, Nissan will launch the Juke, which is billed as a “cross-sports vehicle.” In January, Nissan will break another campaign introducing the 2012 Quest minivan. (Given the timing, Brancheau ruled the Super Bowl out.)
Despite the new theme, Nissan is keeping its “Shift” tagline, which dates to 2002.
Meanwhile, Brancheau, who replaced Joel Ewanick when the former Hyundai marketer left Nissan after a six-week stint (Ewanick has since gone to General Motors), said that in addition to an increased ad budget, Nissan is putting $50 million behind retail initiatives.
Schwartz said that Nissan plans to move ahead with its aggressive plan. “I hope that other carmakers see what’s going on in the economy and pull their ads,” he said. “It’s better for us.”