08 Nissan North America Inc. Nissan Quest Minivan Launch Campaign

ARKETING CHALLENGE Let's face it. Minivans are boring. They're predictable boxes on wheels that lack personality and style. They are seen as the vehicle of choice for dowdy “soccer moms”. And yet despite this dull image, they are a necessary evil that families turn to – resulting in a highly successful and competitive segment with sales of over a million units a year. Nissan has struggled in the minivan segment for years. Their minivan, the Quest, was an also-ran entry primarily sold to Nissan loyalists as a stopgap to keep them in the brand. And while Nissan had dramatically turned itself around with very successful design-focused products in other segments, Quest was a laggard that shared its look with the conservative and behind-the-times Mercury Villager. So when Nissan designed the new 2004 Quest, they chose to make a major departure from the minivan norm: a vehicle that would embody the idea of the brand's new philosophy, SHIFT_. The product designers dubbed it an “Urban Loft.” Both the inside and the outside were purposefully different from everything else in category. That said, we would have to turn “different” into something “desired” – and the marketplace offered some pretty significant challenges:
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  Nissan North America, Inc.: Nissan Quest Minivan Launch campaign Guy Cunningham Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns Volume 2, 2007        Title:    Author(s):    Source:    Issue:   Nissan North America, Inc.: Nissan Quest Minivan Launch campaign Guy Cunningham Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns Volume 2, 2007 Nissan North America, Inc.: Nissan Quest Minivan Launch campaign Guy Cunningham OVERVIEW In 2004 Nissan North America, the North American subsidiary of Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., introduced a redesign of its Quest minivan. Originally a joint project with the Ford Motor Company, the Quest was selling only about 30,000 units per year by that time, and it was felt that the vehicle needed to be radically reconceived in order to compete with other minivans. Imports had risen to 34 percent of all minivan sales, meaning there was a solid market for the Quest to tap into. In an effort to make gains in this market, Nissan introduced the redesigned Quest in 2003 and 2004. Since the new Quest was a bold, sleek-looking minivan, it was decided to market the vehicle as the minivan of choice for what Nissan termed "Sexy Moms"—younger, hipper, financially successful suburban mothers and families that wanted the interior space of a minivan but were uncomfortable with the segment's dowdy image. The ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles was brought in to handle the $20 million campaign, which featured a major television spot, print ads, and billboards. The TV spot featured young, hip women going out at night in the city or loading musical instruments and surfboards into their Quests. It closed with the tagline "Moms have changed, shouldn't the minivan?" The message was that the Quest was a car for independent, image-conscious drivers. Nissan also sponsored events, such as a fashion show during New York's fashion week, in an effort to reach an audience that might not have been familiar with the earlier version of the Quest. The campaign succeeded in attracting a younger, wealthier consumer than the original Quest and received a 2005 Gold EFFIE Award from the New York American Marketing Association. The median age for Quest drivers during the relaunch was 47, the youngest in the minivan segment, and the typical Quest buyer had an income of approximately $98,000. Sales of the new Quest were, however, below expectations overall. This was blamed more on the minivan's radical design than on the marketing strategy. HISTORICAL CONTEXT The Nissan Quest began as a joint project between Nissan and Ford's Mercury division. Initial models of the car were all but indistinguishable from the Mercury Villager. Both were smaller minivans meant to serve as an entry into the lucrative minivan Downloaded from warc.com 2       market for each company. The vehicles were designed by Nissan and built around Nissan engines but were actually constructed by the Ford Motor Company. The collaboration was not a particularly successful one. In 1998 Nissan only moved about 30,000 units of the Quest, while competitors such as the Dodge Caravan sold more than 300,000 units. The Quest's failures were emblematic of company-wide shortcomings. By 1999 Nissan was nearly $22.9 billion in debt. A new CEO, Carlos Ghosn, was brought in to stem the tide of red ink that year. Ghosn immediately instituted the Nissan Revival Plan, requesting a $5.2 billion cash infusion from French company Renault, which owned more than 36 percent of Nissan stock in 2004, to help the brand revitalize its fleet. The plan also included a new emphasis on deficit reduction, improved vehicle performance, increasing the company's revenue flow, and working closely with parent company Renault. A key part of this plan was the decision to focus on building a smaller number of vehicle lines. Model quality, not quantity, would be the order of the day. During the revitalization, Nissan and Ford agreed to discontinue the Quest/Villager project, ending with the 2002 model, even though the program was originally slated to continue for another three years. Ford decided to cancel the Villager