Automobile

Infiniti taps new ad agency to unify message

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Think of leading global brands, and they usually have the same image and impact from country to country, region to region. But for struggling premium player Infiniti, finding such consistency has been a challenge, no thanks to its fragmented marketing strategy.

Nissan Motor Co.’s upmarket brand plans to tackle that problem by switching to a new advertising agency starting in April that will implement a unified message worldwide in a bid to upgrade its public perception.

The newly inked deal with Publicis Groupe of France ends a hyper-regionalized approach in which Infiniti juggled 10 agencies in different markets, including its collaboration with a longtime advertising partner in the U.S., said Phil York, general manager of Infiniti global brand and marketing.

The campaign kicks off with the automaker’s redesigned QX60 crossover, to be unveiled this summer and go on sale in the fall for the 2022 model year. Details of the new marketing approach are still under wraps, but it will leverage big data for more precise targeting of potential Infiniti customers.

The goal is to create an Infiniti image that is more globally consistent but still locally relevant.

“Our intention was to create a strong global brand, and we’re looking for a global partnership,” York said at Nissan’s global headquarters in Yokohama. “It’s much easier to brief one agency partner on a brand direction” than working with 10 partners on a consistent style.

The image overhaul comes as Infiniti tries to reboot its business with a new generation of products and fresh design language. York started as Infiniti’s global marketing boss in 2018 after 20 years handling marketing in Europe for Nissan’s alliance partner Renault.

The QX60 is the brand’s No. 2 seller worldwide and key to Infiniti Chairman Peyman Kargar’s revival plan, expected to be outlined this spring. Infiniti sales plummeted 32 percent in the U.S. alone last year to 79,502 vehicles, the biggest one-year U.S. sales decline in the brand’s history.

Worldwide, Infiniti sales sank 36 percent to 121,704 in 2020. The brand’s primary markets are the U.S., China, Russia and the Middle East. Infiniti is not marketed in Japan.

Infiniti tapped Publicis for the job, in a three-year contract, because the agency has a global footprint in Infiniti’s key markets and is able to develop strategies through machine learning. This should help Infiniti build a unified global image while drilling down on niche segments locally, York said.

“Marketing has become much more of a science,” York said. “That is where we need a creative partner that understands data to have the right message to the right person at the right time.”

In the Middle East, for example, the company has noted a difference between expatriate customers living there and people native to the region. Some are strongly inclined toward in-person outreach such as test drives, while others are more responsive to online methods.

Infiniti’s marketing message will revolve around four key concepts, York said: design, technology, performance and service, couched in the values of human, daring and forward.

“We’re not a brand which is about status and luxury which is on a pinnacle that you can’t touch,” York said. “It’s very much an approachable, human, everyday luxury that people can enjoy.”

Another priority is rerooting the Infiniti brand image in its Japanese heritage after the operation’s global headquarters was moved back to Yokohama from Hong Kong last year.

To focus on Infiniti, Publicis created a bespoke subagency called Publicis Q, a play on the brand’s nameplate nomenclature. The changeover ends Infiniti’s yearslong partnership with MCD Partners-owned Crispin Porter Bogusky, its main advertising agency in the U.S. market.

Infiniti spent $107 million in measured media in the U.S. in 2019, according to the latest figures from the Ad Age Datacenter maintained by Automotive News sibling publication Ad Age.

The new agency could help Infiniti lift awareness and perception, but York concedes that remaking any brand image is a long-haul game, not a quick fix.

“It takes a while to influence and change perception,” he said. “Consistency pays over time.”

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