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Nissan's Diaz Leads Automaker's Return To Super Bowl After 18-Year Absence

Nissan’s 18-year hiatus from the Super Bowl ended tonight -- thanks to a simple question from sales and marketing chief Fred Diaz.
“Why aren’t we in the Super Bowl?” he asked his marketing team during a December 2013 meeting.
"The look on their faces was quite frankly, 'Yeah, right. No way. I can't ever see us doing that again,'" Diaz recalled during an interview last week. 
It's no surprise that the former Ram brand chief nudged Nissan back onto the game's grand stage tonight after an 18-year hiatus. Diaz had a front-row seat to the big-budget Super Bowl escapades of Fiat Chrysler marketing boss Olivier Francois.
Diaz saw how well-done commercials can step beyond cars to something more profound -- whether it was Clint Eastwood's gritty nationalism in "It's Halftime in America" or the inspirational "Born of Fire" featuring rapper Eminem that celebrated Detroit's resilience.
So Diaz was clear from the start that Nissan needed to project an authentic message that connected with the heartland.
Diaz said a wave is spreading across the nation to recognize the importance of dads in the nucleus of a happy family. Nissan, like its rival Toyota, decided to ride it in the Super Bowl commercial.
"When I saw this concept, I literally fell off my chair," Diaz recalled. "I said, 'Guys, we've got something here.'"


Labor of love


Settling on the right idea was laborious. Diaz pored over hundreds of concepts from ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day Los Angeles to find an idea that had legs.
Diaz, 49, joined Nissan from Chrysler Group in April 2013, where he was influential in expanding the Ram brand's marketing reach among Hispanic audiences.
Diaz: "We've got something."

Diaz said the planning process for the Nissan spot was "a labor of love for well over a year."
Diaz is passionate about family life, in part because, he said, he was raised by a single mom. So after rejecting many concepts, Diaz settled on the theme of the everyday struggles of America's working parents to balance their professional and family lives.
With that focus in mind, the commercial's dad needed the right occupation.
The answer? A professional race car driver -- a highly visual crowd pleaser with the added benefit of letting Nissan slyly debut the new GT-R LM Nismo speedster.
So the commercial was shaping up: The tale of an often-lonely boy growing up with his loving mom and with a father away at the track trying to realize his dreams of success.

Breaking the cycle


For the soundtrack, TBWA/Chiat/Day took the gloomy Harry Chapin song, "Cat's in the Cradle," about an attention-starved son wanting to follow in his dad's footsteps. But the agency flipped the song's message into a hopeful one about a father's love.
"As the song ends, he ends up following in his father's footsteps, but somewhat in the wrong way because his dad didn't make time for [him]," Diaz said of the song. "We decided to take this iconic song that has a negative ending and break the cycle and make it a very positive ending to show that it's tough to make that work-life balance, but we can figure it out."
In the Chapin song, the boy ends up not making time for his father when he becomes a man himself. But the Nissan commercial, in a positive twist, ensures that the race car driver dad finds time for his son before it is too late.

Nissan's Super Bowl commercial weaves in the company's racing heritage.

Racing heritage


Diaz said the race car driver angle was worked into the commercial so Nissan could weave in its racing heritage.
Accurately portraying that racing prowess provided some challenges of its own, said Drew Stalker, a creative director for TBWA/Chiat/Day.
For instance, Stalker said the stunt crew had only one chance to execute the wreck scene. Everything about the high-octane segments had to be true to life for the racing enthusiasts who'll pick up on every detail.
It didn't hurt that the spot's director, Lance Acord, whose father was a race car driver, has a special place in his heart for motor sports.
"The cars that we used, the badging that we used, the situations that we used had to be 100 percent legitimate to do justice to the heritage of the racing. We had to sort of do double duty," said Chris Ribeiro, another creative director for TBWA/Chiat/Day. "We wanted to be honest and real with the family portions and as honest and real with the racing footage."
But Stalker said the agency didn't want the story to focus too much on the "glitzy, glamorous race car life." The goal, Stalker said, was to depict a "gritty, real struggle to keep a family together."

Getting ahead


Diaz said Nissan plans to cut the 90-second commercial down to a minute and rerun it after the Super Bowl. The spot was supported with an ambitious digital pregame campaign that asked a crew of popular YouTube content creators to put their own spin on Nissan's #withdad theme in zany videos.
"Nissan gets and understands the struggles that we all go through early in our career, through the middle of our career and even the end of our career, in some cases, to make ends meet, but most importantly to strike that work-life balance that sometimes is so difficult capture," Diaz said. "It's tough. We're all working really hard to try to get ahead."

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