Nissan's new agency has a far-reaching role

Castle: "There are a lot of different ways to tell a story."
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NASHVILLE -- Nissan's newly created New York advertising shop, called Nissan United, has a lofty mission called "brand positioning." But the office's real mission is to influence virtually every aspect of the automaker's marketing, be it positioning future models or choosing background colors for dealers' TV spots.

The objective from one task to the next, in markets from Chicago to Shanghai, is consistency of message, says Jon Castle, the longtime automotive ad agency executive who is president of Nissan United. The central office was announced in October, bringing together people and functions from Nissan's global agency TBWA Worldwide and its affiliated companies.

"The strongest brands are the ones that have a significant amount of consistency wherever you go," Castle says. "The Internet means that when you create an ad or a press release or a public event in one part of the world, the rest of the world is also going to know about it. So if Nissan is doing something different in every part of the world, then what does the Nissan brand really stand for? What is Nissan's voice?"

Nissan United will be a central command post for TBWA affiliates in media buying, market research, creative, public relations and other disciplines. Castle will draw on the company's offices around the world, including Japan, Europe and China, but operate with a Manhattan core staff of fewer than 50.

Nissan retains its in-house executive marketing staff, including Jon Brancheau as North American vice president for marketing communications and media. The company also retains its national dealer ad agency, Zimmerman Advertising of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Zimmerman is part of Omnicom Group Inc., the marketing conglomerate that also owns TBWA.

Castle said efforts are in progress to align Zimmerman's dealer advertising with Nissan's national and international branding decisions.

"Zimmerman's work with dealerships in the last six to nine months has ever so slightly begun to edge closer towards our more consistent voice in storytelling, from a look and feel perspective, from a tone perspective," he says. "It really doesn't feel like there's one spot to launch a new Nissan car nationally, and then a different entity conducting a tent sale somewhere. Brand work, tier-two retail work and event work -- all of that will come closer together in tone and communication and voice.

"Everybody recognizes that a stronger brand image will help everybody, including our constituents at the dealerships," says Castle, a Boston native who helped reintroduce the Volkswagen Beetle to the U.S. market earlier in his career.

Nissan United will report to Roel de-Vries, Nissan global head of marketing, brand and communications.

The Nissan brand had U.S. sales last year of more than 1 million cars and trucks for the first time. But the Japanese automaker is under new pressure to buff up its image with consumers around the world as the company pushes deeper into markets where it is less known, including China, Russia, India and the Middle East.

"There are a lot of different ways to tell a story," Castle says. "Our mission is to determine the best way to express our tag line, 'Innovation that excites,' consistently around the world, so that consumers are clear about who we are."

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com.


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