Nissan applies chuckles to big pickup marketing

NASHVILLE — Nissan may be a small player in the American full-sized pickup market, but its new TV spot shows it’s not afraid to throw a punch at the big competitors.

Even more notable in the new ad, which will begin running nationwide during college football games on Saturday, Nissan is also taking a zany approach to selling Titans — using comedy to capture attention in a segment where advertising is normally a solemn, no-nonsense appeal to rugged he-men buyers.

Referred to internally as the “No Lazy Horses” ad, Nissan’s spot features an affable, oversized young owner of a nondescript time-worn pickup. The work truck conks out on a muddy country road prompting the driver to open the hood.

Inside the engine compartment is a slacker’s bachelor pad where a team of equally weight-challenged actors dressed amateurishly as horses lounge around in recliners and a lawn chair. The “horses” sadistically make the owner sing a silly song and dance for them before they will agree to work the engine again.

In the midst of it, another driver rolls up in a Nissan Titan and offers the embarrassed driver a lift along with his job-site cargo.

The literal message of the ad, displayed as the comedy sketch ends, is Nissan’s boast that it offers best-in-class standard horsepower for a full-sized pickup. The Titan’s base engine is the 5.6-liter V-8 Endurance, claiming 390 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque.

But its larger message is equally important to Nissan’s Titan marketing, Billy Hayes, Nissan division vice president for light commercial vehicles and trucks, tells Automotive News.

“By doing things a little differently, we think we can reach customers who might be younger and new to the truck market,” he said.

“All the truck advertising out there is so focused on the semantics of different truck comparisons, in towing, hauling and so forth. This is our way to get out there with a different message than is traditional in truck advertising.

“We’ve got a great truck in many ways, and we’re trying to break into the segment by doing things differently,” he said.

Local voice

The national market has not heard much from Nissan’s Titan since it emerged as a second-generation redesign in model year 2016. Although redesigned with more brawn to stand up against the Detroit 3’s segment, like the Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-series, the Titan has nowhere near the marketing funds of the market leaders. To gain a foothold, Nissan has instead focused mainly on tier two efforts in a region-by-region, city-by-city marketing approach.

Titan sales are up. Nissan has sold 35,549 Titans this year through the end of September, an increase of 224 percent from the 10,974 units sold during the same nine months last year. But in comparison, Ford has sold 658,636 F-series trucks during the same period, an increase of 11 percent.

Hayes emphasized that the Saturday ad does not represent a change in strategy.

Saturday’s TV plan came together almost by accident. The No Lazy Horses spot was created for online viewing. But company officials found it so entertaining that they opted to run it nationally on TV, Hayes said.

He added that if the ad resonates with truck buyers, Nissan will consider developing more ads of the same nature.