Nissan's brand ads push the image of innovation
NASHVILLE -- Jon Brancheau's new national TV campaign for Nissan has a symbolic feel to it. Five vehicles hidden under sheets are rolling through a city.
As the spot ends, one of the sheets slips loose to reveal the redesigned 2013 Altima. The symbolism is that, with this commercial, the sheets are also coming off of Nissan's new strategic marketing plan, which Brancheau is executing as vice president of Nissan marketing.
Nissan seeks to portray itself as an innovative brand. Rather than trying to hawk every model in the portfolio, the campaign will zero in on five redesigned core offerings -- the Altima, Pathfinder, Sentra, Versa hatchback and Rogue -- over the coming year. The simplified message is that Nissan, the innovative brand, is delivering this family of products.
"Products will lead the next level of improvement in the overall opinion of the brand," says Brancheau, 51, who took the Nissan role in 2010 after prior stints managing marketing for Infiniti and Cadillac. "That's why this next 15-month window is so important, because we're turning over roughly 75 percent of our volume."
Brancheau spoke with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell at Nissan's headquarters.
Q: Nissan has a big product wave coming. What's the unified marketing plan for it all?
A: We have five key products coming in a 15-month window. Two years ago we started to develop a new communications platform, "Innovation for All," which has now evolved to "Innovation that Excites." You really won't see us deviate much from how we've communicated over the course of the past 18 months. We want to be consistent and continue to deliver a clever message with a wink and a little bit of humor, and exploit the opportunity to have a deeper story about the product.
There are a few big building blocks that we've put in place. One of them was that communications platform. One was some incentives to motivate our dealers to take better care of customers. And then a big one is our regional marketing program.
How much growth will you see in your ad budget this year to accommodate all this?
In terms of OEM support, we're looking at roughly a 20 percent increase. But the dealer contributions are more than doubling from where we were last year.
The formation of Nissan's regional dealer advertising associations has been a big part of your achievement over the past year or two. How is it helping?
It has improved our share of voice. If you go back three years, we had no regional marketing groups, so there was a very low level of Tier 2 spending. Now we're a major player in that space.
If there's a challenge, I would say just the creative challenges, in terms of trying to get consensus on a core communications strategy. It's just difficult because creative is so subjective.
But no push-back from the dealers about having to spend more of their money?
We actually exceeded the number of dealers we thought would participate. We were expecting last year somewhere in the low 90s. But we have almost 99 percent participation in the regional marketing program.
Is it realistic to think the auto industry will decrease its share of participation in TV advertising?
It depends on your definition of TV advertising.
Consider this: 20 percent of our leads in this past year, meaning people who came in and wanted to talk to a dealer about buying a car or who requested a quote, came from smartphones and tablets. The traffic that we've generated through those two devices, we call them screens, is up 60 percent year over year. That's huge growth. And it's going to continue rapidly just because the costs of the tablets are coming down. So there will be more users in the future. It's critical that we have those devices covered.
The delivery of TV content is now happening very differently than in years past. We're still buying TV in the traditional sense.
But the digital players are doing their own upfronts, and I think you'll see that happen big time next year. If I buy programming only with a major network in the traditional sense, I don't necessarily capture the people who may be watching through their console device. I've got to cover all of these different screens now. Frankly, it makes things more complicated.
The industry expressed a little doubt this year about how effective Facebook is for vehicle marketing. Do you believe Facebook will help you sell cars?
Yes, absolutely. In the course of the last 15 months, Nissan has gone from fewer than 200,000 Facebook fans to just about 1 million. We have 18 different communities that we support through Facebook and Twitter. We have a Nissan brand page just about what's going on at Nissan. Another is a Nissan Performance page for enthusiasts who want to know about the Z and the GT-R. That's not necessarily "buying advertising." But as Facebook moves forward, they're going to figure out intelligent ways to take paid advertising and directly link it in to those communities.
Your senior management has said a number of times that Nissan has suffered from a lack of brand awareness. Nissan has been around 50 years successfully selling cars; why are people fuzzy about the brand?
That's tough to answer. But if you go back several years, a lot of our communications were devoted to individual models, whether it was the Altima or the Maxima or the Titan. We have 19 different cars. We were very model-focused. We tried to build the Altima brand rather than the Nissan brand.
But we've changed our strategy. We're going to strategically align more of our resources against fewer models. We're going to focus on five core models in the next 15 months, and link them much more closely to Nissan as a brand, with the message that "Nissan's an innovative company."
Our resources will be disproportionately focused on those cars that are both high volume and can drive favorable perception of the brand. Other models, like the Z and the GT-R, are small volume and aren't really core models. But they're halo, and they are still critically important to us improving the brand perception. So you'll see us use them in communications.
A lot of the other models will essentially be supported through digital and the Web site, and through the regional marketing program.
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.