Marketing Strategies in the Midsize Sedan ‘Battle of the Brands’

Posted By Nick Matarazzo On January 14, 2013 @ 10:19 PM In Opinions | No Comments

[1]It’s exciting watching well-known brands duke it out in the marketing gauntlet, especially when business execs publicly declare a Battle Royale against major competitors.  Such was last year’s throw down by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn at the New York Auto Show claiming the Altima has the stuff to knock Toyota Camry off the best-selling U.S. sedan pedestal.

Our industry’s lifeblood is the midsize sedan category, representing approximately one quarter of the total auto and light truck market in sales volume.  Across Jumpstart Automotive Group’s [2] channel of third-party automotive websites, the sedan segment is the largest vehicle category, representing 36 percent of total shopping activity.

In this highly competitive segment where even a fraction of a percent in loss of share can be catastrophic, the marketing stakes are higher than most.

Jumpstart recently analyzed messaging, creative, rollout strategies and the social and mobile efforts of three chief contenders vying to overtake Toyota for the number one sedan sales spot—the Nissan Altima, the Honda Accord and the Ford Fusion—to gauge how marketers duke it out in heated brand battles like this.  Campaign highlights follow.

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The Download:  Nissan marketers are clever, creative and funny.  Knocking Toyota Camry off its pedestal will take a lot more than a great sense of humor, but they’re on the right track.

In the meantime, they sure make the competition fun to watch!

Nissan’s “Innovation that Excites” campaign used the concept of invention to help the automaker stand out from the competitive pack, hilariously communicating the company’s latest innovations, including an easy-fill tire alert, in its “Breakup” and “Enough” broadcast spots.

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Particularly noteworthy was its sneak peek campaign featuring a glimpse of an Altima headlight here, a rear bumper there.  In all, the campaign covered virtually all media bases with a mix of broadcast, digital and print and out-of-home.

Its social/mobile efforts “Innovation Garage” and “Altima Experience” were as inventive as the brand itself, including this feel-good moment “Proposal.”

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Although OEMs typically look at third-party automotive websites as a medium for lower-funnel and retail messaging, Altima successfully extended the “Innovation that Excites” campaign and utilized high-impact homepage units across Jumpstart’s automotive websites to reach consumers actively researching and shopping for vehicles.

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Honda Accord

The Download:  Way to speak to (and relate to) your customers, Honda!  While we’d love to see you take a page out of Nissan’s book when it comes to innovation in creative and mobile strategies, we appreciate your polished and reliable approach to marketing…much like we appreciate your cars.

Honda’s “It Starts with You” campaign did a great job of conveying the automaker’s uncanny ability to build cars based on what Accord customers want and need…because it actually understands what its customers want and need.

Its broadcast spot “We Know You”and print, outdoor and online ads in that same vein, were nicely done, painting a relatable picture of people in real-world driving situations and how the Accord’s advanced safety and technology features help them overcome driving dilemmas.  If you’ve ever been visited by a bumblebee behind the wheel, you can relate too.jumpstart automotive group, honda accord we know you, sedan battle of the brands [7]

Honda’s integrated media buy was extensive, including a mix of print, home page takeovers on major portals, broadcast spots across high-profile TV shows and sports events (including the World series) and in-theater and outdoor in nearly 30 markets.

Finally, Accord content was integrated into Words with Friends and Scramble with Friends and in the popular news aggregator Pulse.

An interesting side note:  Honda Accord was Jumpstart’s midsize sedan segment leader midway through last year, representing a seven percent average monthly share of sedan shoppers, ahead of Toyota at six percent and Nissan at five percent.

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Ford Fusion

The Download:  While we applaud Ford’s fearless imagination and digital marketing prowess, it may have taken itself a little too seriously last year.  From social media sagas to vanishing cars, we struggled to follow along.  Unfortunately, it seems car buyers did too.

Ford’s “Random Acts of Fusion” campaign relied on Ryan Seacrest and celebrity personalities Joel McHale and Kate Micucci for comic relief, playing on the concept of life’s big and small acts involving real-world customers who unlocked a story over time while participating in driving and entertainment experiences.

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Chinese contemporary artist Liu Bolin—dubbed “the invisible man”—hand painted innovative print ads to make other cars seemingly disappear when the Ford Fusion was around, merging art and auto to create some really incredible tableaus.

The cornerstone strategies of Ford Fusion’s “transmedia marketing initiative” were digital and experiential and included a heavy blend of social media coupled with radio and video, along with American Idol-style finale events at various Ford dealerships and print ads in national auto and lifestyle magazines.

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Similar to “Fiesta Movement” and “Escape Routes,” the campaign created brand ambassadors in real world social media users to talk about the Fusion with their peers.  As of last October, the campaign had generated more than 12 million consumer engagements.

Who Won in 2012?

Once again, Toyota reigned supreme in 2012, with the highest midsize sedan sales volume (up nearly 24 percent from 2011).  Honda Accord made great strides in closing the second place gap with a 29 percent growth in sales over 2011.  Nissan Altima showed up for the party too, with a solid 11 percent growth compared to the prior year.


(WardsAuto, January 2013)

It will be interesting to see how the midsize sedan Battle of the Brands shakes out as 2013 campaigns extend into the coming months and after the much-anticipated launch of 2014 model year marketing initiatives!

Nick Matarazzo is CEO of Jumpstart Automotive Group [2], an innovative marketing solutions provider for automotive advertisers.

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