Nissan seeks global identity with 'Shift' ads

TOKYO - Nissan Motor Co. expects its new "Shift …" global brand identity campaign to last well into the future, signifying changes not only in the company and its cars but also in its role as an innovator.

"This is a bridge between the change in the company and the change in the products and, later, the change in the attitude," said Patrick Pelata, the Nissan executive vice president who led the brand identity team.

"I think the company is shifting toward a different attitude toward innovation and distinctiveness. Nissan is not just doing what Toyota did two years ago," he said.

"Later, I hope Nissan brings to the market cars that are shifting the existing segments and product categories," Pelata said.

The campaign itself represents a branding innovation. Nissan aims to create just three tag lines worldwide, each beginning with the word "shift."

In Japan, for example, Nissan already is using the tag line "Shift the future."

Pelata declined to reveal the "Shift …" tag line for North America, which will be unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January, or the one that will be used in conjunction with the launch of the Primera in Europe next spring. The intention is for markets outside Japan, Europe, and North America to choose from the three tag lines.

The differences mean "it's not really a global tag line," Pelata said, adding that there will be no separate corporate campaign. Rather, Nissan will roll out the campaign in conjunction with new-model launches in markets worldwide.

"We think today the best advocate of the renewal of Nissan is the product," Pelata said.

Ghosn is a supporter

Nissan President Carlos Ghosn enthusiastically endorses the campaign's global approach.

"We try to have some kind of consistent approach across the globe. Even though we are consistent, that does not mean we are uniform because each region has its own particularities, and we have to adapt," Ghosn said. "That's what made the 'Shift …' theme attractive."

Nissan began working on the global brand campaign in 1999, almost as soon as Ghosn and Pelata arrived at Nissan after Renault SA's purchase of a controlling 36.8 percent stake in the Japanese carmaker.

At the time, "Nissan was too much a patchwork of images in Europe, the United States, and Japan," Pelata said.

Nissan set up a team for brand identity in July 1999 with 25 people. It included all the leaders of marketing and advertising for Japan, the United States and Europe, plus one person each from agencies Chiat/Day in the United States, TBWA in Europe and two from Hakuhodo, Nissan's agency in Japan. Since then, TBWA/Chiat/Day and Hakuhodo have set up a joint venture, G-1, based in Tokyo to service Nissan account worldwide.

To come up with a tag line for its global brand identity campaign, Nissan worked with its internal marketing department and its advertising agencies. Together they came up with 500 prospective tag lines.

The marketing department boiled that down to four or five lines that expressed the sort of image it wanted to present, then kicked those back to the regions for more ideas. It then sifted through the resulting 100 suggestions to come up with "Shift ..."

The right timing

Rather than rush the new campaign out in a global blitz, Nissan waited.

"We don't feel we can say we've changed until we have changed," Pelata said. "That is why we didn't do this campaign earlier. If we had said in 1999 what we are going to say in 2002, no one would have believed us," he said.

"In 1999, Toyota dealers were saying to our customers, 'Don't buy a Nissan car because the company could go bankrupt.' Today, this tag line is easy to trust because there is trust that there is a future for Nissan. Now it is up to us to give evidence with product after product," Pelata said.

In Japan, Nissan waited for the Tokyo Motor Show, when Nissan's concept cars could show the company's new direction. About the same time, Nissan was unveiling its third consecutive half-year of record profits, thus showing Nissan truly had turned the corner.

Likewise, the North American campaign will coincide with a series of new concepts and production models, such as the Altima launched in September.

Pelata defends the timing of the European launch even though Nissan, like all other major Japanese carmakers, still is losing money in Europe. The new Primera, which is built in the United Kingdom, is "a significantly new product, able to carry the message alone," he said.

Some markets will want to create something different from the "Shift …" campaign that is particular to their own needs. When that happens, "It's my job to talk to them," said Junichi Minohara, deputy general manager for global advertising in Nissan's global marketing division.

He stressed, though, that by offering differing tag lines based on the same theme, Nissan already has headed off some of that desire to be different.

"We didn't force everyone to use one tag line; we didn't want to kill creativity in each region," he said. "That's why the supplementary word is developed by them."

But any deviance from "Shift ..." must be justified.

"The difference has to be relevant," Pelata said. "If it can be common, it should be common."

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com

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