Nissan creates a new TV campaign for the Sentra featuring San Francisco native and photographer’s assistant Mark Horowitz living in his Sentra for a week. The seven spots are each entitled “A short film by Marc Horowitz”. Each is narrated by Mr. Horowitz and features his different experiences during the week. Horowitz adopted the following rules for his Sentra challenge:
I also set a bunch of rules for myself so the project is a little more challenging and has some boundaries. Here they are:
- I must live 7 straight days out of my Sentra. I am free to come and go from the Sentra as I please.
- I must not return to my apartment at any point during the 7 days.
- I must assume my normal day-to-day responsibilities including work and all scheduled client meetings.
- I must personally prepare at least 4 meals within the immediate vicinity of my Sentra.
- I must go on at least one date. Hopefully more.
- I must not let anyone else drive my car for the 7 days.
- I must sleep in a different location each night. Once the location is chosen I must not move from it.
- I must not set foot outside of my car for any reason from 12am to 5am.
- I must host at least 2 social functions in my Sentra. One must be on or after Day 6.
- I must maintain the highest standards of personal hygiene.
The spots bias towards comedy with Marc Horowitz showering in a sprinkler, cooking in a parking lot, going on a date with a girl who asks “Do you live in here?” and setting up an amateur autocross.
We were most interested in this series of spots because it appears to have sprung from ethnographic research by Nissan. Adweek reports that the genesis of the campaign was a study of photos of Sentra owners which revealed that many of them were using the cars as rolling closets, carrying sports equipment, gym clothes and food among other things. That insight combined with the explosion of user-generated video on sites like YouTube and MySpace persuaded Jan Thompson, Nissan VP of Marketing to challenge Marc Horowitz to live in a new Sentra for a week and report back about it.
The spots are well executed and walk the tricky line between documentary filmmaking and advertising reasonably well. There is no pretense that the challenge and the spots are intended to do anything other than promote the Nissan Sentra, which helps. The spots are funny and engaging, which helps even more.
Most importantly, though, Nissan has reconceived the ‘product-as-hero’ form of advertising in a fresh new format. Instead of talking about the Sentra’s roominess or describing its bluetooth hands-free dialing, we see Marc Horowitz sleeping in the car and ordering pizza. This strikes us as a much more sensible way of showing the ‘permission to believe’ for the brand proposition than stating claims like “most interior volume in its class’ outright. The conventional approach always sounds to us like a comedian getting up in front of an audience and saying, “I’m really funny – ask my friends.”
The brand positioning here is around the user. Instead of trying to find someone to showcase a user demographic, Marc Horowitz personifies the psychographic profile of the user Nissan wants to embody for the Sentra. And it works. It is very difficult imagining Honda or Toyota following this route with the Civic or the Corolla.
Six agencies including Omnicom Group’s TBWACD, OMD, Tequila, The Vidal Partnership, Edelman and The Designory were involved in this campaign. Given that and the slick production values, effects and professional editing of this spot make us uncomfortable with the tag, “A film by Marc Horowitz.” We do not know what part of the creative and editorial process Marc Horowitz assumed but unless he was the actual director (which is somewhat harder to imagine with the collection of high-priced talent that must have been surrounding him), then this campaign is not a series of independent films by Marc Horowitz. This damages the authenticity of what is otherwise an excellent effort.
We also think the blog is a bit bare for the musings of someone who had a full week to spend in his car (presumably with some of the time spent by WiFi hotspots.) This also raises the spectre of outside authorship, as does the involvement of PR giant Edelman which has been recently outed as the backer of a pro-Wal-Mart blog.
We raise these issues because we feel that when large brands venture into user-created content, transparency is absolutely critical. This advertising blog does not feel that collaboration between an individual and advertising agencies is necessarily bad. But to properly evaluate the product, consumers must understand how much of the work is the individuals and how much is the brands. Numerous relevant questions are left unanswered by this campaign including how Marc Horowitz was chosen, whether he has created independent films before and who exactly was filming him. While these questions would never be answered in the TV spots, we would expect to read more in the blog.
Branding Bottom Line:
Nissan gives us My Life, My Car with a little too much new car smell.