Nissan makes a game out of GT-R advertising

TOKYO — When Nissan Motor Co. decided four years ago to launch a new version of its GT-R sports coupe in the United States, Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn wanted to make sure the car — never before sold in the U.S. — seemed cutting-edge to Americans.

His idea was to break tradition, which meant avoiding the ordinary route of big television ads and billboards. “If we advertise, we fail,” he told his marketing team.

Instead, Nissan developed a massive “viral” campaign aimed at building buzz by spreading the word through a wide range of product-placement arrangements in video games. Unlike with other models, it didn’t reveal details to anyone outside the company, and posted sneak previews of the car masked in a black rubber cover on blogs and YouTube.

In Japan, Nissan worked with a publisher to create a comic-book series in which the hero takes a job at Nissan just to catch a glimpse of the new GT-R. And it struck a deal with Sony Corp.’s video games unit, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. and Electronics Arts Inc., to unveil the new version of the GT-R in downloadable games at exactly the same time that Ghosn was scheduled to introduce the car at the Tokyo Motor Show last week.

“We’ve tried to really dramatize the moment,” says Yoshimitsu Kaji, the Nissan director overseeing the GT-R marketing blitz. Nissan says it chose to use video games because they tend to attract an impassioned group of young car enthusiasts who already know the history of the GT-R and think of it as the Corvette of Japan.

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Paul Sakalas, 27, first learned about the Skyline GT-R when he was playing Gran Turismo on his PlayStation. Sakalas, a radio producer in Virginia Beach, Va., says he was exuberant when he heard a new version of the car would finally be sold in the United States.

“But when I heard how much it cost, my dreams were crushed on the rocks of reality,” says Sakalas, who now drives a Nissan Sentra sedan.

Nice. Sentra to GT-R.... can't do it. Guess he was hoping the twin turbo, all wheel drive car would under cut the 350Z's price, so it would meet his dreams... I can see maybe going from a Z or a G to a GT-R, but a Sentra. He'll be driving a Sentra for a while. Then he might step up to something more like a Camry, or Prius.

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Item Reviewed: Nissan makes a game out of GT-R advertising Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sean Morris