Infiniti: From “rocks and trees” to “brush-strokes,” can it become a Tier I luxury brand?

Yesterday’s Automotive News had a brief piece about Infiniti marketing that struck me as interesting.  In it, they reported that “Infiniti has told its dealer advisory group that it is committing to a five-year run for the new ‘Way of Infiniti’ campaign–a long-term pledge intended to reassure retailers that the brand will have a consistent message.”

I immediately thought to myself “Good for them.”

Infiniti from the very beginning has had a difficult time establishing a brand identity and finding a way to execute it in communications. Introduced in 1989, Infiniti was Nissan’s response to the introductions of the other Japanese luxury marques, Acura and Lexus.  The original Q45 was a sporty performance alternative to the Lexus. Unfortunately, Infiniti got off to a rough start when it introduced the car and brand with the infamous “rocks and trees” campaign created by its agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos.

The “rocks and trees” campaign sought to present Infiniti as the result of the unique Japanese culture and sensibility.  The campaign attempted to make its Japanese origin an asset, similar to the way that the German brands have used their ‘German-ness.’  The Infiniti ads were very different than any automotive company had ever done (they didn’t even show the car initially).  I still think the campaign deserved high marks for breaking new ground and attempting to make the fact that it was a brand from Japan important. Unfortunately, the campaign was panned by the automotive marketing community, blamed for anemic sales, resulted in the agency getting fired and ultimately resulted in a much more traditional approach to communications.

In the years that followed, Infiniti communications bounced from expected campaign to expected campaign without ever establishing a clear identity for the brand.  Infiniti was relegated to Tier II status in the US luxury market.  Tier I luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus are considered more prestigious, have higher levels of customer loyalty, higher resale/residual values and not surprisingly have better established brand identities.

It’s been unfortunate for Infiniti because they have consistently offered well-engineered products with some very distinct designs. The product has delivered on Tier I expectations but the brand’s reputation or image did not.

I was glad to see Infiniti stand behind its current “Brush-Stroke” campaign because for the first time since “rocks and trees” I think they are beginning to make the brand something special.  Here are some recent commercials:

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The use of the Japanese sumi-e painting style is a nice way of connecting the brand to Japanese culture and sensibilities while adding a distinctive executional element.  I don’t find the tag-line “Inspired Performance” particularly, forgive me….inspired.  But it is clear and I get the message.  The brand’s Facebook Fan page and the Twitter posts are also consistent strategically as was their NCAA basketball sponsorship of “Inspired Performances.”   Put it all together and Infiniti is a uniquely Japanese performance luxury car with the full measure of technology and features that you would expect.

With this campaign, Infiniti is re-establishing its roots in Japanese performance.  I don’t think that this campaign is going to win any advertising awards (if that happens to be how you measure success) but I do think it is on strategy for this brand, and is well executed.

More importantly, if the manufacturer and the dealers are serious and really do commit to this campaign for five years I think they have a real chance of establishing a clear Infiniti brand identity and perhaps even making it into Tier I.

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  23. keiko says:

    thank you for putting these. Brush strokes were mine 🙂

  24. Infinitum says:

    I worked on Infiniti after the rocks and trees campaign. The only reason the first campaign didn’t show the car was because it was ugly.

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