At the end of 2008, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn delivered the keynote address at the Los Angeles Auto Show and announced that Nissan would deliver zero emissions to the world before 2012. From there Nissan North America’s Corporate Communications Team with agency, Zocalo Group, began the once in a lifetime challenge of communicating the future of a gas-free, zero-emissions society and creating awareness of Nissan’s first zero-emission vehicle, the Nissan LEAF. This challenge began before there was a car, a name for the car or a physical property to reference or much less to drive. To date, Nissan has generated 175,000 registered users; secured 20,000 vehicle reservations and won the battle for share of voice of the electric vehicle conversation.
The big challenge was to educate consumers and make them comfortable with the idea of a gas-free, zero-emissions society in a car with no tailpipe and no transmission and a radically different buying process involving installation of a charging station.
Environment & Tech Influencers
Electric Vehicle Advocates
Our key objective, globally, was and still remains education . Nissan’s goal is zero-emissions leadership – but before there can be leadership, there first has to be the establishment of a market and the understanding of what zero-emissions is. Nissan’s public relations team led efforts in creating a market for an all-electric vehicle, not just for Nissan but for the industry. The general public had very little knowledge and a lot of misconceptions, as past market-entry attempts were characterized as failures.
Due to the magnitude and nature of the educational challenge, all communications efforts focused on a breadth of stakeholders well beyond the traditional media group most often involved in new automotive product launches.
Likewise, the media effort was much broader and included regional media in launch markets like Seattle; bloggers and grassroots media; advocacy and environmental press; and government/regulatory reporters. And, social media played a very prominent role with influencers and influencer groups and was solely responsible for the initial push for start of reservations.
Finally, much bigger competitor GM was readying the launch of its Chevrolet Volt for November 2010. While the Volt is a hybrid and not a 100 percent electric vehicle, consumers and media often confused the technologies and were bombarded with GM’s highly aggressive and much more well funded marketing effort to own the story about environmentally-friendly vehicles.
Drive registration of interested consumers (“hand-raisers”) on Nissan LEAF website through traditional & online media outreach, and social media elements including Twitter & Facebook
Position Nissan as leader in Zero Emissions in the US measured by Share of Voice leadership among the top four brands in the segment
Leverage the time span from announcement (Nov 2008) to delivery (Dec 2010) and all the product, market and infrastructure milestones along the way to educate key stakeholders about the zero-emissions vision, the vehicle, the buying process and the ownership experience o Use every milestone as opportunity to provide regular cadence of information to all stakeholders and proof points of vision coming to reality
Join existing conversation and stoke additional conversation through branded social media presence to host and participate in dialogue among current and potential evangelists
Balance automotive media’s traditional approach to covering product launches and desire to do the same with Nissan LEAF with Nissan’s need to educate, converse with and ultimately reach a broader audience
The Team began in early spring 2009 with a low-tech and low cost tour to 12 key markets to talk about the battery technology, early vehicle prototypes and the city and state partnerships critical to the still-to-be-built charging infrastructure. This early tour set the tone for all future communications – a Nissan that was inspired by the potential, dedicated to the reality and working in partnership with communities to make its zero-emissions strategy available to US consumers.
The communications program gained another key element in August 2009 when the Nissan LEAF was unveiled to the public. This was the first time a vehicle had been seen or referenced by name. In August, Nissan vaulted to No.1 position in total media coverage in the EV space, past GM’s Chevrolet Volt.
With tone, vehicle and a name, the Team began a regular cadence of announcements and events to fuel the education effort:
Nissan LEAF Zero Emission Tour: Starting in September 2009 with Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn in Los Angeles and 120 media outlets, the tour took the Nissan LEAF concept car to 63 stops in 24 markets through February 2010.
Pricing : Introduced on eve of New York Auto Show, March 30, 2010. Nissan secured No.1 brand in terms of coverage at the NY Auto Show; and Nissan LEAF being the No.1 nameplate and the No.1 most photographed car – all without a press conference at the show.
Reservations : Reservations for the Nissan LEAF were opened in April 2010 in the United States. More than 9,500 consumers signed up during first month priority window and reached 20,000 by September – far exceeding brand or market expectations.
Plant Groundbreaking : Hosted media and stakeholders to introduce the Smyrna, Tennessee plant that will produce 200,000 Nissan LEAFs, 150,000 electric vehicle batteries and provide 1,300 local jobs.
iAD: Nissan became one of the first brands and the only automotive brand to use Apple’s innovative iAd, seeding a video to technology blogs and further establishing the brand in the early adopter crowd.
Innovation for All : August 2010 seeded Polar Bear television ad - “polarizing” and central to new Nissan brand theme. As a result, Nissan LEAF becomes central to Nissan’s brand identity.
Drive Electric LEAF : Nissan LEAF test drive tour across United States started in October 2010 and continues through March 2011 to provide 50,000 consumers the opportunity to drive.
Media Preview and Real-World Drive Test : Gave more than 50 media first production unit drives, and offered one reporter opportunity to take it on real drive, reaching 116.1 miles of range.
Celeb Drive: Provided opportunity for eco-minded celebs to get up-close look at vehicle in informal get-together, securing several reservations and unpaid endorsements from top names.
New York Marathon : Took advantage of marketing sponsorship putting environmental reporter into Nissan LEAF pace car – first zero emissions pace vehicle in a marathon – to live tweet and report from. Also, we created activities with traditional and online media throughout weekend to experience Nissan LEAF lifestyle in unique ways including yoga session and runner’s training tips during this November 2010 event.
First Deliveries : Hosted weeklong celebration with first global Nissan LEAF vehicle deliveries in six United States markets, starting with San Francisco, giving the keys to the owner at the dealer in high-profile media events.
Nissan secured 20,000 Nissan LEAF reservations within first three months, far exceeding expectations
In August 2010, there were 175,000 registered users without Nissan ever having run a television spot for the vehicle
In traditional media share of voice Sept. 2009-Sept. 2010, Nissan moved ahead of General Motors, Ford Motor, Toyota Motor, Tesla Motors and Chrysler/Fiat to be in the number one automaker among competitors for electric vehicle coverage
Grew Twitter following by 568% - from 1,667 followers in October 2009 (typically reaching 15,000 followers/month) to 8,854 in January 2011 (typically reaching 2,479,955 followers/month)
More than 100,000,000 media impressions including 400 broadcast hits and more than 200 online media/blog placements
Nielsen BuzzMetrics study in June 2010 found that marketing campaigns & overall awareness towards the LEAF viewed more favorably than Chevrolet Volt campaign