line altogether after the 2002 model. Nissan, however, had other plans. In the short term the line was to be suspended for one year so that its design could be reworked. The new Quest had an aggressive style, likened by some to the Renault's Scénic, a sleek, compact European multipurpose  vehicle, similar to an American minivan. To give it a sleeker look than its competitors, it featured a longer wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axle) than most minivans. The minivan's central control stack, located in front of the driver, was designed to look like a table, giving the interior a unique appearance. Nissan also emphasized performance. The car's second and third rows of seats both folded flat into the base of the vehicle, allowing for extra storage space, and side-impact airbags were meant to appeal to safety-conscious drivers. The relaunch was planned for model year 2004.When he became CEO in 1999, Ghosn vowed to make sure every Nissan automobile would be redesigned by 2004. As a result Nissan had a number of major new projects emerging in the mid-2000s, including a redesign of its popular Maxima, Xterra, and Altima lines. The company was also introducing a new sport-utility vehicle (SUV) line, the Murano. The Quest would be Nissan's major effort to break into the minivan market. From 1997 to 2004 imports had risen from 9 percent of the minivan market to 34 percent. Nissan hoped the Quest would be able to capitalize on this trend. SUPERHERO CEO In 1999 Nissan Motor Company, Ltd., was struggling financially. It was $22.9 billion in debt and was widely viewed as a company in decline. That year Nissan entered into an alliance with French company Renault. Renault gained more than one-third of voting stock in Nissan and worked to strengthen its partner almost immediately. The most visible part of this strengthening was the appointment of Renault's Carlos Ghosn as Nissan's chief operating officer later that year. Within two years Ghosn would become the global CEO of Nissan. Born in Brazil to Lebanese parents and later educated in France, Ghosn had an international outlook that had served him well during previous stints with Michelin and Renault. Upon joining Nissan, Ghosn instituted a major initiative called the Nissan Revitalization Plan. He put the company's survival first and bypassed the keiretsu system (a Japanese practice in which certain established suppliers received Downloaded from warc.com 3       special treatment) in favor of pursuing the lowest-priced supplies and materials. Ghosn also pledged to have every vehicle in the Nissan fleet redesigned by 2004. To foster better cooperation among Nissan's divisions, he instituted Cross-Functional Teams, groups put together from different divisions of the company. The Nissan Revitalization Plan was wildly successful, and within five years the company was out of debt and turning a $7 billion profit. Ghosn's success gave him a high profile internationally. In Japan he was memorialized in an anime comic book that presented the businessman as a kind of superhero. He was even encouraged by some to run for president of Lebanon. TARGET MARKET With a sticker price of about $25,500, the Quest was geared toward middle-class car buyers. Like previous Quest models, the new version was particularly aimed at young suburban families interested in a sportier minivan. Nissan saw the introduction of the new Quest as an opportunity to redefine the minivan market with a bold new design. This separated Quest from the pack in the minds of image-conscious consumers. As with all minivans, interior space was key, and the new Quest featured three rows of seating to accommodate larger families. But the rise of SUVs had created a demand for a larger exterior as well. In particular, Nissan aimed the new Quest at female suburban mothers whom they called "Sexy Moms," more affluent, imageconscious car buyers. Nissan was looking for individualistic mothers who would be enticed by its splashy new look. COMPETITION With competitors building ever-more-spacious minivans, such as Honda and its Odyssey model, Nissan decided that the Quest's relatively compact size was a liability. The Quest had traditionally matched up against smaller minivans such as the Dodge Caravan, but the Quest had never been able to cut into Dodge's market share, with the Caravan posting a 10 to 1 sales advantage in 1998 alone. In an effort to revitalize the Quest line, Nissan made it bigger. The Quest became a midsize minivan, sized about halfway between the old Quest and large minivans like the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Toyota Windstar. Now the Quest's primary competition would be the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna. The minivan market was rife with already successful vehicle lines, such as the Toyota Caravan, with strong name recognition and loyal drivers. Nissan saw an opening, however, in the relative blandness of many of these competitors. Unlike SUVs or sports cars, minivans were seen by many as a more practical automobile, and as a result few vehicles in the class were designed as boldly as the Quest. In a way the Quest would be an avant-garde minivan, attracting younger, hipper buyers. MARKETING STRATEGY Nissan hoped drivers would see the Quest as a "sexy" minivan. This was a departure, because minivans were almost always sold on their practicality and utility, not their design. In an effort to show off this sexiness, the company put a major push behind