Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Have you heard about the Nissan cube?

I hadn’t – that is, until a student sent me a link to a site maligning the campaign Nissan used to launch it in Canada (thanks Adam!). My first thought was "all I know about this car is that someone doesn’t like the way it was launched; I’ll bet that’s not what Nissan was going for."

So I Googled it – and was impressed. (I just hope Nissan read the market correctly, and that now’s the right time to target a car launch to a niche audience.)

As Nick Krewen tells it in an interesting article in Monday’s, Nissan launched the car in Canada in mid-March using an all-social media campaign: no television, radio, print, or outdoor advertising. The campaign was a contest aimed at younger, "creative" Canadians, to create an online submission about the new car and promote it using social media; the prize: one of 50 cubes to be given away. (It rings notes reminiscent of Tourism Queensland’s celebrated “Best Job in the World” campaign, which I blogged about last month.) The eventual 50 cube winners, announced a couple of weeks ago, were chosen from among 500 contest finalists. Here’s one of them:

While I’m lukewarm on using only social media for any mass-market consumer launch, this one appears to be the start of a larger integrated campaign. Nissan's "hypercube" website media page provides a lot of detail about the campaign, including the post-contest continuation of the campaign through winners' blogs, the impact of its community-building focus, and some measurement of campaign awareness.

In the States, the post-launch marketing campaign Nissan has been running combines new with traditional media, and it appears Nissan has taken a user-generated content approach to that, too. The company reportedly engaged communication students at 10 U.S. universities to conceive and run cube ad campaigns on their own campuses, competing for the chance to pitch their campaigns to Nissan executives. [Note to Nissan: if you're considering the same approach in Canada, start here! We have an excellent advertising and PR program at Red River College.] Nissan’s agency has integrated Web 2.0 elements into its traditional advertising, including a call-to-action to SMS Nissan for access to exclusive content including music, ringtones and video. The U.S. campaign reportedly also involves product placements ranging from a cube “cameo” on an episode of NBC’s Heroes to a role in a graphic novel on the NBC website devoted to the show, as well as a free iPhone game called “cube Party Roundup.”

There is almost always crossover between the U.S. and Canadian markets, and I would imagine the Canadian marketing strategy will take a similar combined new/traditional media approach. Either way, I’ll be interested to see how it translates into vehicle sales (the true test of the campaign's effectiveness, as long as the cube lives up to its billing and actually meets a market demand).

And what of the complaint site that initially brought this campaign to my attention? I don’t know whether there’s any merit to its claims, but it does illustrate a risk of any campaign these days: there’s always the possibility that someone complaining about your product will reach your potential customers before your own messaging does.

You make that risk even greater if you limit your own messaging to a niche audience – and yet further, if you go out of your way to engage the “creative” class, as Nissan openly discusses having done. Participants among the “creative” class are certainly likely to get attention for your product among their peers – but they’re also well-positioned to get attention for complaints about your organization.

I'll bet that, from Nissan’s perspective, the risk was worth it.


  1. I don't think releasing a "social media only" press release was a very good idea; I had never heard of this contest until a few weeks ago, and I'm fairly plugged in to social media. As it stands, I'm pretty sure the majority of Canada has no idea this contests ever happened, which makes it not very effective.

    There has been another Canadian Cube contest though, this one specific to two B.C. Nissan dealerships. 100 cardboard "cubes" were given out at the dealerships, and those who were lucky enough to get one have to make a video using the cube in a creative way. You can find more details here:

    It's much simpler than the hypercube contest, and has created a ton of user-generated content on Youtube, which to me is very effective for two small dealerships in B.C.

  2. Very cool - I think I may have seen one of those videos on YouTube when I was researching this.

    I initially thought the same thing you did (this can't be a very effective campaign if I haven't heard of it), but their website says they got 7,000 entrants to the contest, 3,000 online canvases were completed, they got 1.4 million views and 250,000 votes cast in the contest -- so clearly, the campaign had some success reaching people. My question remains "were they the right people?" -- i.e., will this translate into car sales?

  3. A related question I'd be interested in the answer to: how many of the thousands of people who entered the contest actually have the means to buy a car?

    It may be that they achieved awareness (and motivated action) among the segment of the population that's interested in creating videos for the chance at a new car -- but that doesn't mean they created much awareness among people who might actually buy a car.

    At any rate, I'll be interested to see how the follow-up ad campaign plays out -- haven't seen any ads for the cube yet. I have to admit, I'm not terribly tuned in to new car launches, so I can't compare this launch against more traditional efforts.