Selling Toyota's convertible with a nod to 'Thelma & Louise'
Lots of spots are set in offices these days, but that genre (which I've dubbed film beige) tends to make cube life seem so dull and boring that getting fast food for lunch is the high point. (The tedium is the message.)
By contrast, this new Toyota commercial immediately sets itself apart. It offers a recognizable figure in the business world that really touches a nerve (if not an entire power plant): the bitchy boss, who happens to be female and middle-aged (double ouchies!).
The archetype, who seems to have awakened on this particular morning on the wrong side of her latte, sits at an enormous architectural table (much cooler, design-wise, than a regular desk) with her freshly coiffed hair and sharp suit, and starts right in on haranguing the junior employee.
"This-isn't-what-we-talked-about-at-all!" she says, picking up steam for the drubbing. "What were you thinking with this typeface? Were you even in the same meeting? This is too small. I don't like yellow! Legal is never going to go for this! Make the logo bigger!" (An inside joke on presenting work to the client perhaps?)
The young woman on the other side of the table sits back and looks blank. Motionless and clueless, she gets more passive as the verbal assault keeps coming.
But then something of a shocker happens: The enormous industrial-type table (complete with the lovely offering of morning croissants in a tasteful basket) starts folding in on the boss until poor Cruella disappears under it. It turns out the woman on the receiving end of the abuse is putting the top down on her Solara and imagining the scene with her own dream ending, courtesy of her convertible.
The table mimicking the folding convertible top is a brainy visual device, illuminating a powerful point that the Saatchi creatives took from focus groups of convertible owners: Once the top goes down, your cares are carried away. (Of course, sometimes you pack up your troubles and they travel with you, but that's a different story.)
The getting-back-at-the-boss scenario is not a new one, but it's usually presented in much cruder fashion. (An old Reebok commercial with a woman lobbing tennis balls at her male boss's face comes to mind.) The escaping-the-office scenario also has been done in "Bubble Boy," for Volkswagen's convertible, but that didn't have the revenge element.
And the revenge is indeed swift and cruel. The tagline for this fantasy is, "The all-new Solara convertible. The perfect getaway car." The visual is commanding because it's full of symbolic codes—props to Saatchi for not being afraid to get all semiotic on us.
First, there's the Wicked Witch of the West reference. Though her face isn't green and she's wearing Armani, the boss sinks under the floorboards ("I'm melting!"). (The set was built on an eight-foot platform, and the table retracted into the floor, as did the boss lady. Which is exactly how they do the melting scene in staged versions of The Wizard of Oz. Ding dong.) Now contrast Cruella, stuck underground with no room to move, with the junior, who's free to light out and break on through to the other side.
That's where the Thelma & Louise scenario comes in. The tagline uses the word "getaway," as in "outlaw." Would there have been a movie without the convertible? No, because it was a key part of the liberation process, offering the feeling of freedom and the possibility of re-creating yourself on the open road. (Of course, T&L ended up dead, but that's a minor point.)
As to whether the spot is unfair to women: It is an unfortunate stereotype. Certainly the working world is full of women who are great bosses and mentors, and the bitch plays into the Martha Stewart thing that male executives are allowed to be ambitious, aggressive and confrontational—it's a normal part of business—but women aren't. Isn't some compassion for Cruella in order? On Six Feet Under, there was the nightmare Hollywood producer who terrorized Nat's wife, Lisa, who at the time had the misfortune to work as the woman's flunky private chef. Every now and then she demanded an entire chocolate cake and would take it under a tented sheet on her bed, where she would eat it and sob.
But in the larger picture, a brow-beating boss is a gender-free entity. I think both men and women can see themselves on either side of the table. (And the fact that the underling is also a woman does take the sexual politics out of it.) It's pretty impressive to make the scenario pop—and see the boss get popped—in 20 seconds.
While the spot is memorable and clever, and brilliantly sells the idea of the convertible, I have one cavil: It doesn't sell the idea of the Solara in particular. I hate to say it, but wasn't there some metaphorical way to make the logo bigger?
Saatchi & Saatchi,
Executive creative director
Tool of North America