Some Hits, Some Misses at Toyota Motor

 Toyota Motor Sales USA certainly seems to be rocking and rolling again after several years in the barrel.

The bleak years, lest we forget, were marked by massive recalls, embarrasing Congressional hearings, federal fines, red ink, then compounded by last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Despite lots of dire predictions, the the sky didn’t crash in on the automaker. Toyota, Scion & Lexus are now back in favor with Americans.

The automaker reported selling 1.399 million Toyotas and Scions in the first 8 months of 2012 vs. just 1.07 million a year ago. Lexus sales were up almost 25% in the same period to 150,604 units.

That’s still not as good as the first 8 months of 2007, when the OEM sold 1.569 million Toyotas and Scions, plus 220,000 Lexus vehicles. To be fair the whole industry has been in a funk in the USA for several years. These days, Toyota Motor is motoring right along.

Over the years, the automaker’s advertising hasn’t been much to crow about. The three brands have sold lots of new vehicles IN SPITE of their so-so advertising. But there’s a couple of bright spots of late.

Let’s start with Lexus, which has used some of the most mind-numbing ads in the luxury car segment pretty much since this new century has started. That’s such a shame for the brand that bowed in the ’80s with some of the industry’s most memorable ads. Remember the champagne glasses balancing quietly on the idling car’s hood?

For the launch of the new 2013 ES and first ES Hybrid comes this gem, called “Split World”

Bravo! This commercial from longtime Lexus agency Team One is one of the best from the brand in a long time. It’s visually arresting, almost forcing you to watch. The montage portrays modernism, cool technology and luxury. And the whole premise actually make s sense: “Introducing a reason to look twice.” It’s not loaded with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo or list of features, which most people will just go online to find out anyway.

But Lexus isn’t quite out of the woods. How could a brand that got it so right with that spot get it so wrong with another ES launch commercial? Check this one out, dubbed “Future Unfolded”

Isn’t it amazing how different the two spots are? This one is simply lame. Lexus said this is one of 3 spots targeting African-Americans, Hispanics and the LGBT crowds. This commercial tries too hard to be cool and young- two words not readily associated with Lexus. Why are all those young folks inside the ES and dancing around it? One place the Lexus ES won’t be taking these hip people is to a night club. They are no where near in age to the actual Lexus owner base.

You can’t fool people about this either. One sharp YouTuber noted: “That’s funny…I didn’t see any old people” in this ad.

The scrip writing is forced in this commercial. especially this line from the narrator, actor Jim Remar, “with technology and style to match your achievements and desires.” Whoa! That’s quite lofty and presumptuous of Lexus to think it knows what people’s desires are. Those lines are just wasting time and space in the ad.

Lexus is taking a page from its younger cousin Scion with a social media push reaching out to start-up innovators, offering four of them each the chance to get $100,000 in seed money for their products. Voting is on a custom Facebook app.

The ES also becomes the first car with a brand page on mobile Flipboard. This is a smarter way to reach a younger audience.

OK. Let’s move onto the Toyota brand.

It’s been a while since Toyota has done any meaningful national advertising for its full-size Tundra pickup. Back in 2007, Toyota spent more that $100 million to launch the then-redone, more competitive Tundra in hopes of selling 200,000 that year. At the time that was Toyota’s biggest-ever launch.

But Tundra still takes a back seat to Detroit’s truck iron, selling only 65,600 Tundras in the first 8 months of 2012.

Toyota is beating the drums again for the pickup, starting with a multi-media push this month about how the Tundra will tow “an American icon live before the whole world” on Oct. 13.

Yup, the Tundra will haul the space shuttle Endeavour for the last leg of its trip from Los Angeles International Airport on city streets to the California Science Center. It’s a big deal since a stock, 1/2-ton, 2012 Tundra CrewMax will be used to tow the 145-ton shuttle.

Toyota’s ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, handled the deal with the Science Center to show off the Tundra’s toughness and towing abilities.

Here’s the promo, just one of lots of videos for the effort


Toyota is encouraging people to follow the Tundra’s adventure online at People can sign up for e-mail updates. Toyota will donate $50 to the Science Center for every Tweet on Twitter about the tow.

There’s just one little detail that’s almost glossed over in Toyota’s hype about this feat. The pickup is only going to tow the space shuttle the last quarter mile of its 12-mile trip to the Science Center!!

Doesn’t all this hoopla seem a bit too much for that?

Meantime, the Toyota Division just announced it is dropped its “Moving Forward”  ad tag after 8 years. That’s great news! That line was nothing but a corporate-driven theme from on high that really had little to do with the brand. Not only that, it’s generic and could have been used for lots of car brands.

I’ll bet 9 out of 10 Americans could NOT identify “Moving Forward” as Toyota’s ad tag since 2004, even after millions of dollars of advertising. Get this: back in 2004, Toyota exec Jim Lentz admitted that the brand’s “Oh, what a feeling”  tag, which showed owners jumping for joy, had the most consumer awareness at the time. Makes you wonder why they dropped it in 1986 after 6 years.

Toyota’s new line, “Let’s Go Places,” will bow late this year.

Is it me or does that line also sound very generic and interchangeable with other car brands? Hey, it could also be used for an airline or online travel site for that matter.

Toyota Division’s Bill Fay, group VP-general manager, gave this reasoning, saying the new tag “speaks to the evolution of Toyota and our commitment to leading through innovation, enriching lives and connecting with customers in new ways they define.” He called the tag “energetic, aspirational, inclusive and very versatile” and added “the phrase conveys a dual meaning of physically going places and taking off on an adventure, while also expressing optimism and the promise of exciting innovations that enriches people’s lives.”


I’ll have what he’s having.

It would be better to have NO tag than one that isn’t directly relevant to your brand and only your brand.

But here’s something Toyota IS doing right.  lt has taken testimonial ads to a new level with its new Camry Effect blitz that includes this site at http:/

Billed as “Real Owners. Real Stories,” the site is loaded with tons of great input from actual owners. The site has interesting factoids: 79% of Camry owners know how to change a tire and 82% prefer an automatic. Camry has some of the most loyal owners in the industry and millions of them.

Toyota actually introduced the “Camry Effect” social media site a year ago as part of the launch for the redone 2012 model. But back then, the site was more of a stand-alone, really just the digital part of the Camry’s multi-media launch. Toyota figured out earlier this year a better way to marry the fan site with its more traditional media. Here’s the latest TV spot that arrived this month

Testimonial ads are nothing new in car advertising, but THIS is smart advertising and sets the bar for the industry.

(This post appeared recently in CNW’s monthly, subscriber-only newsletter)

MAKING TRACKS: Congrats to Kathy Speck, who joined Chevrolet’s ad agency, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, as associate creative director. Chevy Runs Deep for Speck, who spent 26 years at Campbell-Ewald working as a creative on Chevrolet and other brands before she started doing work for McCann in 2011 as a freelance creative.

MORE TRACKS: General Motors moved Molly Peck back to Chevrolet as US ad director from the same post at Cadillac for about 18 months. We have high hopes for Peck, who oversaw Cadillac’s most interesting advertising in a few years – for the ATS launch. Before her move to Caddy last year, Peck was Chevy’s national ad manager for 4 years, but her experience at the bow-tie brand includes assistant brand manager of marketing for the now-defunct Cavalier.

Follow me, Jean Halliday, on LinkedIn, Facebook and

On Twitter: @jhal2001


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