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$175 Mil. Relaunch for Camry

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LOS ANGELES The largest relaunch in Toyota's history began in earnest yesterday with the debut of 60- and 30-second spots for the redesigned Camry, the company said.

Estimated ad spending is more than $175 million, topping the introduction of the Camry in 2001. Last year, the automaker spent $75 million advertising the model, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

"It is the franchise," said client corporate manager of marketing communications Kim McCollough. "We're trying to surprise and inspire people. It will appeal to current owners and talk about things they don't expect to have in a Camry, speaking to potential new owners and fence-sitters."

The theme of the first commercials, as expressed in a voiceover, is "When does a car become more?" McCullough said. "I love the way humanity is brought into the shot in an unexpected way."

Centered on the carmaker's factory floor in Kentucky, the spots show American workers assembling Camrys.

"We looked at Camry being America's favorite car and asked, 'How do we tell America that we made the car better without thumping our chest?' " said Harvey Marco, executive creative director at Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif. "It is not in the brand's culture to say, 'Aren't we great?' So we asked the question, 'When does a car become more?' and built everything from that part forward, going from sheet metal to the emotional, bringing humanity into play."

"The challenge with Camry is that it is dramatically improved and transformed, but everyone thinks they know it," said Mark Turner, Saatchi's director of planning. "They get somewhat inured to the 'new' message. So we're surprising people to get noticed."

New marketing methods for the brand will emphasize particular features, said John Lisko, Saatchi director of strategic communications. These include floor clings in the allergy-medication aisles of major drugstore chains boasting of the Camry's "plasmacluster" ion generator for better interior air, and sponsorship of Weather.com's pollen-count reporting.

Mixing large and small scale, the agency is also lining up "takeovers" of prominent mass transit locations such as Columbus Circle in New York, in which Camry will dominate all signage, and created a microsite for sponsored-gaming using PDAs.

Unusual aspects of the introduction include a prolonged five- to six-month launch and promoting the Camry hybrid alongside the standard models, rather than separately. "That's very different for Toyota," Lisko said. "Typically it has been two months of very intense advertising."

"I see the vehicle reaching 500,000 units a year eventually," said Todd Turner, principal analyst with Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif. "The new Camry will continue to lead the segment, which will continue to grow because of it. It won't necessarily take more from competitors."

Turner said the Camry would compete in the most hotly contested part of the market, against Nissan's Altima, Chevrolet's Malibu, Ford's Fusion, the Mazda 6, a new Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Stratus and perpetual runner-up Honda Accord. "There will be a lot of action with the new Kia Optima coming out in the fall and the relatively recent [Hyundai] Sonata. They brought the Toyota out early. But they are not just going to walk away in the segment."

Turner said the smartest move Toyota made was to "listen to every customer who ever bought a Camry and make one for them. There's six different flavors for individual buyers. And it's not just trim packages. It's not the same flavor of ice cream with different sprinkles, but different flavors of ice cream—not ignoring that vanilla is still the number one seller."

McCollough said a "more robust site" for the Camry also goes online today. Print begins this Friday and outdoor goes up April 12. Print executions are divided between visually oriented ads for books such as Vogue and copy-heavy spreads for more reader-focused magazines.

Camry ended last year up 1 percent in unit sales with 432,000, according to Car Concepts.