May 6 2014, 9:22pm CDT | by Forbes
In its new “Ride of Your Life” campaign for Altima, Nissan is roaring an answer to questions such as: Do American consumers really care about “performance” any more? In a market increasingly focused on fuel efficiency, “green” chops, digital connectivity and occasionally stylish design, do enough mainstream buyers still focus on “vroom” to make it an effective pitch?
Beginning with a new TV commercial on cable and a volley of social-media efforts, Nissan launched the campaign for its flagship four-door family sedan on Monday around a time-honored advertising device: fooling consumers into singing the brand’s praises.
In this case, Nissan got a few dozen actual consumers to a race track, geeked them up about the brand’s performance credentials and convinced them that they were getting a ride around the Horse Thief Mile at Willow Springs Raceway in a race-spec Altima. Only when their thrill ride in the Altima “racer” was over did Nissan strip away the decals and other track accessories — and reveal to these people they actually had been passengers in a stock Altima that they could purchase not too far from the Rosamond, Calif., racetrack.
“Performance is still very relevant to the audience for Altima,” Jon Brancheau, Nissan’s U.S. CMO, told me. “In this case, we’re trying to show that in an entertaining fashion with consumers who are genuinely surprised.”
Nissan is performing like a racecar these days as it attempts to jockey seriously with Honda for the place as the No. 2 Japanese brand in the U.S. market, to Toyota. The Nissan brand’s April sales were up 19 percent over a year ago, and for the year to date, they rose more than 13 percent over 2013. Altima sales already were riding along at a 5-percent-better clip than the first four months of 2013.
“It’s kind of a boring segment,” Brancheau allowed. “It’s big in rental cars. But some mid-size sedans are more expressive than others. So part of this campaign was trying to take a sleepy but large segment and shake it up a bit with the notion of performance, to differentiate” Altima.
Millennials’ relative lack of enthusiasm about horsepower really isn’t an issue here. Altima is squarely aimed at Gen X and older consumers, mostly with families. “When you create the kind of excitement the consumers in these ads are exhibiting, even boomers can appreciate it,” Brancheau said. “And of course we tend to shoot younger in our communications brief than the people you’re actually selling to.”
Another new aspect of the campaign is that it’s solely focused on Altima, whereas Nissan — and rivals — typically use the late-spring marketing platforms to draw interest to the closeout-deal possibilities for a range of their models.
One more dimension of the new campaign: a heavy outreach to Hispanic consumers. There’s a Spanish-language version of the TV ad that tells the story of how a cohort of Hispanic consumers enjoyed their race-track rides in Altima. Nissan, like other Japanese brands, over-indexes heavily with Hispanics compared with non-Hispanic US consumers.
“We’re the No. 1 brand in Mexico, too,” Brancheau said, “with a 25-percent market share. They have a great image of the Nissan brand in Mexico. To some degree that also benefits us in the US.”surprised.”
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