Nissan’s CMO Explains How Digital Is Changing the Future of Car Advertising

Sophisticated marketing needed for sophisticated shoppers

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Nissan's CMO Roel de Vries is bullish on digital, and for good reason—80 to 90 percent of the car-buying experience now starts online. Car shoppers already know exactly what model they want before they step foot into a dealership, he says.

That shift is pushing Nissan full throttle into digital advertising for brand-building and direct-response marketing. "There's a lot of money that we spend to make sure that the customers, [who] are close to buying a car, get information about our products and brands," he said.

De Vries sat down with Adweek at this week's ANA Masters of Marketing conference to discuss how digital is reshaping the car brand's marketing. Here are the four key takeaways:

Souped-Up Showrooms

Since car shoppers now come to dealerships armed with information, Nissan is transforming its showrooms with digital upgrades. For example, Nissan equips sales associates with mobile devices.

However, de Vries was quick to point out that phones and tablets are not replacing salespeople. "You spend a lot of money on the car and you're basically trusting that the dealership will look after you as a customer," he said.

Don’t Discount Millennials

Compared to previous generations, millennials are not buying cars as much, especially as more of them move to big cities with established public transportation.

While these consumers are likely to buy a car later in life, brand names are not as important as they used to be as status symbols. "We need to make sure that the car becomes more relevant, I think," de Vries said. "That's why you see cars moving into innovative technology devices."

Nissan is thinking about modernizing the brand with self-driving cars, in-car entertainment systems and zero-emission cars.

"If you take this 10 years or 15 years further, I do think that cars will appeal to younger people because they have all the innovative technologies that you probably today find in phones and tablets," he said.

Data-Driven Marketing

Nissan's digital marketing push means the company is able to analyze the data collected from campaigns run across multiple screens. While Nissan is getting a better understanding of how and when consumers interact with ads, changing brand perception is still tough, he said.

"The big challenge for me is to figure out how to change opinion of your brand if people get so many messages thrown at them—how do you break through?" explained de Vries.

Capitalizing on Live Moments

De Vries is particularly gung-ho about mobile's potential for marketing during live events like sports, which are still watched primarily on live TV.

Entertainment also is an important area. For example, the brand recently created an app for NBC’s The Voice that unlocks additional content. 

"Those are moments when you really want to engage. As a brand, we need to do something meaningful," De Vries said.

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.