Inside Nissan’s Socially Distanced Drive-in Sponsorship at CHI-Together


In a parking lot, your activation footprint is what you make of it, and Nissan’s static car display strategy of the all-new Sentra takes advantage of different “hero shots” at the events.

Among brands to take advantage of the drive-in phenomenon that’s keeping hope afloat for many event marketers this summer is Nissan, which recently signed on as a sponsor of CHI-Together, a socially distanced experience platform at Soldier Field parking lot in Chicago that since July 8 has hosted movies, pre-show live performances and other activities Wednesday through Sunday nights each week.

The brainchild of local event planner Tionna Van Gundy, owner and managing partner of Fueled Events, and with the support of a host of other Chicago-based event companies, CHI-Together is a ticketed experience that accommodates up to 400 cars a night. On arrival, attendees present their ticket codes on their devices, are handed the night’s playbook, and then drive down a red carpet of activations, which includes the opportunity to make a donation to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and sample products from sponsors. From there, they are led to their reserved parking spaces. Among the extensive health and safety measures in place, all attendees are required to wear masks when outside of their vehicles.

For Nissan, the reach, coupled with the mission of the platform—putting people back to work, and giving Chicagoans a much needed summer outlet—made CHI-Together an enticing opportunity. It marks the brand’s first in-person experience since early March.

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“Once COVID hit, we had to look at every option to get our messaging out there, how we get people back to work. At first, it was looking at virtual events, but we knew once the summer hit people would be burned out on them,” says Casey Kilmer, corporate communications manager, auto shows at Nissan. “This hit everything we needed to do and then satisfied the awareness objectives we needed for the brand and the local Nissan dealers as well.”

The sponsorship is supporting the launch of the all-new 2020 Nissan Sentra, as well as a larger initiative surrounding Nissan Next, a campaign involving the release of 10 new models in 20 months as well as a new logo and refreshed product offerings and messaging. Nissan’s sponsorship presence includes rotating static displays on the event’s big screens as well as airtime for a product specialist who hooks into the PA system and conducts a three-minute “walk-around” the Nissan Sentra vehicle on display discussing specs and passing out relevant swag, like USB cords and fans, from the trunk of the vehicle.

“Our objectives here are much different than assessing where you are in the purchase funnel at an event like an auto show,” Kilmer says. “Here, it’s much more about awareness. You have a much broader audience, you have the challenge of having many attendees staying in their vehicles, as they should be to say safe, so it’s not so much about the walk-around experience as it is what we do on the big screen.”

To that end, Nissan brought in its top product specialist, Kenneth Paul Smith, who has been with the brand for more than 20 years, and brings energy to the product talks that can penetrate all corners of the massive lot. He points out features like the Sentra’s comfortable, zero-gravity seats and rear automatic braking system which comes in handy, especially, in parking lots. “We want to make sure what we’re telling consumers is relevant and it’s not just a three-minute commercial,” Kilmer says.

As the program evolves on-site, Nissan is integrating drive-to-dealer messaging in digital content spots and social media calls to action. As an added incentive, local Nissan dealers are supplied free tickets to the event to give to prospective customers who take a test-drive in the Sentra and mention CHI-Together­. All this, in addition to “text-to” promotions for deals and discounts. Buckle up.

Agencies: Fueled Events (owner/event production); George P. Johnson and eshots (Nissan account management, dealer communications); Productions Plus (staffing); Mendoza Media (digital content); EXO|EXO Marketing (pre-show entertainment).



Photo courtesy: lorisapiophotography.com

Rachel Boucher
Posted by Rachel Boucher

Rachel joined Event Marketer in 2012 and today serves as the brand's head of content. Her travels covering the experiential marketing indust ry have ranged from CES in Las Vegas to Spring Break in Panama City Beach, Florida (hey, it's never too late)—and everywhere in between.
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