X marks the spot: Nissan’s new SUV hits the road driving

When Nissan decided the North American launch of its small SUV, the X-Trail, would be Canada-only, Toronto-based TBWA got the chance to take the lead on a piece of automotive business. It took over a year and a fair bit of making whoopee (we'll get to that later) to get to launch, but that's what it takes to bring a car to market. Okay, maybe not the whoopee, but it helps. Nissan's Ian Forsyth, director of marketing; Jeannie Lam, brand analyst; and a trio of TBWA folks - former CDs Simon Creet and Simon Duffy; and Adam White, group account director - showed strategy how they rolled up their sleeves to meet the challenge of launching a new vehicle in a crowded market.

When Nissan decided the North American launch of its small SUV, the X-Trail, would be Canada-only, Toronto-based TBWA got the chance to take the lead on a piece of automotive business. It took over a year and a fair bit of making whoopee (we’ll get to that later) to get to launch, but that’s what it takes to bring a car to market. Okay, maybe not the whoopee, but it helps. Nissan’s Ian Forsyth, director of marketing; Jeannie Lam, brand analyst; and a trio of TBWA folks – former CDs Simon Creet and Simon Duffy; and Adam White, group account director – showed strategy how they rolled up their sleeves to meet the challenge of launching a new vehicle in a crowded market.

JANUARY 2003

GENTLEMEN…START YOUR ENGINES

* Pre-race prep dates back to 2001 when Nissan’s global president visits Canada to discuss budgets and suggests launching a small SUV in the country. TBWA, AOR for Nissan since 1988, first meets with the company in January 2003 to begin putting together a rough set of objectives, challenges and business outlooks for launching the Nissan X-Trail SUV.

* According to Forsyth, the first meeting lays out timelines and required work. Because the car has yet to roll off the assembly line, synchronizing the marketing with the vehicle’s availability in Canada is crucial. ‘We needed to develop the workbacks, and the overall map we were going to follow in leading up to the introduction. Positioning was key – Who is our target customer and what do we want them to think about this vehicle when we launch it?’

* Forsyth describes potential buyers as consumers looking to move up from a sedan to an SUV. In Canada, he says, the market for small SUVs comprises about 50% of total volume, compared to only 20%-25% in the U.S.

‘Although the lineup in SUVs that we had was quite successful in the Pathfinder and

X-Terra and then up into the bigger Armada, [they] really didn’t capture that customer,’ explains Forsyth. ‘We wanted to make sure we were not going to lose our customers.’

APRIL 2003 – I’M TURNING JAPANESE, I REALLY THINK SO!

* In April, White accompanies the Nissan team (including Forsyth, the corporate communications manager and product planning manager) to Japan on a fact-finding trip for a full product briefing and discussion.

* The task of positioning the X-Trail begins in May. Nissan creates several teams, which include product and marketing planning, marketing communications, and creative.

* Nissan and TBWA begin examining what competitors are doing for media choices.

‘We were trying to figure out what I call the ‘hardware’ of how to launch a vehicle,’ says Forsyth. ‘And then we were looking for opportunities – things that we might do that we wouldn’t normally do, such as

free-standing inserts or special events.

Those studies were ongoing as we were working our way through the positioning.’

JUNE 2003 – ROADBLOCK!

* Lam asks everyone to research the best positioning, determine the target, the SUV’s strengths and weaknesses and possible threats. Some issues were the fact that Nissan was trailing Toyota and Honda in SUVs. Plus it was introducing its small SUV after its competitors, raising the challenge of how to differentiate. Says Creet: ‘We were launching at a time when the market was pretty saturated. So the challenge was [to develop] a slightly different positioning and get people interested enough to go to a dealership and check one out.’

JULY 2003 – REMEMBER TOM VU? ‘POSITION, POSITION, POSITION!’

* TBWA develops eight broad market positionings and submits them to Nissan.

* The ideas are qualitatively tested against target groups in research. Discussions follow on where to go with the research.

* The three leading positionings are: ‘The SUV for evolving lives,’ ‘The small SUV for your big life,’ and ’24 hours in the life of a car.’

* Forsyth turns down ‘The small SUV for your big life,’ an idea that depicts people in different life circumstances but doesn’t show off ‘enough car’ in the associated creative, and ’24 hours in the life of a car’ because no one can think of a way to extend the theme enough to make it interesting. ‘[Some of the] ideas we tried to work with began to feel contrived,’ he says.

AUGUST-OCTOBER 2003

HAVE SEX = BETTER ADVERTISING

* Nissan and TBWA do quantitative research. This involves evaluating the X-Trail and competitors’ vehicles so the teams can better understand which consumers will accept or reject the vehicle.

