Brad Nevin: Stories are the ideal medium to create the future.

Iñaki Escudero
The Real Hero
Published in
12 min readMar 21, 2024

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One of Brad’s passions outside cars is refereeing soccer games. He believes that all of life is present on the soccer field — from respecting your opponent to coping with defeat or celebrating teamwork. He loves the entire atmosphere surrounding the beautiful game and being a part of it. Cooking is another of his hobbies. He loves hearing stories about techniques, cultures, and family gatherings around food. Jacques Pépin has come to be one of his heroes.

Brad has four kids who are now all smarter and stronger than him. The oldest boys are twins. One is an engineer at a car company and the other is an airline pilot flying the A320. This is confusing to him because they were making Lego cars on the carpet last week.

Iñaki: Brad, would you mind starting by sharing a bit about yourself and Nissan’s history with storytelling?

Brad: I often say I was born and raised at Car and Driver magazine. It was my dream job as a kid to work at a big-time car magazine. I used to read every car magazine I could get my hands on cover to cover — Automobile, AutoWeek, Car and Driver. I managed the content we posted on America Online back in the day, and I helped launch the magazine’s website. It’s not a stretch to say that I’ve been working on automotive-related websites for as long as they’ve existed.

I have a master’s degree in communications/journalism and have always had a passion for cars, magazines, and writing. In grad school around 1994, I took a few digital communications classes which sparked my interest in computers and the Internet. Remember the 2400-baud modem? I do! From Car and Driver, I moved to a few different agencies, an auto event/press fleet management company, and later to Nissan where I’ve been for about 12 years.

My time at Nissan has been focused mainly on our newsroom platforms, which have grown incredibly because of a shift in newsroom audience. It’s no longer only journalists who use the site as a resource to cover their stories. We know that consumers, dealers, enthusiasts, employees, heck even my dad visits the Nissan newsroom because it’s our group, Communications, who unveils all the hot new cars first.

This broadening newsroom audience is what steered us towards storytelling — which then led to creating devoted storytelling websites for our regions around the world. Press releases have a variety of assets — I call them the toolbelt — like charts, high-res images, media contacts, etc. Storytelling websites need a warmer, more magazine-like format with wider text, bigger images, embedded video, etc.

As we worked on building the sites, and on creating the stories going on the sites, insights from your course Brand Strategy and Storytelling at Hyper Island echoed in my mind. I want people to learn something and to grow when they’re done reading something on our site. Echoing Nissan’s mission of “enriching people’s lives,” we try to mentor readers and connect with them on a personal level.

Iñaki: The goal of storytelling is like you say to connect with audiences through unique perspectives. Do you think we make storytelling harder than it should be?

Brad: Good writing, and therefore a good story, requires asking the below-the-surface questions to get the juicy info. The great Jean Jennings from Automobile Magazine once said that writing is nothing more than going out and gathering interesting information, and then arranging all those tidbits into amusing English. Good stories make the reader think, with a smile, “How about that!?” instead of “Uh, what about that?”

Managing the storytelling process; from convincing colleagues to run with an idea, to crafting the narrative and identifying assets, is a big job. We also spend a great deal of energy at Nissan to make sure the assets we create work on different platforms — LinkedIn, X, YouTube — and are in at least English and Japanese, with source files to translate into more languages. One of our stories may have text, a graphic, a video, social media copy, or audio in podcast form — all of this in different languages. We want to reach people where they are by offering our content in a variety of formats and on an array of different platforms.

All this is not easy. You can’t just slap something up there and call it a day. So to answer your question, I think the answer is no — it’s hard to create good stories. But it’s very much worth it and incredibly satisfying when it all comes together.

Iñaki: You’re passionate about cars. What makes Nissan a different type of car company?

Brad: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from someone when I wear my classic Datsun shirt, “I used to have a 240Z in high school and I loved it!” Same thing with other iconic cars like Pathfinder, Maxima, and on and on.

I think Nissan has an advantage over other car companies with its beautiful designs, technology leadership, and heritage. We have a very wide range of vehicles — from the thrilling Z sports car to the grand INFINITI QX80, from the tiny Sakura EV in Japan to the tough Frontier in the US — that mirror the diversity of needs of people around the world.

