Nissan unveils 370Z in 'Need for Speed Undercover'

Nissan is taking a novel approach to rev up brand buzz for the 2009 370Z: unveiling the new sports car in a video game before the car's public rollout.

A virtual version of the 370Z has a starring role in Electronic Arts' erts new Need for Speed Undercover racing game, which hits stores on Nov. 18. The car will make its first public appearance on Nov. 19 at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It will go on sale two to three months later.

"We've had cars in video games, but never before we revealed them in real life," says Nissan spokesman Robert Brown.

The Nissan and EA partnership comes as in-game ad spending swells in double-digits. Marketers spent $181 million in 2007, according to figures compiled by Veronis Suhler Stevenson. For 2008, it'll hit $268 million.

The driving force behind that growth: targeting. Games let companies home in on specific audiences, such as young males.

Nissan wants to court men in their late 20s and early 30s with the 370Z launch, says Brown. "They are guys who grew up on Ataris and still have video game consoles in their living rooms."

Need for Speed Undercover, the latest annual edition in a franchise that sells about 10 million games a year, also features other cars, says Keith Munro, EA vice president of marketing. This year's largest co-promotion is with Nissan, but EA also has deals with Ford Shelby and Porsche.

"Need for Speed is known for featuring desirable performance cars. … We want to make sure there is a brand fit,"

That's important, says Jay Krihak, head of gaming innovation at media buyer Mediaedge:cia. "There's a fine line between integrating in a meaningful way and integrating in way that might not be natural." A deal, for example, with the stodgier Nissan Sentra or a Toyota Camry … "could ruin their reputation."