[Before I begin, I must mention that most of the information in this article is from a documentary by National Geographic Channel called Inside the Supercar – Nissan GT-R, 2010. You might also find some similarities in between the article and the documentary. Its a great video and I urge readers interested in automotives to watch it. ]
The following article talks about launch strategy when the product is sure to be a winner. The example of Nissan GT-R shows the creation of enough buzz about the product in the pre-launch phase, and the ideal platform for the final launch.
The company: Nissan Motor Company Ltd. is a well known Japanese multinational automaker. The company had faced financial turmoil during the late 1990s but came back strongly through the launch of the 1989 Nissan Skyline GTR, a car that is considered an all-time great.
The legacy: The 1989 Nissan Skyline GTR cwas derived from the Nissan GT racecar of the 70s and went on to become a cult brand, featuring in Japanese animes, manga (Japanese graphic novel), movies and several video games across the world. In 2000, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn promised fans and auto enthusiasts that the company would come up with a new incarnation of the legendary Skyline GT-R.
The boss: Carlos Ghosn is a well known figure in the industry and leads two major car-makers, Nissan and Renault. He enjoys a near-celebrity status in Japan owing to the way he turned Nissan’s fortunes around and even has a manga character based on him. He was determined to create a car that would live up to or even surpass its predecessor and was also particular about the car being able to beat the Porsche 911 Turbo which has been a benchmark in car performance for decades.
The competition: The Porsche 911 is a car that has ruled the everyday-use-sports-car segment for decades. Right from the beginning, Ghosn had insisted that the new Nissan car must be a 911 beater.
The product: One of the fascinating things about the 1989 GTR that Ghosn observed is that the car was never marketed aggressively due to budget constraints, but it was so good a car in terms of performance that it drew attention to itself. The limited production capacity of Nissan also made it a rare one and this slowly built the exclusivity and cult image. For Ghosn, no amount of marketing would suffice if the product was not worth it and so the car was built from scratch and took 6 years for the design, development and research. The car was designed to reflect modernity and its Japanese origin, and was inspired by the giant robots of the Gundam Anime series, a very popular Anime in Japan.
The Gundam robot and the GT-R
The marketing: Ghosn laid down only one condition for the marketing team – they could not use any form of conventional marketing. This led to a series of unconventional and innovative ideas that created a hitherto unknown hype around the car.
I’ll just mention the most prominent of their teasers for the sake of brevity. First, they leaked a picture of the car’s logo through blogs and social networking sites. The logo spread through the web and acted as an effective teaser before the launch (which was scheduled for the Tokyo Auto-expo 2007). Another innovation came in the form of a manga (graphic novel) with a story based on the car and they decided to publish this along with the car’s launch. Further, they got in touch with Polyphony Inc., the software company which makes the Gran Turismo series of games for the Playstation and offered them the car’s design and specs to be included in the next version of Gran Turismo. Polophony agreed to launch the new game on the same day of the launch and also to unveil the car online in the Gran Turismo website.
On the day of the launch came the masterstroke. At the auto-expo, a video clip of two laps around the Nürburgring was shown. FYI, the Nürburgring is a world famous track in Germany where the best of sports cars are tested. The first car to go around the track was the Porsche 911 Turbo. The second was the new Nissan GT-R and it broke the Porsche’s timing to be greeted with thunderous applause from the crowd and an immediate flurry of media reports. A few seconds later, Ghosn walked in proudly with the much awaited new Nissan GT-R which had beaten the Porsche 911 in its home ground.
Needless to say, the car went on to become a grand success and Nissan has successfully created another legend. What we can learn from the story of the GT-R is this – if you have already created a great product, its successor can become even greater provided it is a good product, and you entice the public with a few marketing gimmicks.