the North American relaunch. There was a major television campaign orchestrated by TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles, along with magazine and newspaper ads and billboards, also designed by TBWA. The total budget exceeded $20 million. Nissan's goals included tripling pre-launch sales volume, attracting newer and more affluent consumers, and making design a key motivation for purchasing the vehicle. Because so many minivans emphasized reliability and safety in their commercials, it Downloaded from warc.com 4       was felt that this strategy was no longer effective at reaching consumers. Therefore a focus on the design advantages of the new Quest had practical value as well. Nissan was aiming the Quest at drivers who might not own a minivan, people who may have been put off by the segment's conservative image. Nissan and TBWA\Chiat\Day called these drivers "Sexy Moms," a play on the "Soccer Moms" who were widely seen as the minivan's usual target market. To reach "Sexy Moms" print ads ran in such progressive publications as Organic Style and Yoga Journal. In addition Nissan sponsored a number of untraditional events to reach new customers. One of the most notable of these was a fashion show at the Altman Building in New York City during Fashion Week 2003. The company also sponsored the National Women's Show in Toronto, Canada, in November 2003, to coincide with the launch of the 2004 model. The show functioned as a kind of public trade exhibit for various health and beauty companies. The center of the campaign was a 30-second television commercial. Set in a trendy urban environment, it showed a group of young women piling into a Quest for a fun night out in the city. The spot also featured women loading musical instruments and surfboards into their Quest, with a voice-over that asked, "Moms have changed, shouldn't the minivan?" OUTCOME Results of the campaign were mixed. Critics loved the commercials. In 2005 the campaign won the prestigious Gold EFFIE Award in the Automotive and Vehicles category. Presented by the New York American Marketing Association, the EFFIE honored the strong progress the campaign had made in increasing consumer awareness of the vehicle among targeted demographics. The campaign was credited with helping the Quest achieve a median buyer age of 47, the lowest in the minivan segment. Nissan also reached its goal of tapping into the affluent-driver market: the average annual household income for Quest buyers was approximately $98,000. Efforts to promote the look of the Quest also appeared to have succeeded, because customers who bought the Quest listed "exterior styling" among the top five reasons for their purchase, a rarity in the minivan segment. Overall, however, sales of the new Quest were disappointing. Nissan had hoped to move 80,000 to 85,000 units annually. First-year sales topped out at 30,448, well below what was anticipated. The numbers were barely better than pre-launch sales and were significantly behind the old Quest's 1995 sales peak of 54,050 units. Fortunately for Nissan, this disappointment came amid other success: the Nissan Revival Plan produced a $7 billion profit by 2004, with the company clearing itself of debt. The automaker remained positive about the Quest, though some blamed its restyling for the lower-than-anticipated sales numbers. The automaker itself admitted that the style might have been too forward looking. Shiro Nakamura, Nissan's design director, told reporters that the new Quest was just "too cutting edge." The company believed the basic design would still work in the long run and planned to tweak the model a little to get sales back on track. It was considering dropping some of the Quest's bolder innovations, such as the vehicle's centrally located instrument gauges, in an effort to make the car more "warm." FURTHER READING Flaherty, Julie. "Guys Mod Up to Solve Their Midlife Minivan Minicrisis." New York Times, October 22, 2003. Hakim, Danny, and Fara Warner. "Sure, It's Pragmatic. But Stylish? The Minivan Is Getting a Makeover." New York Times, August 27, 2004. Howard, Theresa. "Nissan Adds 'Stylish Flair' to Minivan." USA Today, November 30, 2003. Mandel, Dutch. "Here Today, Ghosn Tomorrow: Thirty Hours Shadowing the World's Most Extraordinary Car Executive." AutoWeek , January 3, 2005. Downloaded from warc.com 5       Maynard, Micheline. "Chic? Sexy? Is Japan Really Talking Minivans?" New York Times, May 25, 2003. Patton, Phil. "Inspired by Japan, the Copycats Are Now the Copied." New York Times, October 25, 2004. Rechtin, Mark. "Nissan Design Chief Says Quest Minivan Styling Went Too Far." AutoWeek , August 23, 2004. ――――――. "Nissan Unveils a Redesigned Quest and Maxima." AutoWeek , January 6, 2003. Tadesse, Luladey B., and Cori Bolger. "Women Have Become Car-Buying Force." Detroit News, June 19, 2005. Zaun, Todd. "Nissan Profit Up as Luxury Models Sell Well." New York Times, April 27, 2004. © Copyright The Gale Group 2007 The Gale Group 27500 Drake Road Farmington Hills, MI 4833, United States of America www.warc.com All rights reserved including database rights. This electronic file is for the personal use of authorised users based at the subscribing company's office location. It may not be reproduced, posted on intranets, extranets or the internet, e-mailed, archived or shared electronically either within the purchaser’s organisation or externally without express written permission from Warc. Downloaded from warc.com 6