Japanese Automaker Nissan entered the luxury market with Infiniti in 1987, joining Honda’s Acura and Toyota’s Lexus luxury brands. Nissan’s vision was to establish a new concept of automotive luxury and owner experience.
Nissan created “The Horizon Task Force” to start work on the luxury offshoot in 1985. They chose legendary creative agency, Lippincott and Margulies (now Lippincott), to develop the project. The agency, known for their work with international brands such as Coca-Cola and IBM, built an integrated image including name, logo, messaging and sales environments. Lippincott took an expansive view and looked at luxury beyond the physical car. They integrated Japanese traditions of shokunin, a pride of craftsmanship, and omotenashi, hospitality. Infiniti promised quality, originality, performance and a new Total Ownership Experience.
Why is it called Infiniti?
At Lippincott, the naming process begins with a team of five or six wordsmiths who start with a list of approximately 1,000 names. They consider the the human relationship with the car from all perspectives. For Nissan, it was essential to convey the ultimate in luxury and quality and invoke a sense of exclusivity to the informed car buyer. Also, the new brand needed to be unique and inspire a vision without boundaries.
The team narrowed the list down to roughly 100 of the most appropriate names. James Bell, Senior Partner at Lippincott said of the name Infiniti, “This is not a foreign name or word; it was constructed by me to serve a definite purpose.” The name was short, easy to pronounce, and conveyed pursuing new horizons. Lippincott’s Sasha Stack explains the letter change was an aesthetic consideration. Changing the “y” to a third “i” gave the name a stronger visual appeal. It also made it unique and proprietary. The Infiniti logo depicts a perspective point in the horizon pointing to the infinite. They chose ‘Inspired Performance’ as their tagline.
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The Infiniti launch campaign created by ad agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos made a unique impression. The unconventional television ads took a zen approach. Each centered upon a singular element in nature such as water, rocks, or geese. They were quiet and meditative. They intended to evoke the feeling of calm that could be obtained in an Infiniti driving experience. However, the public felt the enlightened approach missed something – there were no cars in the ads.
The now infamous ads did get attention. But they were considered too obtuse for American consumers and were soon revised to include the Infiniti cars. Infiniti would go on to embrace a more traditional advertising approach. The ads illustrate famed designer Raymond Lowey’s MAYA principle. He explains MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) as going as far as you can without going beyond what people are conditioned to embrace. Needless to say, it doesn’t go much more “beyond” than trying to grasp infinity. Perhaps they were just ahead of their time.
Nissan Design America continues to pursue ‘Inspired Performance’ in their design vision. Under the leadership of Alfonso Albaisa, they find inspiration in nature, Japanese ideals, and the pushing infinite boundaries. Infiniti succeeds in its niche as a luxury vehicle while adhering to their distinctive vision.
What do you think of Infiniti’s early ads? Would you have replaced the “y” with an “i?” Let us know in the comments below!
Adam Lang is the founder and editor of Rewind & Capture. He is passionate about creative marketing, design and brand etymology.