LOS ANGELES - Two years. Nearly a half-billion dollars in media spending. All for a massive brand advertising campaign that could not bring traffic to Nissan stores and could not save market share.
A division that once targeted 900,000 annual sales now will count itself lucky to hit 650,000.
Enter Mike Seergy, the plain-spoken 43-year-old former Northeast regional vice president. He was brought in to turn around Nissan Division's American sales and marketing effort.
Seergy is no fan of touchy-feely brand marketing, especially when it comes at the expense of product-focused advertising.
'During that two-year period, we went into what I called a 'brand pageant,' where everything we did was the brand,' said Seergy, who was named Nissan Division general manager in February's boardroom shuffle.
Focusing on the brand and how to do business in the 21st century made the division lose track of what was happening at the moment, Seergy said. Now it is back to basics.
SPOTLIGHT ON FEATURES
So what is next?
Nissan will de-emphasize brand polishing, and instead will tout product features model by model.
'We're going to tell consumers we're competitively priced and have dependability, quality and reliability,' Seergy said.
Hence, no more dogs pushing sleeping owners in their recliners to look at the new Frontier. Ads now will focus on the product features of the Frontier.
However, Seergy is not going to kill off the 'Life Is a Journey' campaign, which featured the 'Mr. K' character patterned after Yutaka Katayama, founder of Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A.
'I don't want you to think (the brand campaign) was a waste of investment. It wasn't. We just became so focused on the brand, we forgot to do the product,' Seergy said.
Nor does Seergy plan to get rid of ad agency TBWA/Chiat Day. He believes Chiat executed Nissan's brand campaign orders exactly as told. Nissan just gave them the wrong orders.
Brad Bradshaw, who will oversee the transition back to bottom-up marketing, in which the car is the star, said some brand spots will remain.
'The key word is balance,' said Bradshaw, vice president of marketing for Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A. 'Nissan needs to be more than models. It's important for the brand name to be attached to products.'
Although no ads featuring Mr. K have been broadcast since the Winter Olympics in February, Bradshaw said Mr. K will return.
'We didn't execute the use of Mr. K the way we should have,' Seergy said. 'We never said who he was and what he meant to the company. We never told people that he represented the guy who founded our company, the guy who loves people, loves life and loves cars.'
The brand campaign has opened people's minds to the Nissan name, and since Nissan now has new product, people will be more receptive to the product message, Bradshaw said.
The first effort in model-line management was a spot that compared the Altima to the Mercedes-Benz C class - which some critics saw as over the top. But Bradshaw defends it.
'We focused hard on positioning this spot because it's about the product, but also what the brand says. It's more than just a Camry-Accord wannabe,' Bradshaw said.
Perhaps the biggest error of the brand campaign was in panicking with incentives when the brand ads failed to draw traffic, Seergy said. Trying to promote the brand while screaming about $2,000 cash back worked at cross purposes.
'We got a lot of good publicity, but people were not coming in to the dealers. So we increased incentives to buy the market, to keep volume where it needed to be,' Seergy said.
Despite the huge money on the table, Nissan Division's North American light-vehicle sales have slid consistently, from 711,638 in 1995 to 662,825 in 1997. They fell another 33 percent this year through April.
Bradshaw said ad executives can get carried away with the process: 'I don't know if I really want the public to think of Nissan as a 'brand.' I'd rather just want them to know about Nissan and its products. I mean, we can over-intellectualize the process if we try too hard.'