In the past year, countless brands have used NFTs in marketing and also seized on newly loosened rules allowing for paid endorsements from college athletes. But Nissan Motor Co., one of the nation’s largest advertisers, has stayed on the sidelines — until now.
The automaker will deploy its first NFT and its first college star endorser in this year’s edition of its annual “Heisman House” campaign as Nissan modernizes the college football marketing campaign in its 12th year. The effort has long used ex-Heisman Trophy winners in comedic ads that depict them sharing a house, fraternity-style.
The newest housemate is Bryce Young, the University of Alabama quarterback and winner of last season’s Heisman, who is coming back to the school for his junior season. He appears in the campaign thanks to so-called name, image, likeness (NIL) rules that starting on July 1, 2021, allowed college stars to get paid for appearing in ads and other brand endorsements.
Nissan declined to disclose the financial terms of its deal with Young. But he is likely to command top dollar given his status as a returning Heisman winner playing at Alabama, arguably the highest-profile institution in college football.
The fact that Nissan had the opportunity to put a defending Heisman champ in a campaign with a Heisman theme proved to be too good of an opportunity to pass up. (Young, who will be a junior this season, returned to school because NFL rules dictate players cannot enter the draft unless they are three years removed from high school.)
Nissan began considering Young for the campaign as soon as he won last season’s Heisman, said Allyson Witherspoon, chief marketing officer for Nissan U.S.
“It was just a seamless integration, which is what we were looking for,” she said, noting that the deal was “beyond just having an athlete as an influencer—it was something we were already associated with and he has already proven himself on the field as a Heisman winner.”
The campaign comes from Omnicom’s TBWAChiatDay New York and includes 10 ads and plenty of social content that will be released during the season. One spot, called “That’s How You Heisman,” shows Young showing up at the house for the first time, greeted by previous Heisman winner Tim Tebow, before flashing to scenes of other ex-Heisman winners competing in silly games like speed-painting walls.
Witherspoon declined to reveal the media spend behind it but said it was comparable to previous Heisman House campaigns, although more heavily invested in social media than past years.
It includes polls, quizzes and challenges on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram, according to Nissan. TV ads begin running today on ESPN with the buy also including ABC, FOX and CBS. Media planning and buying was handled by Omnicom’s OMD.
Twelve ex-Heisman winners appear in the campaign — record number for the campaign — including Devonta Smith, Kyler Murray, Desmond Howard, Barry Sanders, Baker Mayfield, Carson Palmer, Robert Griffin III, Charlie Ward, Derrick Henry and Steve Spurrier.
Their images will be used in digital non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that Nissan will make available to fans at no charge. Some of the tokens can be used to unlock what Nissan describes as “virtual experiences with Heisman winners.” Details on that program are forthcoming. But Witherspoon confirmed that the tokens for experiences will be distributed to fans who engage with a virtual Heisman House established at a special website.
Although Nissan has used similar virtual venues in previous Heisman House campaigns, she said this year’s version is “a much more immersive digital world than what we have done in the past. It is leaning into what will eventually become the metaverse.” Nissan “did scans of all the players, so you can actually interact with them as an avatar with their avatars,” she said.
As for why it waited until now to unleash NFTs, she said, “We wanted it to be a little bit more than maybe what NFTs were when they first came out. We wanted it to be something that was a little bit more persistent and continues to offer value.”
She described the NFTs as “digital keys” for experiences. Using the tokens this way, rather than simply selling them, fits with the recent trend of how other brands are using them. For instance, Grey Goose recently deployed an NFT that doubled as a ticket to a Fashion Week New York event.
For its token program, Nissan worked with an organization called Campus, which was co-founded by Tebow and specializes in “utilizing exponential tech to elevate the experience of and connection between fans, athletes and sports organizations,” according to its website.
Vehicles featured in Nissan’s campaign include the electric 2023 Nissan Ariya, the 2023 Nissan Z, the 2022 Nissan Frontier, the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder and the 2023 Nissan Altima.
Nissan previously spent big on the Nissan Z with a 2022 Super Bowl ad that featured Eugene Levy and Brie Larson. But the automaker will not be returning to the Big Game this season, Witherspoon confirmed.
The ad “exceeded all of the expectations we had,” she said. But “for 2023 and looking at our priorities it’s really about the Ariya and we wanted a robust sustained campaign for that,” she added, meaning the automaker would prefer to spread its spending out more evenly rather than shelling out many millions of dollars to buy the single Super Bowl ad. Below, additional ads from the “Heisman House” campaign.
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