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Datsun's Revival Won't Be a Nostaglia Play

Brand is foreign to the countries it's entering next

The new Datsun grille

Nostalgia won’t play a role in the marketing behind Datsun’s 2014 comeback.

That’s because parent company Nissan hasn’t sold Datsuns before in the countries it will target first: India, Russia and Indonesia. In short, people in such emerging markets just don’t know the mark. Accordingly, Datsun lead agency TBWA is treating the revival of Datsun—which disappeared in 1981, when Ronald Reagan was president—like the launch of a new brand.

“My strategic challenge is, how do I make people love it for the first time?” explained Adam Stagliano, TBWA’s chief international strategy officer. “The convention in this category to these people in these markets has been, ‘You can buy it. It’s cheap.’ And what we’re trying to do is to create a sense of desire as opposed to a sense of need.”

That said, affordability is an historical hallmark of Datsun, as is durability, noted Vincent Cobee, head of Nissan’s Datsun unit in Tokyo. So, the automaker would be foolish not to leverage those traits. The price will vary by model and country but will hover around $10,000.

Cobee and Stagliano discussed Datsun’s marketing challenges in the wake of Nissan hiring TBWA for the launch. Both the car and its ads will roll out early next year—two years after Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn unveiled the comeback. Future markets Datsun is eyeing include Latin America, Africa and other parts of Southeast Asia.

“We will target optimistic and up-and-coming customers in high-growth economies [who are] seeking better value propositions supporting not only their everyday needs and wants, but also fulfilling their dreams and ambitions for a better tomorrow,” Cobee told Adweek. “Most likely, customers [will be] first new car buyers.”

Datsun is just the latest to revive a classic, joining Dodge Dart’s return to the U.S. last year and Ford’s global relaunch of its Taurus in 2009.

The Taurus had only been gone for three years when it resurfaced. And while Chysler’s Dart had died long ago, in 1976, Americans still remembered the brand because it dated back to 1960. Even so, the Dart’s launch ad from Wieden + Kennedy was anything but nostalgic, presenting a caffeinated, semi-comic look inside the unveiling of a new car.

Brand comebacks are opportunistic because macro-economic changes have forced people to reorder their priorities and rethink brand preferences, said Lenny Stern of brand consultancy SS+K in New York. That means consumers are open to reconsidering old brands. Also, there’s the retro-chic trend: “It’s cool to be connected to the past, but with a new twist on it,” explained Stern.

More fundamentally, some old brand names just sound better. Hard to argue with that, unless, of course, it’s an Edsel.

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