We have a company-wide ethos of “daring to do what others don’t” which encourages everyone to step out of their comfort zones and take risks. Last year I worked on a story about a professional photographer from Germany, Alex Qureitem, who devoted a year of his life, risking his family savings, on a journey to capture in images the allure of GT-R owners around the world. He had no preconceived plans. No agenda. He took a huge leap of faith, bought a plane ticket, and went for it. His bold move paid off, resulting in beautiful pictures and new life-long friendships.

This story reveals how cars unite people and create a sense of community. Alex said: “It’s always fascinating how the language of cars transcends nationalities and brings us all to one level playing field. I went around the world and found the GT-R a strand of commonality.” I love that Nissan Story message — or the moral, as you put it in your course — of uniting people, taking risks, embracing challenges, and personal growth.

This is what your course taught — the transformative power of assuming the role of a mentor brand. It’s a shift in responsibility and influence that can shape narratives and perceptions. I remember you saying in one of your videos:

“Once you realize your role as a mentor brand, everything changes.” It’s true.

Iñaki: What insights have you gained about cultural differences regarding our relationship with cars?

Brad: The role of cars in Japan is very different from that in America. A colleague in Japan told me that if you’re looking to buy a new car there, you have to show the government you have a parking space for it. I have four kids, each of whom drives, and when everyone is home, we have six cars in our driveway (INFINITI QX60, two Nissan Ariyas, a Nissan Murano, and some older cars).

When you visit Japan, you either walk, take a bus, or get around on trains; it’s super easy and convenient. When I need an ingredient for the cake I’m making at home, there’s no bus or train to take me to the store so I have to drive. It’s a very different mentality. In fact, I have some colleagues in Japan who don’t own a car or have a driver’s license, which blew my mind when I heard that! How can you work at a car company and not drive, but in Japan it’s true.

Iñaki: What about cultural and consumer behavior shifts in social media?

Brad: A big project I’m working on right now is employee advocacy. We use a website/app to help our employees share all our great news and, at the same time, it helps our employees boost their personal brand and build connections on social media. Data shows that people trust messages from friends and connections over posts from a company, so we’re making it very simple and easy for our employees to share. The results have been fantastic. Employee advocacy is a massive untapped resource to help build brand awareness.

Some of the best content for our employees to share are stories. Why is Nissan a great place to work? How do we live DEI every day? How is Nissan helping enrich the lives of our employees, customers, and people in the community? A press release that starts with “Today Nissan announced a donation of $X to X…” is much more boring than a story about a child inspired to pursue a career in engineering or design thanks to a program Nissan held at her school.

The GT-R photographer story I mentioned begins with: “It’s 1 a.m. and professional photographer Alex Qureitem has a four-hour drive ahead of him. He’s headed into the Dubai desert for a sunrise photoshoot of a Nissan GT-R that belongs to someone he’s never met. Alex will drive into Dubai’s sandy darkness knowing full well that once there, if his car has issues, or his cell reception is lost, he’ll be in real trouble. And, he needs to be able to find his way back.” See the difference between that and a press release?

Iñaki: Tell me more about your personal opinions and points of view about the car industry. For example: What’s hard about making cars that most people don’t know?

Brad: Designing, engineering, manufacturing, and selling a car takes literally thousands of people around the world all working towards a common goal. It’s an incredibly complicated puzzle, with everything coming together after a maybe four- or five-year process to produce the new Nissan Rogue available at a dealer. Being a global car company, it’s also very challenging to decide which cars are global vs which cars are designed and built for a local market. In India, for example, we have the Magnite SUV which is perfectly suited for drivers there. On the other spectrum, we have the full-size Armada SUV in the US, while its virtual twin is called the Patrol in the Middle East and Australia. Other vehicles, like our LEAF and Ariya EVs, are the same around the world (save some legal requirements for individual countries). Add into the equation exchange rates, when to produce a car locally, in Japan or the U.S., and export it, labor issues, and R&D… Building a car is an extremely complicated project — one that amazes me every time I get into my INFINITI QX60, feel a sense of calm and peace, and imagine all the work that went into making it.