* The teams develop a statement for the vehicle. According to Lam, they write down the X-Trail’s ‘reason for being,’ how it will impact the target consumer and how it will fit within Nissan’s lineup.

* The chosen positioning statement forms the basis for the messaging ‘SUV for evolving lives.’

* Around this time, several members of the TBWA team become pregnant. Coincidence? ‘It was odd,’ says Creet. ‘Pregnancies started poppin’ up all over the place.’ White is suspect. He acknowledges that he and his wife now have a 10-month-old baby. His wife drives an X-Trail. Adds Duffy: ‘It lived up to the tag, ‘The SUV for evolving lives,’ in every sense of the word.’

* TBWA creates six to eight full campaigns, each containing two to three TV spots.

* On the insight behind the spots, Creet says: ‘We recognized that the category was all about rural versus urban and that was how adaptability was being conveyed in most SUV advertising. We saw an opportunity to talk to the different life stages people would go through during ownership of the vehicle. We really wanted to bring that to life.’

NOVEMBER 2003

THE CONSUMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT

* Three campaigns for the ‘SUV for evolving lives’ positioning are tested. An animatic is created for two of them. Consumers are asked for ideas on improving the campaigns and some are implemented.

DECEMBER 2003 – MARCH 2004

HEY, I KNOW YOU!

* A waiting period for TV, primarily because TBWA wants to shoot in Vancouver where there is no snow.

* Meanwhile, other marketing plans continue. The sprawling media buy includes cinema, print in a variety of magazines and papers

(e.g. Style at Home, Toronto Star, Calgary Herald, Voir), P-O-S, online, TV, outdoor and DM. A mall tour is scheduled for May.

* The vehicle is shown for the first time to Nissan customers at the Toronto Auto Show in February, for which Nissan is the host manufacturer and the X-Trail the featured vehicle. The X-Trail also makes an appearance at the Vancouver Auto Show.

* Nissan holds a ‘customer night’ at both auto shows, inviting Nissan owners to come down and see the X-Trail the night before the shows open. Says Forsyth: ‘[We wanted customers] to get exposure to the vehicle before we brought it into the marketplace. We were also trying to make Sentra and Altima owners aware that this vehicle was coming.’ At the events, a CD-ROM is handed out to consumers giving details about the vehicle and setting up the ‘evolving lives’ positioning.

* In a similar bid to create advance interest, a microsite designed and built by TBWA launches simultaneous to the Toronto Auto Show. The site is aimed at the press and consumers who might have questions early on and functions as a lead generator.

APRIL 2004 – ARE WE THERE YET?

* The TV spots are shot in Vancouver and Toronto and were more challenging than usual. Says Creet: ‘Normally we have access to U.S. vehicles and there are a lot of prototypes that are available on automotive launches up here. But because [the X-Trail] wasn’t available in the States, there were two or three vehicles that were being used here for everything from putting in front of journalists to test drives and auto shows.’

* Duffy adds that TBWA had to make available materials ‘work within the idea.’ That was a challenge because ‘we didn’t have access to shoot the vehicle straight up to fit the idea. We generally used the [TBWA] network and Nissan overall, grabbing elements from countries where the vehicle had already been launched [some pre-launch material came from Japan and New Zealand]. We could use existing stuff that way and then it was just down to how smart we could be.’

MAY – JUNE 2004

[CUE MOVIE VOICEOVER] ‘IN A WORLD …’

* The X-Trail is available at retail in May.

* In early May, the TV is tested. Says Lam of consumer reaction: ‘It was good. It did a lot better than we expected. But moving toward the final creative we already knew that the idea worked. We just had to do some tweaking and verification.’

* The TV spots begin airing in heavy rotation in May and run into the first two weeks of June before starting up again in July. Buys are in conventional and specialty TV and there is a tie-in with the film Troy where consumers can win an X-Trail.

* The mall tour kicks off in May and goes cross-country. Nissan hires students to move the vehicles from mall to mall, providing information to consumers and encouraging people to take test drives at local dealers. The tour idea comes from Nissan and is intended to heighten awareness and generate

additional leads.

AUGUST 2004 – JANUARY 2005

HOW YA LIKE ME NOW?

* Forsyth is a happy camper. The X-Trail is averaging 800-900 units per month, hitting sales targets. Forsyth says the vehicle is the third-largest selling import SUV and is outselling the Toyota RAV4 and the Mazda Tribute. ‘The reaction we’re getting is very positive. We like that the sales are very spread out – they’re not just in the big cities or the small markets.’