Thursday, August 27, 2009

Creative Brilliance + Business Stupidity = The Nissan Barbie Ad

Nissan 300ZX

One of the all time great commercials is the Nissan Barbie spot. It's also one of the stupidest. If you don't remember it, watch:

When discussing the spot, the ad agency's creative director remarked, "I was just looking for something that could be dynamic. I couldn't believe it when Nissan bought it."

It's no wonder he got excited. The spot generated awards for agency and earned the creative director a guest spot on Oprah. There was even talk about an animated television series based on the commercial.

According to the creative director, Nissan executives instructed him, "'Let's do something different, let's break the rules.' To a creative person, that's as close to nirvana as it gets."

I'd say so. It's kind of like a politician going to a town hall meeting and encountering angry grass roots protesters calling for higher personal income taxes, more debt, government expansion, and greater spending.

Nissan spent over $1 million producing the spot and then made it the centerpiece of a $200 million ad campaign with placement on Seinfeld and Friends during their height and on Monday Night Football.

The head of the agency said, "People don't really like car advertising. It's all the same; it's all sheet metal, features and usually some kind of deal at the end. We're changing the rules of how car advertising can be done."

Yawn. Those boring calls to action. That stupid stuff that sells cars. This is post-advertising advertising.

Alarm klaxons should have sounded at Nissan over the agency head's comments.

Nissan did hire a marketing research company to test the spot, but the research firm asked the wrong questions. The research firm asked if people liked the spot. Of course they liked the spot. It's great. It's highly entertaining. It's also hugely ineffective.

A Nissan dealer commented at the time, "Yeah, it's cute, and everyone's talking about it. It's a good talking piece when you go to a party. Otherwise, nothing's really happening. The only time a commercial gets people coming in is when you put a price in it."

In other words, the commercial didn't drive people into the showroom, didn't drive leads, and didn't help increase sales. Why would it?

The ad, featuring the 300Z, started running in August 1996. Nissan ceased production of the Z in 1996 and didn't resume production until the launch of the 350Z in 2002!

Can you freaking believe an ad agency
would spend $1 million producing an ad
that's the centerpiece of a $200 million
campaign that features an obsolete product?

What if the ads drove sales? What if people packed dealer showrooms seeking Z cars? Can you hear the salespeople...

I know Nissan's advertising the Z, but that's corporate talking. They're a little behind the times. The Z car's obsolete. Yes, I can imagine you're disappointed. But hey, I've got a great deal on a Sentra.

This may be the greatest example in history of an agency run amok. The purpose of advertising is to drive sales. If you want to entertain prospects, buy movie passes. It's cheaper.

Source: New York Daily News, New York Times, & eHow.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't disagree with you more. What was stupid was relying solely on a single ad to do everything for you. By 1996 the world had already begun to change as it relates to integrated marketing and Nissan should have known better. This ad generated an enormous amount of emotional goodwill for -- and interest in -- Nissan as a brand. Their mistake was not capitalizing on it with better rational marketing elements in other vehicles of their media mix.