Nissan Hypercube: a convincing social test drive

Car brands tend to approach the introduction of their new vehicles by bowing large campaigns that rely on traditional media. Nissan Canada decided that it would use the launch of its Cube model in Canada - a car that elicits often polarizing emotions, according to the company - as an opportunity to take the road less travelled, using social media as the sole promotional platform.

Car brands tend to approach the introduction of their new vehicles by bowing large campaigns that rely on traditional media. Nissan Canada decided that it would use the launch of its Cube model in Canada – a car that elicits often polarizing emotions, according to the company – as an opportunity to take the road less travelled, using social media as the sole promotional platform.

‘There’s this very homogeneous launch plan for almost everything else in the automotive category,’ says Jeff Parent, VP sales and marketing for Nissan Canada. ‘We felt that this was an opportunity for us to say, ‘we’ve got a chance to learn something different about marketing cars.”

The result was the creation of Nissan’s Hypercube contest, an initiative developed with Toronto-based Capital C, and one that provided new challenges for the brand.

‘I think Cube probably consumed more of our time than a usual launch, but that [was because] it was a new way of doing business,’ explains Parent.

Nissan and Capital C both had teams of dedicated people that worked to keep communication going, which was no easy task based on the level of engagement that occurred, but it wasn’t the major hurdle.

‘The biggest challenge was convincing some of our stakeholders within the Nissan global organization that the idea had merit,’ says Parent. ‘I think they’re convinced of that now.’

Launched in February with a website, Hypercube.ca, the initiative used Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to reach out to Canada’s creatively inclined – the ideal target demo for the vehicle, and the group that Nissan hoped would ultimately define the Cube’s brand image.

‘Instead of telling people what this car was, we asked people who we thought would be predisposed to liking [it] what it should be,’ explains Parent. ‘We wanted to harness the creative minds in Canada to an idea and see what they could come up with.’

DJs, skateboarders, graffiti artists and the like, all well connected online via their own social networks, were invited to vie for the chance to audition to win one of 50 blue Cubes. In April, 1,000 selected entrants were narrowed down to a group of 500 that then took part in a six-week audition process.

They rallied support within their communities, online and off, competing against each other by showcasing their creative talents through their own blogs, web pages, Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles, as well as through Hypercube.ca.

‘We thought these people were connected, but the extent to which they were was stunning,’ says Parent. ‘We increased our awareness among our target demographic within three weeks by 87%, and that was without one speck of advertising in the traditional sense.’

In June, the Cubes were awarded to the winners during events in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal by a panel of independent judges that made their decisions based on uniqueness, creativity, personality, enthusiasm, survey responses and peer voting.

Creative canvases submitted by contestants were viewed about 1.4 million times; over 250,000 votes were cast; and from the time the contest kicked-off until it ended, Hypercube.ca tallied more than 117,000 unique visitors from 147 countries.

The winners are also currently blogging about their experiences with their new Cubes for the next year at Cubecommunity.ca.

‘From a brand perspective, social media makes us more aware that consumers determine what our brand is,’ says Parent. ‘The best we can hope to do is influence that and become a part of the conversation.’

Though the Hypercube campaign was a huge success at face value, the conversation surrounding it fell victim to naysayers. Contending with disappointment, some unlucky Hypercube contestants who went home without a vehicle took issue with the judging process. They vented their gripes through the same social networks that had worked well for Nissan during the contest, to garner attention.

Nissan is looking to the silver lining.

‘The negative feedback is always going to be there whether you’re on social media or not,’ says Parent. ‘What social media allows you to do is be part of the conversation and make it right. We can’t please everybody, but we’ll try to address everyone’s concerns constructively and honestly, and hope that everyone who has a positive experience tells everybody else about it.’

The next step for Nissan is to figure out how to proceed with marketing the Cube.

‘Is there ever an appropriate time for me to put this car on television now?’ muses Parent. ‘Or did I burn that bridge because we went social media at the beginning? I think that’s an interesting marketing issue for anybody who goes in this direction. What percentage is online and what percentage goes traditional, and is there a place where you switch off and on?’

He believes that the Cube experience has left Nissan with some good tools to start figuring that out.

‘I think we learned enough to know that these strategies work, and that we can, and in fact must, make them a part of our marketing mix.’

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