Toyota Appeals to the Emotions

LOS ANGELES When Toyota Motor Sales said last week that it was changing taglines as well as strategic direction [Adweek Online, Sept. 28], the move reinforced what one car executive called “the trend du jour”—ads with more emotional appeal and less pure product pitches.

Two of Toyota’s 60-second ads chart the change of direction. In the spot “Wheel,” a disengaged tire rolls past familiar American scenes such as kids playing street hockey, people working in an office and a man exercising. In “California Dream,” a young woman with her first Camry packs up in Texas and takes a sentimental journey West. “Moving forward” is the tagline.

Jim Lentz, group vice president of marketing at the Torrance, Calif., automaker, said Toyota’s shift coincides with the growth of Internet research, where shoppers are increasingly looking for their rational details.

“The OEMs have become more aggressive about putting information out there and linking it to third parties like Edmunds,” said Chuck Maguy, communications planning director at Toyota’s shop, Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance.

Maguy said that in December 2002, Nielsen Media Research tracking showed 678,000 unique visitors on Toyota’s Web site; by July 2004, visits led the industry that month at more than 1.6 million.

“We have to use the individual media channels wisely,” said Steve Robosky, chief creative officer. “TV is not the best place to be throwing out nuts and bolts. Now consumers have control over the rational side.”

“We’re looking at TV and asking, ‘What does it do best?’ ” said Rabosky. “People want to be entertained, touched emotionally. That’s how you can influence the predisposition, make them like the brand.”

“Toyota has mastered the vehicle as an appliance,” said Rex Smith, analyst at AutoPacific, Tustin, Calif. “They are emoting for a reason. They need to establish a stronger emotional bond.”

Others attribute the potentially sweeping change to the liberating effect of all cars getting better.

“The quality gap has narrowed, but also the deal gap has narrowed,” said Tom Peyton, senior manager, national advertising, American Honda Motors, Torrance, acknowledging that the emotional ad movement is well underway via its agency, independent RPA in Santa Monica, Calif. “We’re trying hard to manage our brand, so you’ll see less rebate [and] retail-oriented ads from us. We can take the high road because of our brand bank account. We now have the luxury of doing ads that convey emotion, which in the long term does more for you than price.”

Honda’s ’05-model transition—evidenced most dramatically in ads for the Element [Adweek, Sept. 27], which went from mechanically assembling parts to show the various configurations to soft guitars and selling the dream of outdoor adventures—can also be seen in “Mix” for the Civic Hybrid. In that 30-second spot, paint, DJ’s turntables, mating horses and cross-pollinated flowers lead up to one, brief product shot and the tagline, “The perfect mix of fuel efficiency and performance.”

To sell the “five-star crash safety-rated Civic Coupe,” an accelerating tarantella accompanies a montage showing the impacts suffered by boxers, bowling pins, subway jostlers, baseball bats and hockey players—everything but the car, which again makes a cameo appearance in the final shot.

“Certain cars have so much content in them, it has to rise to the top,” said David Smith, creative director at RPA. “Other brands need a little halo. They’re more specialized, so we’ll go more visual in style and in humor.”