Nissan's 'Gran Turismo' Campaign Bridges Virtual and Real Worlds

See how the automaker created a social media campaign that extended its exposure into the video game community.

By Mitra Sorrells August 26, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT

At the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England, Nissan unveiled a real version of its virtual concept 2020 Vision Gran Turismo vehicle.

Photo: Sonders Photography

Nissan is one of about two dozen automobile companies creating a virtual concept car to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Sony PlayStation’s Gran Turismo video game series. To go along with the program, the car company created a comprehensive social media campaign that generated buzz about its virtual car and connected the brand with video game aficionados.

“The number one goal was to connect with people in that younger category where, quite frankly, we’ve seen a delay in interest in automobiles … and in their urgency and passion to have a license. So when they are ready, we want to be relevant, and we want to be in their minds,” says Jeff Kuhlman, vice president of global communications for Nissan.

The virtual cars are intended to represent each manufacturer’s idea of what a high-performance sports car will look like in 2020. Once each car is revealed, which started with the Mercedes-Benz Vision GT in November 2013 and has continued with monthly releases, the cars are then available in Gran Turismo 6, the latest version of the game.

While manufacturers participating in the Gran Turismo program are not required to create a physical replica of their virtual car, Nissan did, unveiling it at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which took place in June in England. The company worked with Invnt to generate awareness of its concept vehicle in the weeks leading up to its real-world reveal.

“We needed to make sure they knew it would happen at Goodwood, and that when it did happen, it wasn’t just the people there knowing about it. So leading into it we wanted there to be a massive global awareness that this was going to happen at Goodwood,” says Jerry Deeney, Invnt’s director of strategic accounts for global operations. Working with content agency Tiny Toy Car, Invnt created posters, videos, and other content that was shared on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to build momentum in the weeks leading up to the Goodwood event. To give Nissan exposure beyond its traditional social media audience, Deeney created a partnership with Sony and Gran Turismo so they would share the campaign on their social channels as well.

“We developed a series of teasers that would tell a story but also would be once-a-week nuggets that would lead you to the ultimate reveal of the vehicle. It was done in a teasing fashion that wasn’t annoying but that gave you something each time that you would appreciate,” Deeney says.

Starting with the first digital poster released in early June, each element revealed a bit more about the Nissan virtual concept car. Each content piece also provided the date of the next reveal, so fans would know when to expect the next clue. The final element was a live Reddit interview with Nissan's chief designer, Shiro Nakamura, and the founder of Gran Turismo, Kazunori Yamauchi. Deeney says Yamauchi’s popularity among gamers helped them garner more than 1,000 questions during the one-hour interview. “It proved to be incredibly beneficial to get Nissan into the gaming conversation,” he says. Additional campaign statistics include 75,000 Facebook likes and 27,000 Instagram likes for all of the assets that Nissan shared.

“In terms of social media feedback and commentary in forums, we were really excited,” Kuhlman says. “We think it succeeded where we wanted to be, reaching the community of gamers, reaching the community of Gran Turismo players and PlayStation owners. So Goodwood provided the right venue for the hard property, but all the things leading up to Goodwood were really the meat and potatoes of the program in terms of reaching the core audience.”

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