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Toyota Seeks Warmer Reception for Tundra

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LOS ANGELES Toyota Motor Sales is reinforcing its entry into the Nascar Craftsman Truck Series with a four-spot push for the Tundra from Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi. The third ad of the series breaks Monday, the agency said.

Called "Morning Ritual", the spot begins with racing fans remotely asking questions of driver Darrell Waltrip. Two young males ask, "Dear Darrell: Do you actually use the products you endorse?" The commercial cuts to Waltrip, patting his Tundra parked in the countryside, affirming that he does. Cutting to wider shots, the ad reveals that he's been pulled over by six highway patrol cars. The ads end with the tag, "Brought to you by Toyota, the newest member of the truck series, and proud of it," and an animation of Waltrip's autograph.

"Trucks are all about authenticity and getting the job done," said Max Godsil, associate creative director at the Torrance, Calif., agency, whose first spot in the campaign showed Waltrip tearing up the yard of a fan who admitted booing him. "Darrell has a long and tumultuous relationship with Nascar. Fans used to wear T-shirts reading, 'I hate cold women, warm beer and Darrell Waltrip.' He was the up-and-coming bad boy who unseated their idols. Gradually, he became enormously popular. So we didn't have to be creative about him; we used his persona."

For example, Waltrip kidded when arriving on location that to be realistic, the spot "should have 50 cop cars," said Richard Bendetti, producer. "He's a smart guy who gets advertising. He understands what we were going for, which is nothing overscale."

Bendetti said that despite being shot in California, with pickups from a North Carolina track, the locations are meant to be "Anywhere, USA," with the potential to appear as Nascar's home turf. "We felt strongly that we should cheat it for the South," he said.

"As the first new player at Nascar in 50 years, we've tried to be sensitive to the history," said Les Unger, Toyota's national motor sports marketing manager in Torrance. "We told Saatchi we have two objectives: Generate awareness, but do it in a proper manner. Darrell plays into our authenticity in a huge way."

Unger said Toyota regards the U.S. market as vital, especially for the full-size truck. He said that while Toyota commands 11 percent of all domestic vehicle sales, it owns only 4 percent of the large-truck market. The Nascar sponsorship dovetails with a marketing strategy to warm American perceptions of Toyota as a truck brand.

Unger pointed out that the Tundra is produced entirely at Toyota's Princeton, Ind., plant; another factory is being built in San Antonio. "We want Toyota and its driving teams to be seen as part of the family," he said.

Toyota spent $45 million advertising the Tundra in 2003, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.