Iñaki: What’s the future of transportation?

Brad: My son just got a new Nissan Ariya. I drove it the other day and was blown away.

It has an ADAS (for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) called ProPILOT Assist 2.0. It’s like cruise control, only cranked up to Level 11. There’s a green mode (a green light from door to door surrounds you) where the tech keeps the car in the lane with your hands on the wheel. When conditions are right, green turns to blue and you can take your hands off the steering wheel. A display on the dash shows cars passing you with a little orange warning when a car is close.

I’ve been in the car business for a long time, and I can’t remember a car blowing me away like this before. The Ariya is not a boring car that takes all the fun and interest out of driving. Intended for us on the highway only, and only when conditions allow, this technology improves the drive by taking the stress out of those long highway hauls.

Striking the right balance between tech like ProPILOT that enhances the journey — as opposed to tech that seems burdensome or unnecessary, like burying a simple task like adjusting the radio volume three clicks deep on a screen — is a balance the entire industry is struggling with right now.

On an infrastructure front, the future is battery development — like all-solid-state batteries, for example, that have an energy density about two times that of conventional lithium-ion batteries. It seems the entire auto industry is working to improve the charging infrastructure and to make it easier to connect your EV to your house or the grid if the power goes out. I also believe we need more sustainable and local energy solutions like solar at home to charge your car. We’re on the way there, but there’s still a good distance to go to make all this common and second nature.

Iñaki: Who is going to drive us to the future? (pun intended)

Brad: People who love cars and don’t see them as appliances. People who understand the joy cars bring to our lives and don’t use technology that makes cars numb.

I’ve just re-read the book “Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business” by Bob Lutz. He describes how finance teams at car companies try to cut costs to make more money. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if the cost-cutting detracts from the joy of the car — the way the car drives, looks, feels, and sounds — then the brand suffers.

I’ve seen a few reviews on our Sentra sedan where journalists say that the nice stitching on the dashboard, the suspension, the design, and 10s of other small features make the car feel like it costs a lot more than it does. That’s the sweet spot — when you have a car that feels more premium than it costs. Anyone can make a great car for $75,000; it takes brilliant, creative designers and engineers to build a great car for $25,000. Leaders at car companies who get this will succeed.

There’s another person I want to mention, my old friend Larry Webster. He’s in charge of editorial content at Hagerty, a company whose mission used to just be insuring rare or exotic cars that other insurance companies wouldn’t cover.

Hagerty is now a full-blown automotive enthusiast’s destination with a great magazine, an online marketplace that connects people, a suite of great online content, and more. The slogan they use is, “Never Stop Driving,” which I love. This business is all about the cars and how they enrich our lives. (Sound familiar?) The stories that Larry and his team tell are rich and powerful — from the relationships you build when asking for help restoring an old car to the life-changing cross-country drive in a Datsun 240Z.

While I love that blue arc inside the Ariya, the pinnacle of technology, I’m also in love with our family’s fun car: a tiny, 15-year-old Mini Cooper S convertible with a manual transmission. It sounds great, feels like a go-kart around curves, and puts a smile on my face every time I drive it.

I also think it’s worth mentioning the Steve Jobs outlook, which is more or less there’s no point asking people what they want because it hasn’t been invented it yet. Did anyone imagine the iPhone before Apple did? I have another friend, Pete Montero, who is a brilliant product planner and designer at Hyundai. I asked him, when planning future car lineups, how he knows what the future will be like. He replied to me, “It’s whatever we make it.”

We need to make sure modernization doesn’t rob us of the passion for cars.

My love for both the Ariya and Mini is a paradox: How do you embrace the past, while at the same time use the lessons of yesterday to help shape the future? I think the Nissan Z is the perfect example of this done right. There’s no easy answer, but stories are definitely the ideal medium to help find a way to do it.

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Iñaki Escudero
The Real Hero

Brand Strategist - Storyteller - Curator. Writer. Futurist. Marathon runner. 1 book a week. Father of 5.