Finalist – Nissan’s Jeff Parent: No guts, no glory

After a year that’s left the North American auto industry befuddled and distraught, Jeff Parent has good reason to smile.

After a year that’s left the North American auto industry befuddled and distraught, Jeff Parent has good reason to smile. Nissan Canada’s VP sales and marketing saw his company increase its market share to 5.6% in 2009 – a record high. It’s an accomplishment that rides on the coattails of a successful 2008, during which the automaker experienced its highest Canadian sales ever.

Parent has made an immediate impact since joining Nissan in August 2007 after 16 years at Volkswagen in the U.S. Nissan’s achievements, especially significant given the tumultuous times in which they occurred, can be attributed to two practices he instilled upon his arrival.

“I ask the people that work with me to ask a lot of questions,” says Parent. That’s what led his team to identify a problem in the Quebec market, where brand resonance was low and Nissan vehicles were being outsold by Toyota and Honda.

“We started looking at why [the problem existed], and we realized we were going to market wrong,” he says. “We needed our own brand in Quebec, our own message. We needed to do something different.”

That’s how “Gros Bon Sens” – “Big Common Sense” in English – came to be, a creative platform unique to the market, exploiting the insight that small vehicles reflect the majority in Quebec. The concept also strove to eliminate the perception in that province that Nissan vehicles were expensive without degrading the brand, and was applied to all campaign components.

To say that it worked would be an understatement. Nissan registered 23.4% sales growth in Quebec for 2008 – the largest percentage sales growth ever for Nissan in the province – and grew its market share by 19%, exceeding monthly sales targets six months out of the first eight in 2009.

“I’ve never been involved in anything where we saw this immediate love for something that we did,” says Parent. “It gave us the opportunity to really create an identity with French-speaking Canada that wasn’t there before.”

“Don’t be afraid, be bold,” is the second of Parent’s prescribed practices. It led to Nissan’s 2009 “Hypercube” campaign, a daring, innovative program and Canada’s first social-media-only car launch. It targeted artsy Gen-Yers, who auditioned for the chance to win one of 50 Cubes by exploiting their online social networks. For Parent, it provided a way to experiment with connecting Nissan customers with the company in the online world.

“When you’ve got an opportunity to learn something about yourself, or the market, take it,” says Parent. “We can’t always be the leading brand in everything, but we can be the leading brand in trying new approaches to marketing.”

“Hypercube” was also a rousing success. Awareness grew 264% among the urban group targeted in the campaign; there were 7,000 entrants and a total of 50,215 total campaign registrants. Tony Chapman, CEO of Toronto-based Capital C, Nissan’s digital AOR and developer of the initiative, attributes its success to Parent’s “no guts, no glory” approach to marketing.

“Calm, courageous and with incredible conviction, he loved the idea of what we were doing with the Cube,” says Chapman. “This thing just exploded, and he fed off the energy of it.”

Innovation is a major part of the Nissan blueprint going forward. Parent envisions a not-too-distant future where the company is the first out of the
gate to bring Canadians zero-emission transportation, and further to that, to go beyond the internal combustion engine to change the way people travel.
For Parent, it comes down to reigniting people’s passion for automobiles, and Nissan being more than just a run-of-the-mill car company, something that’s reflected in its current “Best Part of Your Day” brand platform. And to achieve that in such a cluttered marketplace, he wants to continue shaping the Nissan brand as one that’s a bit controversial, that sticks out from the crowd.

“We’ve got to do things that are a little bit edgy, a little bit breakthrough, that people don’t necessarily expect to see,” says Parent.

Vital stats

Size of marketing team: eight
Years at Nissan: two-and-a-half
First job in marketing: trainee with Volkswagen
Professional highlight of the year: Nissan’s market-share performance in Canada
Marketing style in three words: bold, humourous, different

Then and now

How has your thinking about marketing changed over the last 20 years?
I’m more concerned about communicating than I was.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
If we talked to our friends the way we talk to our customers they’d punch us in the face.

Jump to:

Overall winner – Loblaw’s Craig Hutchison: Back to the future

Overall winner – Frito Lay Canada’s Tony Matta: Raising the stakes

Finalist – Canadian Tourism Commission’s Greg Klassen: Canada’s tourism superhero

Finalist – Canwest’s Muriel Solomon: On with the show