Nissan’s Growing Bets on Social Media May Soon Include Equity Stakes


The Sochi Olympics and the Super Bowl are underscoring the continued importance of “tent-pole” marketing platforms for automakers, but Nissan is a brand that is scoring a lot of succees on the much more microscopic level of social media. The end results of Nissan’s online focus keep adding up.

Nissan is taking what it calls a “test-and-learn” approach to digital media that includes lots of small and frequent, calculated risks with new social tools, platforms, technologies and partnerships. And soon Nissan may end up investing in equity stakes in some of the startups that have created or mastered niches in this world.

“It would be a fantastic way for us to discover great companies that can help us be more effective in marketing before they hit it big and everyone discovers them,” Erich Marx, Nissan’s director of social media, told brandchannel. “We’re not afraid of trying something new and even failing.”[more]

Perhaps one of Nissan’s most memorable social moments came last month when keen-eyed social media users broke open its Versa Note marketing partnership with Amazon, which saw one online buyer of the car get a very large delivery from the e-commerce site. After photos of the super-sized Amazon box were posted to Reddit, users speculated—and eventually figured out—the brands behind the ploy. While it caught Nissan’s marketing team, which planned to release a promotional video advertising the big delivery, off-guard, the team reacted quickly, pitching it to media the next day and speeding up production on the video. 

Among online efforts that have been garnering attention and creating fans for Nissan was its YouTube outreach to get fan input in building a super expensive show-car version of its Juke subcompact, which in turn influenced creation of the Juke Nismo version which imparts some of the same excitement for mainstream prices that start under $23,000.

Nissan also just launched the Detour, a custom virtual test-drive experience for the new 2014 Nissan Rogue SUV that utilizes Google Street View, Goodle Maps and Google Satellite API as well as “Hollywood-style digital effects” and a soundtrack from recording artist M.I.A. to create an exciting experience.

Marx claimed that Nissan also is “one of the few brands that has solved Reddit,” which he said is “hard on brands that are overly commercial.” Nissan solved the site, he said, with gambits such as content it created for Reddit around the brand’s continuing Heisman House marketing vehicle for college football.

Nissan also became the first brand to conduct a nationwide contest with MySpace since the site’s relaunch last summer, giving away a Juke to the winner of a dance competition held in four cities.

Overall, Nissan is gaining more traction worldwide, as are its Japanese rivals, having reported a strong quarter. But it’s still doing relatively better at home than in many global markets like the US.

That’s one reason Nissan is pushing the social envelope in the US. Inspired by PepsiCo, AT&T, Home Depot and some other brands in non-competing industries, Nissan also launched what it calls a Marketing Innovation Lab whose mission is “to literally seek out and go to accelerators and conferences looking for startups,” Marx said. Some of those startups may qualify for equity investments by Nissan. “It’d be kind of cool to be there on the ground floor and see some of these young kids and young companies” grow, Marx said, and “make some small bets on them.”

But it’s not like Nissan will be hanging out an investment shingle. “We make cars—that’s what we do; we’re not a VC firm,” he said. Such investments “would have to provide core business value for us in the exchange … What we don’t want is companies that have nothing to do with our core business looking for funding from us.”