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ESPN, Nissan Move Into Heisman House

Automaker gathers football legends for new campaign

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What happens when 11 Heisman Trophy winners are picked to live in a house and have their lives taped? Well, for starters, people stop being polite to Mark Ingram.

In a nod to the elite brotherhood of the Heisman, Nissan this Saturday will bow a new campaign starring past honorees such as Barry Sanders, Marcus Allen, and Doug Flutie. Like a hybrid of The Real World and Hard Knocks, the “Heisman House” concept gathers under one roof many of the most celebrated college football players of the last 30 years.

Leading off the inaugural ESPN Saturday Night Football on ABC broadcast, the new Nissan spot will air immediately before Brent Musburger uncorks his signature “You are looking live….”

The campaign will run each Saturday night throughout the regular season. All told, Nissan has cued up four 45-second Heisman House spots.

Each week, fans will be invited into the fraternal order of the Heisman House, a baronial estate haunted by grizzled veterans (Allen, Flutie, Vinnie Testaverde) and relative newbies (Ingram, Troy Smith) alike. The first Alabama player to take home the hardware, Class of 2009’s Ingram, gets the rookie treatment throughout, serving as the designated water boy and being denied a prime perch on the sofa.

When Charlie Ward and Tim Brown aren’t busting Ingram’s chops, the aging jocks get to relive some of their past glories. While Flutie’s beaning of Testaverde won’t make anyone forget his ’84 Hail Mary pass to Gerard Phelan, watching Sanders mimic his old crazy legs routine will make OSU fans long for the halcyon days of ’88.

When not trained on the talent, the camera lingers on Nissan’s Maxima, Frontier, and Pathfinder models. The spots are an extension of Nissan’s ongoing association with the Heisman, which includes sponsorship of a season-long campus tour as well as print, digital, and other cross-platform buys.

Lining up the 11 Heisman Trophy winners was a unique challenge, said Phil O’Connor, senior manager of marketing communications, Nissan. “There were several things we were striving for with the casting. We were obviously looking for the recognizable names and faces, but we also wanted to include players from a wide geographic spread from across a few different eras.”

O’Connor added that Nissan looked to book players who represented colleges on its 2011 Heisman tour. The car company got a two-fer in Desmond Howard and Tim Brown; the tour touches down in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Sept. 10 when Michigan hosts Notre Dame.

Nissan spent approximately $611.5 million on measured media in 2010, of which nearly 70 percent, or $412.5 million, was devoted to TV. Per Nielsen, the automaker is one of the biggest investors in sports media, ranking 12th last year with a $161 million spend.

“We are very aggressive with our college football media buys, that’s for sure,” O’Connor said. “College and pro football give you the broadest audience you can reach, and [it's] DVR-proof."

This fall, football fans also can expect to see several in-game spots for the 2012 Nissan Versa sedan. In its first month of availability, the new subcompact has already sold 8,566 units. 

OMD is Nissan’s media agency of record. TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles handles all creative duties for the automaker.

ESPN Saturday Night Football on ABC kicks off Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas, as the No. 3 Oregon Ducks take on No. 4 LSU in the third-annual Cowboys Classic.