For those who watched the Super Bowl, traditionally the highest rated sporting event of the year, Nissan’s presentation of their “With Dad” campaign sparked a large amount of conversation and buzz within the racing community.
While the merits of the commercial in and of itself is for another conversation, the topic widely missed by most of the motosports public is that of the existence of a Super Bowl ad altogether.
Running at 90 seconds, an ad-buy purchase of likely between $8-12mil, the key feature within the motorsport community was the commercial’s reveal of their highly touted GT-R LM Nismo prototype, which will compete at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
To repeat, Nissan paid Super Bowl prices for a sportscar program.
While the story of the commercial went well beyond a Le Mans prototype and was clearly tailored to a larger, non-automotive audience, the significance remains.
To look at this from a broader perspective, the approval process of Nissan’s (or any large company) most visible commercial was likely nothing short of exhausting. Layers of middle management, marketing firms, focus groups, board approvals… you name it. In these sort of environments, where you only need a few non-motorsport fans to abandon the concept, the fact that a sports-car oriented commercial crept through is remarkable.
So the bigger question is, why?
It’s not like the motorsport audience is large enough to justify the effort surrounding a Super Bowl commercial.
Simply put, this car is unlike any other, enough to get the company excited. Built as a front-engine prototype, something unheard of in the modern era, and looking akin to a futuristic spaceship over a modern racing car, Nissan was able to look at this program company-wide and say “this is something we’re proud of.” In an era where budgets for motorsport programs are a continual fight, this statement from Nissan was a clear vindication for the sanctioning body of Le Mans, the ACO, that their relatively open policy for vehicle specifications is working.
Most top forms of motorsport today, from Formula One to NASCAR to IndyCar, are notoriously becoming more and more controlled on innovation. All NASCAR Sprint Cup vehicles must face a rigorous inspection process to ensure that each car’s bodywork, wheel spacing, alignment and more falls within very specific guidelines. IndyCar faces a very similar challenge, and even Formula One, once considered the paradigm of motorsport technology, is becoming increasingly “spec” with team’s forced to run identical engine sizes, body work guidelines, and more.
All of this has been done for one reason: budget.
Innovation is expensive. Still rebounding from tough economic times and fighting increasing resistance from board rooms across the country, automotive manufacturers and supporting companies simply can’t justify the marketing budgets that they used to have. In turn they can’t provide the same sort of funding towards racing, which in turn means series continually clamp down their rules to prevent innovation.
The ACO, and their trademark World Endurance Championship (WEC), has decided to go the other direction in spite of this. While every other series moves more towards tightly controlled guidelines, this series’ rulebook is relatively open, especially in the top-tier “LMP 1” category. Boasting arguably the most sophisticated and open-ended technologies in racing, manufacturers including Audi, Porsche and Toyota have answered the call to innovate, and in such each manufacturer has produced a vehicle completely different from the other.
Nissan has now entered the game with arguably the most unique vehicle of all. Front-engined… a rumored 1,000bhp drivetrain that combines electric and diesel power, and a general dimension to the car unlike any other.
It’s different, it’s innovative, and it’s…. dare we say it, exciting.
That excitement is proof that budgets can become “available” for large companies if the company is excited about it.
The big question is will other series recognize this.