Ad of the Day: Toyota Honors Dads With a Pair of Short Documentaries for Father’s Day

Quietly poignant work from Saatchi L.A.

After its paternal score in the Super Bowl, Toyota steers the conversation back to dads with two short Father's Day films from Saatchi and Saatchi Los Angeles. The carmaker is also erecting an "I (Heart) Dad" monument next week on Southern California's Santa Monica Beach Pier.

One of the films, "Father's Day Reunion," follows 20-something Phil Eastman, whose parents divorced when he was 8, and who last spent Father's Day with his dad 15 years ago. Toyota chose Eastman from hundreds of on-the-street interviews it conducted last month in Los Angeles, and sent him on a surprise visit to see his father, a latter-day cowboy type who lives in dusty Hyattville, WyO. (population: 75).

During the film, the perspective shifts between Eastman and his dad, as both share their feelings about their relationship. "I didn't have a lot of time to spend with him growing up," Eastman says. "My dad always reached out, but I sort of pulled away." As an adult, Eastman is "still kind of wondering … who he is in my life."

His dad, an environmentally conscious dude who lives on an expansive ranch-style property, says, "We've always been close, but there were times when we had some big gaps."

These days, "every time I see my dad," Eastman says, "it feels like I'm coming back home." Getting together helps both men shed baggage so they can enjoy each other's company in the here and now.

Though heartfelt, such pronouncements are far from tear-jerkers. Throughout, we get the impression that these guys are simply sharing their feelings in honest, unfettered fashion. The lack of overt drama adds depth and meaning to their interactions.

Director Ivan Cash's low-key, naturalistic style is especially effective. Often, he focuses on seemingly insignificant details, like a horseshoe or a steer's head hanging on a wall, or Eastman's quiet contemplation as he packs for his trip. This keeps the film firmly grounded, and gives it a universality other forays into similar territory sometimes lack. (Hallmark's recent Mother's Day campaign comes to mind. Though powerful in its way, it feels far more manipulative than Toyota's more casual, cinema verité approach.)

Cash also directed the street interviews from which Eastman was chosen. That footage forms the basis of the second film, "Father's Day Redo." As in "Reunion," the straightforwardness of the presentation keeps things from getting overly sentimental. Random folks answer questions about Father's Day, with most conceding they're not sure when the holiday rolls around or admitting they didn't get their dads a present last year. (The campaign turns on the insight that Americans spend $7.4 billion less on Father's Day gifts than they spend on Mother's Day. One guy, at least in his 20s, says he painted a smiley face on a rock last year to honor his dad.)

The subjects reveal what their dads mean to them. One young woman says her father sacrificed for the family by working long hours at "crappy jobs," while another notes that her dad calls her at the same time every day. The everyday nature of the comments make them all the more poignant; over-the-top revelations wouldn't work nearly as well. Ultimately, the interviewees phone their dads to express their thanks, but somehow, these impromptu "I love yous" avoid sounding mawkish or overblown.

For the most part, Toyota takes a backseat in both films, allowing viewers to infer the brand's role as a mode of transportation that helps make important journeys possible.

Extending the Father's Day theme into the physical world, Toyota commissioned D.J. Neff to design a 15-foot-tall wooden "I (Heart) Dad" monument, which will be unveiled next Tuesday on Santa Monica Pier, where it will remain through June 22. (Thanks to Instaprint technology, visitors will be able to instantly print their Instagram photos at the site by adding the campaign's #OneBoldChoice hashtag.)

The monument and films echo the automaker's memorable "My Bold Dad" Super Bowl commercial for Camry, which showed a father driving his daughter to the airport as she begins her hitch in the U.S. Army.

"We were excited to hear that we really got Americans to think about their dads during this year's Super Bowl," says Toyota group vp of marketing Jack Hollis. "What better way to continue that connection than by starting a timely, new conversation on Father's Day."

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