Fears Stall Nissan Mailer

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When Nissan North America unveiled the marketing campaign for its 2002 Altima model last month, Peter Goodwin, its corporate manager of marketing communications, said, "We are pulling no punches with this campaign, and we are coming out as aggressive as ever."

That was then.

Nissan canceled the remaining 62,000 direct mail pieces after getting complaints from a few of the 255,000 customers and prospects who were worried that the packages might contain anthrax.

The confusion stemmed from two mail pieces Nissan developed as part of its positioning the Altima as "the cure for the common car." The first piece, sent to 200,000 Nissan owners, resembled a bag similar to those from a pharmacy and included an empty prescription bottle along with a fold-out poster describing the new V6 Altima.

"Taken daily, Altima is an important part of an exhilarating driving experience," the copy reads. "If you have a valid driver's license and little or no desire to dance the Macarena in public, you are an ideal candidate to drive Altima."

The other piece, sent to 55,000 prospects, was a larger mailer shaped like a prescription bottle that contained a CD-ROM about the car.

Nissan began mailing both packages Sept. 24, before anthrax became a concern. Consumer calls started coming Oct. 9, said Kurt von Zumwalt, director of product and consumer public relations at Nissan North America, Gardena, CA. The company canceled the remaining mailings the next day after receiving 36 calls.

"We weren't inundated by calls, and there were probably other people who were concerned but didn't call us," he said. "We stopped the mailings because we agree that at this current time the package could be misconstrued. We looked at it in that light and felt it was the best decision."

The company began calling consumers who were mailed the packages, von Zumwalt said, and is drafting a letter to apologize for any scare the mailing may have caused.

Von Zumwalt said Nissan still might mail the remaining pieces later and that 10,000 prospects who asked for information on the car will receive a new mailing.

"Those people have requested information from us so they will get something," he said. "We will most likely devise a traditional mail piece that is shrink-wrapped so they can see the contents. The outside will be clearly marked with our name along with a toll-free number to call if they have any questions about the package."

Given the situation nationally, von Zumwalt said, making certain sacrifices on mail campaigns is the right thing to do.

"Standard direct mail pieces may not stand out as much, and we might have to sacrifice some on creating a piece that grabs people's attention," he said. "But they will still be receiving all the relevant and basic information inside the mail piece, and that is the most important thing."

Von Zumwalt said Nissan will not increase other areas of advertising for this campaign, which include print, TV and online ads.

"We are going to leave those areas as is," he said.

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