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Analyst: Nissan's hiring of Ewanick puts Toyota on notice


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Analyst: Nissan's hiring of Ewanick puts Toyota on notice

Architect of 'Hyundai Assurance' campaign seen as key to energizing brand

Jeremy Mullman

and Michael Bush

Advertising Age -- March 22, 2010 - 9:49 am ET

When news hit last week that Nissan was plucking Hyundai's Joel Ewanick to be its new marketing chief, it didn't take John Wolkonowicz long to discern what the No. 3 Japanese automaker was up to.

Nissan wants to win U.S. share from Toyota, according to the veteran auto analyst.

And for that, the automaker may just have found the right person in Ewanick, No. 14 on Advertising Age's Power Players list and the driving force behind the many programs that netted Hyundai Advertising Age's Marketer of the Year honors in 2009. Advertising Age and Automotive News are Crain Communication Inc. publications.

Executives who have worked with Ewanick say he's not only innovative and fearless, but a shrewd politician with a knack for steering big ideas through intercontinental decision-making structures with speed.

"He has a real focus on being aggressive, spending some money and making a difference in sales, and he's good at seeing the world through the eyes of the people who buy the cars," said Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of Omnicom's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which has worked with him both at Hyundai and Porsche North America.

Case in point: The groundbreaking "Hyundai Assurance" program, which offered buyers their money back if they lost their jobs. "One day he came to me and told me that there was this program that would allow people to take a car back without damaging their credit, and he wanted to know if it was a good idea," recalled Goodby. "I said, 'You can do that?' He said, 'I think we can.' And the next thing I knew, we were advertising it."

Victory from Toyota

The program doubled the percentage of car buyers willing to buy a Hyundai during the last recession and stoked a surge that's continuing: Dealer deliveries were up 113% in the first two months of this year, and Hyundai now ranks No. 1 in brand loyalty, according to Kelley Blue Book, surpassing Toyota amid the No. 1 automaker's ongoing quality-control crisis.

That surge has positioned Hyundai as perhaps the likeliest beneficiary of Toyota's bleeding, but, according to Wolkonowicz, Ewanick's new employer may be even better situated.

The reason, he argues, is generational. Nissan -- then marketed as Datsun -- was the No. 1 Japanese import for much of the 1970s, when it enjoyed a well-earned reputation for making quality cars, and there may be a significant number of drivers in Toyota's boomer base who still have positive feelings about the brand even if they've stopped buying the cars. "Nissan is the one they've forgotten about," he said. "They're going to try to remind people of that now."

There are already signs Nissan is well-positioned to do that. In February, Nissan brand posted a 32% U.S. sales increase from the year-earlier period (Toyota brand sales dropped 10%; Hyundai brand sales rose 11%).

In the first two months this year, Nissan brand market share climbed to 8%, up from 7% during the same time last year. Meanwhile, Toyota brand market share was 11% at the end of February, down from 14.2% during the first two months of 2009.

Ready to fight

Christopher Cedergren, managing partner at consumer-insight firm Iceology, said that Ewanick's hiring, coming after his predecessor, Christian Meunier, was promoted to president of Nissan Brazil, makes it clear the automaker is readying an offensive.

"The idea is to build Nissan into a much more powerful brand than it is right now and take advantage of some opportunity out there," he said.

Ewanick also will be onboard at Nissan as it launches the Leaf, its mass-market electric car. "Nissan could see share increase pretty significantly. And you have to add in the potential impact of the Leaf," said Cedergren.

With regard to its marketing and messaging, he said Nissan needs to make "damn sure" it differentiates itself from Toyota and Honda, which tend to rely more on rational than emotional appeals.

Recent sales suggest Nissan is already making headway in that area, which bodes well for its advertising and media agencies, Omnicom's TBWA and OMD.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100322/OEM02/100329991/1018#ixzz0ixJLMmKY

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