Few ads spawn their own TV series but, last September, one US
Nissan commercial looked set to do just that. The spot featured a
computer-animated GI Joe jumping into a toy sports car to impress a
Barbie doll lookalike.
’Toy story’, as it was dubbed, became a talking point and TV producers
began to salivate.
At this year’s Cannes advertising film festival, the top brass from
Nissan’s US agency, TBWA Chiat Day, were out in force to lap up the
attendant industry praise. But, behind the smiles, they must also have
been feeling a little bruised after weathering one of the most public
backlashes ever against an ad campaign.
Sniping started just a few weeks after the campaign’s launch, when
year-on-year sales for the brand in the US dropped by 10.2 per cent,
despite the hype. Critics - many of them Nissan dealers - said the
statistics proved an ad’s popularity did not necessarily guarantee
sales. The agency countered with research showing that potential car
purchasers with Nissan on their shopping lists had shot up by 14 per
cent, and also claimed that launches by Honda and Toyota were distorting
the figures. And so the debate raged until this spring when sales
started climbing again, hitting a claimed 25-year high in February.
Whatever the merits and demerits of each side, the storm has had the
side-effect of putting the spotlight on a previously rather anonymous
account. A brief glance reveals that, in five years, the TBWA network
has expanded business once held in just the UK, Spain, France and North
America into a global account running across 16 countries - and has been
doing some notable work.
This began in 1995, when TBWA bought Chiat Day, uniting Nissan’s US
advertising account (Chiat Day) with the business held by TBWA in the UK
and a few other European countries. Since then, the network has
implemented a flexible approach to increase its coverage through
pitching rather than alignment.
It has picked up Hong Kong, New Zealand and Chile alone this year.
It has gone on to set up TBWA/H Network, a joint venture with Nissan’s
Japanese incumbent, Hakuhodo, to win the business in South Africa and
Nissan’s approach to its advertising allows individual countries to
decide their own destinies, a policy that has evolved, in part, from the
peculiarities of the car sector.
Different models sell in different regions while other historical
factors have affected brand perceptions. In the US, for example, Nissan
is synonymous with its sports-cars heritage, while in Europe,
traditionally it has been seen as a solid, sensible choice.
Brian Carolin, the marketing director for Nissan in the UK and formerly
Nissan Europe’s general manager, product marketing, argues these
variations can only be changed regionally. He says: ’I don’t believe
there’s scope for international advertising that straddles two
continents because of the nature of the product category. Few car models
have grown into strong global brands, which means that the advertising
can’t mirror them.’ Nevertheless, there is a surprisingly unified voice
across the globe on Nissan, based around the idea of the enjoyment of
driving, delivered in a quirky, often humorous style. In the US and
Canada, this idea is condensed into the strapline, ’Enjoy the ride’,
while Australia promises, ’Just wait until you drive it’, and the UK’s
Primera work exhorts: ’It’s a driver’s car, so drive it.’
The creative approach reveals a similar sense of brand stewardship. One
South African commercial has a touch of the ’toy story’ about it, as a
nodding dog comes to life in the back of a Nissan Sentra and is so
excited he starts playing air guitar. Another, for the Terrano II people
carrier in Australia, features a young wife describing the large family
she wants, as her increasingly concerned husband sweats and imagines the
car growing to accommodate it.
A spot for the Primera in France, continues the visually comic theme
with the story of scientists who test a monkey’s intelligence by making
him choose between a Primera and a sports car. Even though he fails the
test by choosing the sportier model, the animal quickly realises his
mistake when he sees the kind of wide-boy who shares his preference.
Proof that a country-by-country approach reaps creative benefits can be
seen in the generally less impressive work that has been produced to run
internationally. Of the company’s three global marketing regions -
Europe, North America and Asia - Europe is most geared to producing such
campaigns through TBWA/H in the Netherlands and some of the ideas seem
to sacrifice a clear positioning for a general, Europe-wide message.
Nissan Europe’s last major campaign, the ’eyes’ spot for the launch of
the Primera, arguably fell into this category by failing to address the
UK’s specific need to position the model as a business car. As a result,
the UK rejected the ad in favour of the home-grown ’it’s a driver’s car’
strategy, adding weight to Carolin’s general observation that ’consumers
have a strong emotional commitment to buying cars and triggering that is
usually market specific’.
For countries that don’t have large enough sales revenue to generate
separate campaigns in similar situations, Nissan and TBWA are developing
a formalised information exchange to ensure access to international
work. TBWA has recently instigated two-monthly international account
group meetings while recent reels are showcased regularly to Nissan
distributors. As a result, Germany has recently run the UK’s ’ask before
you borrow it’ campaign, while Spain has shown ’toy story’ and Turkey is
keen to use the UK’s Primera ’weatherman’ spot.
It seems inevitable that Nissan will look for more opportunities to
share work worldwide as economies of scale bite but, for now at least,
both marketer and agency seem happy enough with the relaxed approach.