Nissan to focus Champions League sponsorship on Leicester City as it looks to ‘disrupt the status quo’

Two years into its four-year deal to sponsor the UEFA Champions League, Japanese car marque Nissan is looking to weave Premier League winners Leicester into its ‘disruptive’ marketing strategy for 2017.

Nissan Champions League campaign.
Nissan’s Champions League campaign

“The introduction of Leicester is going to bring lots of freshness to the Champions League,” says Jean Pierre Diernaz, Nissan’s European vice president of marketing, speaking to Marketing Week at the competition final in Milan on Saturday (28 May).

“I hope this breakthrough Leicester team will disrupt the status quo and I think that will bring a new layer of excitement. Leicester will definitely be the focal point of the marketing strategy during the group stages.”

For 2017, Nissan plans to engage further with fans through social media, adapting the concept of its ‘excitement index’ into what Diernaz describes as a “contest of excitement”. It will also take on a more active role with player ambassadors Thiago Silva, Andrés Iniesta and Yaya Touré.

Nissan’s overarching strategy is aimed at dropping small-scale marketing activity in favour of investment in key global teams or events such as Team GB and an eight-year deal with the International Cricket Council. The jewel in its marketing crown, the Champions League sponsorship, was secured in April 2014 when Nissan replaced 22-year sponsor Ford in a four-year global deal reportedly worth £45m.

Diernaz sees the scope of the competition as “transformative”. “When you add up the entire media value of the Champions League, of being on air on big broadcasters, the second screen digital display and social media activity it’s a massive media value.”

According to Nissan’s European senior vice president of sales and marketing, Guillaume Cartier, engagement with the brand has risen during Nissan’s second year of Champions League sponsorship, measuring strongly against his two main KPIs – financial gain and brand positioning.

“If I put €1m in sponsorship, do I get a better return on investment than with classic media? The answer is yes. Secondly I want to make sure if I expose us through the sponsorship I have a better opinion of the brand than if I didn’t,” he explained, speaking at the same event.

“We found that 31% of people who were just exposed to Nissan have a good opinion of the brand, versus 50% of people who had been exposed to Nissan through the Champions League.”

Guillaume Cartier, European senior vice president of sales and marketing, Nissan

Nissan broke into Interbrand’s 100 best global brands list for the first time in 2015, with Interbrand citing the Champions League tie up as having an influence on the Japanese car brand’s inclusion.

That being said, the sponsorship has not had a dramatic impact on brand awareness in the UK. According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, awareness peaked in November 2014 when 95% of the population claimed to know about the brand, before dropping to 91.5% in October 2015. It then picked up to 91.9 in May 2016. Nissan currently sits at 14th in the overall index, in a middling position above brands such as Mini, but below the likes of Honda and Ford.

A contributing factor could be Nissan’s decision not to promote its more recognisable cars through the Champions League, which may have had more initial resonance with consumers.

Nissan’s global head of marketing, Roel De Vries, explains the rationale. “If someone wants to buy a Qashqai tomorrow there are many ways they can get that information. Instead we wanted to focus on how our brand offers innovation, meaning all activation is around what we call intelligent mobility – from our electric vehicles to autonomous cars.”

Marketing activity promoting the electric Nissan LEAF or GT-R supercar was phased in to coincide with big matches taking place during the six month build-up to the Champions League final. This strategy culminated with the screening of a 360 video of the GT-R, featuring the world premiere of Sony’s virtual reality technology, linked with a billboard campaign and the activation of electric charge points across Milan to support the LEAF.

Building a connected digital strategy

When Nissan first pitched the campaign to UEFA the focus was on creating a 360 degree digital campaign that would add value to the competition, not just offer “a 10% discount on the Qashqai”.

Cartier confirms that digital spend is now 50% of Nissan’s total marketing investment and that while experiential is an important part of the package, the aim is ultimately to fulfill its marketing objectives through a connected digital strategy.

The aim of all activity is to drive Nissan to become a brand that is meaningful in people’s lives, said De Vries. “If we want someone to buy a new Micra we can’t just arrive on the scene and say buy a car three months from now.

“We need to be meaningful to them and sponsorship is a really good way to keep the brand relevant among consumers even when they’re not in the active purchase process.”

One of the categories in this year’s Masters of Marketing Awards celebrates excellence in the automotive sector.

Don’t forget to submit your Masters of Marketing entry. Click here to view all the categories.

Masters of marketing

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