Toyota is touting its Sienna 2011 as a sporty, not-your-parents' version of a minivan with a new Webisode series running on MSN.com.
Frenemies, as the show is called, launched this month and is part of the larger "Mommy Like. Daddy Like." campaign designed to promote Toyota's new model as both "sleeker" and "sportier." In doing so, the automaker is challenging the notion that minivans are typically driven by uncool parents for family trips.
The series was produced in collaboration with MSN's global custom solutions team. Saatchi & Saatchi and Science + Fiction worked on creative and production. The plot centers on an attorney and mother-of-two, Lori Logan, who encounters her childhood "nemesis" after moving to the suburbs when her husband gets a new job. That nemesis -- Joy Hardwick-Atherton, played by Chasing Amy star Joey Lauren Adams -- is now the top real estate broker in town. She does everything from volunteer to teach spinning classes, and by comparison makes every other woman in the neighborhood look lame. The storyline revolves around how these two women try to outdo each other while still finding time for themselves as busy moms.
Toyota, which began selling the minivan in February, interweaves product placements throughout. For example, Lori's husband Bob gets her a 2011 Sienna at the start of the series.
Toyota, which spent $51 million in the first four months advertising its Sienna nameplate, said the Webisodes are targeted at consumers who like "bite-sized" mobile and Web content. The Sienna customer is also "highly wired and in-sync with technology," so utilizing social and digital media channels helps tap into that buzz, Toyota said.
"Frenemies has given us an opportunity to sustain the post-launch conversation and continue to build awareness," said Kim Kyaw, Toyota's U.S. interactive media and strategy manager. The series, which runs through early November, is currently available on MSN.com and the Frenemies mobile site, but Toyota is also considering putting it on venues like Hulu and YouTube. New episodes launch on a "rolling basis." The series is getting support via promotional placements on the MSN home page, and there is a Frenemies Facebook app that lets users participate in the storyline by playing the part of a "scandalous new neighbor."
Other interactive elements include a blog written by the show's two "frenemies," which centers on mommy escapades and a downloadable, click-activated Sienna "ABC" flashcard set that highlights the vehicle's new features. The Sienna 2011 has Bluetooth connectivity ("B"), cruise control ("C") and a dual moonroof ("D"), for instance.
This isn't the first time the automaker has partnered with Microsoft for branded content. The two previously collaborated on an unscripted show, Appetite for Life, which featured chef Andrew Zimmern traveling across the U.S. in a Toyota Venza. Citing the success of that program, Toyota decided to develop another online show, the company said.
Toyota last year shelled out $586 million in measured media advertising, a drop of 29.3 percent from 2008, per Nielsen. (Figures do not include online spending.)