With a Stripped-Down Message, Toyota Moves Toward Next Phase of Advertising

Carmaker's U.S. marketer looks to its playbook from 2008

jan the toyota spokeswoman
Toyota spokesperson Laurel Coppock opens new ads for the brand. Toyota

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The latest figures for just about any industry are grim as the next phases of the COVID-19 pandemic become more apparent. No sector is emerging unscathed, and the automotive category is acutely exposed as people stay home and away from showrooms.

Every auto manufacturer is seeing sharp first-quarter sales drops, with Fiat Chrysler tumbling 10% and General Motors sinking 7%, according to the most recent data. For its part, Toyota was in a similar situation with a 9% lag in sales in the quarter. But what is most telling, and likely an ominous harbinger of what’s to come, is the brand reported an overall sales drop of 37% in March.

At this point, most automakers, Toyota included, have been pivoting their messages in a similar vein to 2008’s financial crisis. The first phase of this new crisis for Toyota was a simple, community-based message of confidence. In phase two, launching today, the brand is beginning to move into a more specific territory. Two ads from Saatchi & Saatchi revolve around a 90-day deferment program and its service centers, which have created contactless services for customers.

Laurel Coppock, the actor who plays spokesperson Jan, appears is front and center in the new campaign.

“[Having Coppock in the ads] gives it instant credibility and recognizability,” said Ed Laukes, Toyota North America’s marketing group vice president. “She’s the trusted face of Toyota.”

While the ads are for the broader market, the brand has created some flexibility (about 20 seconds) so that regional groups and local dealers can insert their own messaging, whether it’s about a service message or anything else happening in individual markets. According to Laukes, a Maryland dealer group, for example, is running blood drives out of its showrooms.

As Toyota’s messaging evolves, Laukes notes that the brand continues to see how the pandemic affects the global economy and, specifically, the parent company in Japan. Based on the changing dynamics, Toyota will then determine the next steps in how it communicates through its advertising.

“Some of the Detroit brands came out immediately with 0% financing for 84 months,” noted Laukes. “That’s not our strategy, and we don’t think messages like that are appropriate right now.”

Perhaps a silver lining in the current situation is recent history. All automakers struggled during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.

“The industry halved overnight,” noted Laukes. “There was no playbook, so everybody learned very quickly and learned how to come back to life over time. The one advantage I think we have in this scenario is there is a runway. We can’t forecast when things will change, but there will come a time when we’ll move into the next phases. This is when the market will start coming back, and what comes from Toyota will be very strong.”

@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.