To build credibility among young and urban consumers, Nissan North America needed a person who embodies the qualities of freedom, access and respect. After interviewing hundreds of candidates, the client and its multicultural shop, True, chose a black woman from Los Angeles who performs as a spoken-word poet.
The woman, who was not identified by name, will "emcee" Nissan's latest multicultural marketing effort, dubbed "Electric Moyo," which launches today. (Moyo is a Swahili word meaning "heart.") The role calls for her to drive an electronically enhanced Nissan Altima through 10 cities, stopping to interview local and national celebrities from the arts, music, sports, technology and film.
The campaign is decidedly nontraditional, although it involves traditional media outlets, including radio, billboards and bus shelters. But ads in those outlets will be "subverted" and "pirated" in the name of Electric Moyo, said Jon Cropper, senior manager of youth and urban communications at Nissan in Los Angeles.
For example, Altima boards left over from True's recent "Who Are You" effort will appear to be spray-painted with hip-hop images, such as turntables over the tires. And the emcee will interrupt 60-second radio ads to play music or relay messages as if she were a pirate broadcaster.
A budget for the campaign was not available, but Cropper said Nissan's commitment to multicultural work this year—via Electric Moyo, Who Are You and a January effort from True called "Black Experience"—is "unprecedented" for the automaker.
The goal is to entice twenty- and thirtysomethings who are turned off by the barrage of traditional ads. "I look at this effort as the same as launching a pop band," said Cropper, a former MTV exec who also has worked for Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment. "We wanted to create a program that was very entertaining."
Another inspiration, Cropper said, was Crispin Porter + Bogusky's award-winning Mini Cooper campaign, which has used stickers, iron-ons and even a Ford Explorer—as a roving flatbed display—to pitch the car.
Toyota also hit the streets with its launch of the youth-orientated Scion this year, hosting parties, installing Web kiosks in dealerships and placing wild postings outside nightclubs.
True, a startup backed by TBWA Worldwide and based in TBWA\Chiat\ Day's Playa del Rey, Calif., office, pitched the concept of an alternative brand ambassador during Nissan's African American review last year. True won the estimated $15-20 million account last July and has been developing Electric Moyo ever since.
"The idea is that people are more interested in content than advertising," said True creative director Christopher Davis, another MTV expatriate. "This is what we said to Nissan: 'Hey, you need to be involved within the [urban] community. You need to be involved with young people.' "
Davis further defined the target as "cultural creators" and "influencers" in their mid-20s and early 30s. The emcee, who is in her mid-20s and who will be given a stage name for her tour, is "tough," Davis said. "She's righteous, and she has been through a lot of things. She's not stupid, not a sucker. She's also warm, friendly and soft-spoken." Summing up, Davis added: "I'm just more interested in how ... we magnify the story of a person, of a real person, instead of a fairly tale."