Nissan renews Champions League sponsorship and shifts focus from awareness to engagement

The Japanese car marque hopes that bringing new brand ambassadors including Gareth Bale on board will drive up engagement with the brand.

Nissan is renewing its sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League for another three years as it claims the partnership has been a huge success in increasing the visibility of the brand and therefore its sales.

The Japanese car marque took over the sponsorship from Ford in 2014. And since that time both its brand strength and sales have improved.

It is now the 43rd most powerful brand in the world, according to Interbrand, with a value of $11bn in 2016. That was up 22%, making it one of the ranking’s ‘top growers’.

Its share of the car market has also increased. In 2014, Nissan’s UK sales in the eight months to the end of August were little more than 84,000, giving it a 5.5% share of the market. During the same period in 2017, that share had risen to 6.01% as sales jumped to 98,600.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Nissan’s vice-president of marketing for Europe Jean-Pierre Diernaz says the UCL is at the “centre” of Nissan’s “roadmap” to boost the brand. And that after three years of sponsorship it is really starting to see the benefit.

“We are gaining share and gaining performance everywhere in the world and we are increasing our growth by increasing the visibility of the brand,” he explains. “We see the benefit of exposing out brand into an exciting territory – football – and that is why we want to continue.”

According to YouGov BrandIndex, consumer perceptions of the brand are on the up. In the UK, awareness is already relatively high at 95.1 but people are thinking more favourably of the brand. Its Index score, a balance of a range of metrics including quality, impression and reputation, increased from 11.8 in August 2014 to 12.5 in August 2017, a statistically significant rise.

Consideration and purchase intent also both saw statistically significant increases across the same period.

Diernaz says part of the success of the UCL sponsorship is down to the frequency with which is it able to talk to consumers, as opposed to other tentpole sponsorships that only happen every two or four years. “Every two weeks we have a fantastic stage where we can engage with people, talk to them and showcase our brand DNA. That relationship has a strong value because it allows us to talk to them about their passion in a way that makes sense for them,” he adds.

Keeping it fresh

One of the key challenges of that, however, is keeping the content fresh. For this year’s campaign, which kicks off on Tuesday (12 September), Nissan will make use of its newer brand ambassadors – Gareth Bale and Sergio Aguero – who Diernaz says bring their own personalities and therefore new content and ways of reaching fans.

It is also looking to new ways to execute the campaign, with a focus on new tech such as holograms and augmented reality this year, although Diernaz won’t be drawn on exactly what that will look like.

This year will also see a renewed focus on Nissan’s electric car, the Leaf, because a new model has just been released. The model, says Diernaz, will be Nissan’s hero car and therefore have a predominant share of voice.

Electric and hybrid cars are becoming increasingly important to car manufacturers. They account for the fastest growth, albeit from a smaller base, and are critical as governments around the world, including in the UK, look to ways to cut emissions and reduce pollution.

The plan is to back the new Leaf with significant levels of marketing activity with the aim of getting people to experience what driving an electric car is like and therefore change people’s mindsets. There is still a perception that electric cars are a little boring, and Nissan wants to use it’s brand value of excitement to help do away with that idea.

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