Infiniti wants more distance from Nissan ads

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NEW ORLEANS -- Infiniti wants to have a new global ad agency selected and in place by July as it pushes further away from its mass-market sibling, Nissan.

The luxury marque put its advertising account up for grabs late last year. It has been handled by TBWA Worldwide, a unit of the Omnicom Group, since the late 1990s.

Nissan is Omnicom's largest client. The U.S. portion of Infiniti's advertising spend was about $200 million.

Although Infiniti executives missed the brand's make meeting here Saturday morning because of flight problems, dealers discussed the pending advertising change during the meeting.

"The agency review is long overdue," said Matthew Gunderson, owner of Infiniti of Mission Viejo near Los Angeles, who conducted the meeting as chairman of the Infiniti National Dealer Advisory Board.

Michael Bartsch, vice president for Infiniti's North American business, recently told Automotive News that Infiniti is determined to be perceived as a distinct car line, completely separate from Nissan.

"We've been working with Omnicom for the past 10 to 15 years, and they've done a fantastic job for us," Bartsch said. "But this is part of the separation process of making sure we're not perceived as the 'Nissan-plus' brand.

"There is a bleeding of styles between the brands. It's hard to avoid. An agency that's focused so intently on Nissan can't simply turn its attention to us and think in a completely different creative way."

Infiniti has been tearing itself away from its association with Nissan for more than a year, starting with discontinuing references to the brand as "the Infiniti Division of Nissan" and its registration as a separate company -- Infiniti Motor Co., with a headquarters in Hong Kong.

Bartsch said Infiniti wants to work with its agency in the future to focus more heavily on Tier 2 and Tier 3 advertising, which covers the later parts of a car-buying experience down to the ads run by dealerships.

"We want to spend a lot more time going into nontraditional media and going into events to show people our cars," he said.

Infiniti's agency review occurs just as the Nissan brand launches a new global agency structure under Omnicom. That plan features a New York agency called Nissan United that was created to oversee all Nissan brand issues.

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


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