Infiniti's advertising manager supported the infamous “Rocks and Trees” campaign, which launched the brand. He wouldn't do it again.
Earliest Nissan involvement: 1983
Role: Infiniti's advertising manager during the "Rocks and Trees" campaign
Key influence: Backed the ad campaign that is still cited as the wrong way to launch an auto brand
Dave Hubbard, Infiniti's advertising manager, wholeheartedly supported the campaign. And he says Infiniti sales in the first year were fine.
Would he do it again? No.
“I learned that we didn't need to take the risk,” he says today.
The campaign began in print in early 1989 and concluded with the TV commercials in November of that year.
The idea was to show nature in a teaser campaign before the Infiniti Q45 sedan debuted, says Hubbard. The campaign featured trickling brooks, gravel and lush foliage — but no vehicles.
Nissan wanted a message that would set it apart from Lexus and the Germans, says Hubbard.
Nissan's ad agency, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, developed several campaigns and recommended “Rocks and Trees.”
Hubbard says he thought it would be a winner. Appreciating nature and practicing Zen, a variety of Buddhism, and finding enlightenment through mediation, are Japanese ideals, says Hubbard.
“The idea was the sense of luxury was more important than showing how the car looked,” he says.
Criticism in the media was immediate and vicious, recalls Hubbard. “People said we were embarrassed about the new car.”
Even Jay Leno weighed in. He said Infiniti sales weren't up, but “sales of trees and rocks are up over 300 percent.”
Bob Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age, still writes about the campaign. In 2007 he wrote that the commercials “overdid the Zen imagery well into self-parody and they waited too long to show what the mysterious new luxury cars looked like.”
Surprised, Infiniti scurried to get new commercials on air. They played it safe by showing the Q45 “driving on the winding roads above San Francisco,” says Hubbard.
Many observers blamed Infiniti's slow sales on the campaign. But Hubbard says the advertising wasn't the problem.
Infiniti rushed its car to market a year before originally intended because Lexus was coming. “I do not think they were ready, and not even the Japanese knew what the Lexus product would look like.”
“Some of the naysayers say it affected Infiniti negatively. But it took them 10 years to get back to the sales level that we accomplished in that first year,” says Hubbard.
Hubbard, now 58, left Nissan in 1992 to join an advertising agency. He's a consultant today, and his clients include Toyota.
He has no regrets about his days at Infiniti: “It is one of the best things I have ever done in my career. To be at the genesis of an automotive division is awesome.”
You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Diana on