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Ad Deal Rescues Lifeguards' Finances

Sponsorship by auto firm saves Huntington Beach thousands in rental, purchase fees.

September 07, 2004|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

Nissan's advertising team would probably have a hard time dreaming up a better visual image than its four-wheel-drive pickups cruising Surf City, driven by bronzed lifeguards.

The auto company is providing Huntington Beach with 17 Nissans -- Frontiers, Titans, Xterras and an Armada -- and bailing out the city, which lost its beach vehicles after Chevrolet pulled its sponsorship from 10 Southern California beach communities and organizations in the spring.

In exchange, Nissan gets exposure and free advertising at the beach, which will have about 8 million visitors this year.

Lifeguard towers in Huntington Beach will soon sport the Nissan logo, and the company name is printed on rows of beach volleyball nets.

"We've just sort of become a fabric of the beach, but not in a typical over-the-top sponsorship type of way," said Mike Grollman, Nissan's senior manager of marketing.

"You might see a message on the back of a lifeguard tower here and there, but it's about letting the product speak for itself."

That's a small price for the cash-strapped city to pay, said Kyle Lindo, marine safety chief.

For the few months in which Chevrolet was pulling its cars, and before the two-year deal with Nissan was struck, the city spent roughly $30,000 renting vehicles, Lindo said. It is saving an additional $300,000 or more now that it doesn't have to buy a new fleet.

Nissan began sponsoring Los Angeles County beaches in 1995.

With much fanfare, they rolled out their fleet of 60 trucks and SUVs as "Baywatch" star Brooke Burns led the parade.

Eventually, Chevy renegotiated its vehicle deals with Seal Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, San Clemente, Solana Beach, Imperial Beach, Orange and San Diego counties and state lifeguards. Only Huntington Beach moved to Nissan as a sponsor.

"Right now, we don't have plans to expand beyond that," Grollman said. "When you look at some of our ads out there, it is about going out and living life, engaging and being active. So this is a natural environment for our vehicles."

Huntington Beach is the backdrop for the U.S. Open of Surfing, the X Games and high-profile Assn. of Volleyball Professional matches.

Throughout all the events -- and year-round -- lifeguards are patrolling the 3.5-mile stretch of beaches.

The vehicles are used as ambulances that can roll through the sand to transport emergency equipment and lifeguards.

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