With its new SE-R\Spec-V, Nissan is targeting the kind of young male car fiends who customize their wheels. TBWA\Chiat\Day responded with a souped-up launch campaign that combines print with a CD-ROM containing a Japanimation-style short.
The four-minute film, Master of the Sixth Speed, involves a young Nissan engineer, simply called Hero, whose mentor instructs him to retrieve a stolen disc from the clutches of the villain, Viko. After an assault from Viko's arsenal of spooky weapons, Hero gets the disc, blows up Viko's lair and narrowly escapes, racing away at the last moment by shifting into sixth gear.
The client initially asked only for a print campaign that positioned the car "at the intersection of youth and car culture," says Rob Schwartz, creative director at the Playa del Rey, Calif., shop. But he felt that the performance-oriented vehicle warranted something more, that "there's a magic here we can unearth," he says.
The target was defined as "tuners," young men dedicated to customizing their import cars. Among the demographic, the Nissan Skyline—available in Japan but not the U.S.—has a "mythic status," says Schwartz. It turned out that tuners are also fascinated with Japanese animation. "Planets started to align," says Schwartz. "There's the magic." A short film would closely link the product to a Japanese aesthetic.
The print/CD-ROM package, which broke in late March, appears in male-oriented niche, lifestyle and music magazines such as Import Tuner, Stuff and Urb. Marketing plans also include online ads and stickers with the Japanese character for "six," a recurring visual motif in the campaign. "They can put them on their cars. It'll be like a secret society," says Schwartz.
To make the film, the team delved into the Japanimation subculture. "We studied it up and down," says head producer Debra Wittlin, who now has a collection of the genre and anxiously awaits new releases.
The strategy was to stay close to the archetypes so that the characters aren't dismissed when they start talking about the product. With "the Yoda-like mythic engineer and the young protégé," says Schwartz, the team had "someone who can talk about the product eventually but isn't a shill. They're spokespeople without the stigma." The core market of 19-21-year-olds, Schwartz admits, "can smell a pitch a mile away."
Authenticity, then, was a key to credibility. For example, the Japanese kanji in the ads are actual phrases that tie into the campaign. One translates to, "Beware of the bats," referring to Viko's flying weapons. Another includes the SE-R logo and says, "Introducing the serious energy racer with Nissan performance."
The agency tried to hire animators in Japan, but were told that, with their meticulous process, a project would take years to complete. Since not many commercial shops in the U.S. have experience with the dark, hard-core look of Jap an imation, "it was mostly a leap of faith," says Schwartz, when the team went with a combination of three studios: Vinton , Celluloid and Rhythm & Hues.
Celluloid helped Vinton with the 2-D animation of the characters. R&H created the 3-D backgrounds, the car and the explosions. It took six months for animators in Oregon, Colorado and California—connected to each other and the agency via the Web—to complete the film's 91 scenes. In addition to Master of the Sixth Speed, the CD includes original music and information about the car, which can be accessed only when the user receives "security clearance" from a fake retinal scan.
The end of the movie hints that Viko survived the explosion, leaving an opening for a sequel. "We've got the ideas," says Schwartz, "we just need the green light."
TBWA\Chiat\Day, Playa del Rey, Calif.
Will Vinton Studios
Backgrounds and Compositing
Rhythm & Hues