Nissan fortifies its position on energy with Leaf launch

Alan Buddendeck, global VP, corporate comms; Katherine Zachary, manager, US corporate comms; Tracy Woodard, director, US government affairs; Mark Perry, director, US product planning; Eric Noziere, lead, corporate planning; Trisha Jung, lead, sales and marketing

Company

Nissan

Campaign

Leaf launch

Agency mix

Zocalo Group, PR; George P Johnson, events; TBWA/ Chiat/Day, advertising

Lead agency

Zocalo

In-house team

Alan Buddendeck, global VP, corporate comms; Katherine Zachary, manager, US corporate comms; Tracy Woodard, director, US government affairs; Mark Perry, director, US product planning; Eric Noziere, lead, corporate planning; Trisha Jung, lead, sales and marketing

Since 2008, Nissan has been working on a multi-phase marketing effort to educate media and government partners about the benefits of its 2011 zero-emission Leaf car, which is slated to hit retailers in the US this month.

The strategy would help the company insert its brand into the public conversation about energy policy, as well as secure consumer tax incentives and rebates, explains Alan Buddendeck, global VP of corporate communications.

In September 2009, the team, including US PR AOR Zocalo, kicked off a "Zero Emission Tour" with a preview of the car, stopping in more than 20 markets. This October, it launched a multi-city "Drive Electric Tour" and social media-heavy contest for consumers to win a Leaf. Key markets include California, Oregon, and Tennessee, where it expects to manufacture the cars by 2012.

While it establishes new government partners and lobbies for plug-in station infrastructure, December marks the launch's culmination. However, Buddendeck says Nissan is in the midst of a "migration from PR to marketing," geared toward brand ads and dealer delivery and training.

An ad, which launched this August, positions the product as an "innovative flagship" across the entire Nissan line. The company is also leveraging corporate partnerships with companies such as GE in additional ads and branding.  

"The campaign message is that Nissan offers innovation and a willingness to invest around the world," he says. "It's a collective between communications and marketing, but it's PR-driven."

In the next two months, Nissan will evaluate Facebook feedback and prepare to address anticipated negative press related to its 100-mile driving range, he explains.

"The main challenge is getting consumers to understand the dif- ference between a car that's 100% electric and one positioned as electric," says Buddendeck. "Nissan must provide tools to help drivers decide if it's the right fit, via nissan.usa.com, drivenissanleaf.com, Twitter, or Facebook."

PR tactics also include outreach to eco-consumer media and influencers such as public charity Plug-in America, a departure from traditional auto trade outreach. It's also holding a series of issues-related town halls.

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