Nissan's Kicks Ad Proves Automakers Can Still Do Marketing Right

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
nissan s kicks ad proves automakers can still do marketing right

Having released the pint-sized Kicks crossover into the North American market last month, Nissan needed marketing material to help boost visibility. Normally, car ads are platitudinous, offering little in the way of novelty to get us truly excited. The reason for this is because trying something different can result in an overwhelmingly bizarre experience. Kia’s reverse aging of Steven Tyler inside the Stinger GT is a prime example. It was the wrong rockstar for its target demographic and left us scratching our heads.

Other automakers allow marketing companies to pilot the brand into weird abstractions where they aren’t selling a car so much as an identity. Cadillac stumbled into trouble with this a few years ago, leaning into a more product-based advertising strategy ever since.

So what of the Kicks? The vehicle is clearly aimed at trendy youngsters seeking a good deal and some style. Will its ads cater to them, offering something vaguely informational, or will it be another televised dud?

Nissan and its chosen agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day, appeared not to have made a mess of things. The Kicks receives a 45-second spot that is both visually appealing and — get this — actually promotes a cool aspect of the vehicle. It’s almost like someone took time to craft the advertisement to ensure it had something to do with the model — while targeting the correct audience.

The ad begins with a young man grooving on the top level of a parking garage. While dancing is a painfully overused activity in advertising, often having nothing to do with product or service being promoted, it’s fitting in this instance. As the man seats himself in a lawn chair and removes his headphones, the Kicks’ seat back forms from it — prominently featuring the Bose speakers inside the driver’s seat headrest.

(Appropriate use of “First Ever” – Ed.)

From there, the vehicle continues to manifest itself around the man. His phone becomes the center console as our hero pops-and-locks the rest of the crossover into existence. It’s all expertly choreographed, spending the majority of its run time focusing on the car and not what it might mean to take personal ownership of some kind of thematic identity promoted by the brand.

It’s just a regular guy who likes music getting into a car that can deliver some straight into his ears, surrounded by memorable imagery. While an extra, the Kicks’ Bose Personal Plus sound system upgrades the speakers and places two UltraNearfield units into the driver’s headrest. That’s a cool gimmick, helping offset some of the vehicle’s shortcomings. But, for the price, it’s really hard to be down on the subcompact.

The Kicks only makes 125 horsepower and 115 lb-ft of torque, but it’s so light, our Managing Editor claims you don’t really notice the missing grunt all that much. It lacks some modern hardware and optional all-wheel drive, but it’s comfortable, with enough sound deadening to enjoy the audio system — upgraded or not. For a car that starts at $17,990, you get more than you might have expected, plus fun styling and a dash of personality.

Nissan said it wanted to convey that personality on the screen and highlight the vehicle by leaning on its strengths. According to Ad Age, the marketing team worked backwards by hunting for music that would inspire a campaign that was emotional while still allowing them to plug the crossover’s features. But Jeremy Tucker, VP of marketing communications and media at Nissan North America, said there had to be more to the ad than just showing off the vehicle’s hardware.

Tucker posited that “technology for technology’s sake can make you very quickly into an appliance … cold and unemotive. And it can freak out consumers because they feel like they’re losing control of the driving experience.”

We’re inclined to agree, but do like when automakers focus on what a vehicle is and does in addition to how it’s supposed to make the customer feel. Fortunately, Nissan looks to have struck a decent balance with this spot. It plans to continue working with TBWA\Chiat\Day in the future, which seems like a relatively smart move. This may not be a phenomenal ad (or vehicle), but it’s serviceable and unpretentious — which is all it needed to be.

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4 of 28 comments
  • Shortest Circuit Shortest Circuit on Jul 16, 2018

    I'm clearly too old for this car. When he begins to unfold the car, all I could think of was the scene in "Brain Donors" when Bob Nelson unfolds a complete workspace from a briefcase.

  • Probert Probert on Jul 16, 2018

    He's still driving down that endless ramp. It all seems lonely and sad.

  • CEastwood Seven mil nitrile gloves from Harbor Freight for oil changes and such and the thicker heavy duty gripper gloves from Wally World for most everything else . Hell we used to use no gloves for any of that and when we did it was usually the white cloth gloves bought by the dozen or the gray striped cuff ones for heavy duty use . Old man rant over , but I laugh when I see these types of gloves in a bargain bin at Home Cheapo for 15 bucks a pair !
  • Not Previous Used Car of the Day entries that spent decades in the weeds would still be a better purchase than this car. The sucker who takes on this depreciated machine will learn the hard way that a cheap German car is actually a very expensive way to drive around.
  • Bullnuke Well, production cuts may be due to transport-to-market issues. The MV Fremantle Highway is in a Rotterdam shipyard undergoing repairs from the last shipment of VW products (along with BMW and others) and to adequately fireproof it. The word in the shipping community is that insurance necessary for ships moving EVs is under serious review.
  • Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks
  • Vulpine The issue is really stupidly simple; both names can be taken the wrong way by those who enjoy abusing language. Implying a certain piece of anatomy is a sign of juvenile idiocy which is what triggered the original name-change. The problem was not caused by the company but rather by those who continuously ridiculed the original name for the purpose of VERY low-brow humor.