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Nissan Debuts Versa Teasers

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LOS ANGELES Noting that "typically subcompacts are subhuman," Rob Schwartz, executive creative director at Omnicom Group's TBWA\Chiat\Day, said Nissan's new Versa would be positioned as roomy, feature-rich and fuel efficient.

Several 15-second teasers break tonight during the premiere of NBC's Star Tomorrow. Nissan is the main sponsor of the show.

Banner ads on the series' Web site feature tortured young people being squeezed into cars or pressed against vehicle windows. This references an invented disease called "autoclaustrophobia," a theme of the launch campaign, Schwartz said. Some of the banners use the tagline "Next generation relief is coming."

Schwartz said the work from the Playa del Rey, Calif., agency would focus on three areas: "It's a small car that's giant on the inside; it has a level of features and amenities that rival more expensive cars; and it gets incredible gas mileage."

The demonstrable difference in interior room will be the "shot across the bow," Schwartz said. "Once you open the door, and let them inside the space, then you tell the story of fuel efficiencies and high-tech features like Blue Tooth wireless and keyless entry."

Though some work was created for Star Tomorrow, the bulk of the effort launches in the fall, along with the vehicle.

"Versa is challenging the notion of the subcompact, so we're targeting people looking for a subcompact with more space," said Michelle Erwin, marketing communications manager of Nissan North America in Nashville, Tenn. The teasers present "parodies" of actual uncomfortable situations faced by subcompact owners, she said.

Todd Turner, principal analyst at Car Concepts in Thousand Oaks, Calif., said he expects Versa to launch well. He added that concern over a recent sales lull at Gardena, Calif.-based Nissan is premature because "all their volume product is coming out new this fall."

Though the Versa will initially target young consumers, Schwartz said the "big volume opportunity [for the vehicle] is older people," though they will not be left out of this campaign.

Car Concepts' Turner said the work would have to compete in a crowded category against independent RPA's campaign for the Honda Fit and efforts by Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi for Toyota Yaris.

Even so, Turner doesn't view the late entry as a drawback. "In a way the staggered launches avoid confusion in the market and could be an advantage," he said.

Through May, Toyota spent $40 million in media launching Yaris and Honda spent $20 million on the Fit, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Schwartz declined to comment on the Versa launch budget.