Gnome Drives Toyota TV Spots

For the first time in its 25 year-relationship with Toyota Motor Sales, Saatchi & Saatchi has not created an overall theme for its new model-year advertising. But if it had, it might very well be “and a little gnome shall lead them.”

The shop’s 2001 model-year cars and trucks launch begins this week with the debut of 10 new spots that run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous, especially the four Tundra truck ads starring a 14-inch concrete lawn gnome.

The multimodel launch is the first Toyota advertising the agency has done since chief creative officer Steve Rabosky joined in late July.

In all, the five models promoted in the spots—the full-size Tundra, the compact Tacoma, the Japanese car maker’s flagship Camry sedan, the upscale Avalon sedan and the Sienna minivan—represent 65 percent of the car maker’s annual sales volume and half of its $550 million-plus ad spending.

The Tundra spots, said Saatchi Scott Gilbert, CEO, were designed to counter “the perception that [import trucks] are not as rough and tough as domestic trucks. We created a character to capture the attitude of guys who ride trucks.”

Enter the gnome, nameless in the spots, who demonstrates various Tundra benefits, such as ground clearance and towing capacity. Personified by a gruff voiceover, the gnome talks to his driver (“Bob”) about various Tundra features.

In one spot, for example, the gnome stands in the middle of the road while a Tundra roars past him. “To you, it’s ground clearance,” he says. “To me, it’s head room.”

In another ad, the gnome stands in the back of the pickup and talks about the heat: “Remember when you put me under your armpit? That’s how hot it is out here.”

Two new commercials for the compact Tacoma truck playfully explain how tough the drivers of that vehicle have to be.

Toughness is “almost a point of entry” in this category, said Rabosky. In one such spot, several campers disembark from a Tacoma and chase two bears away from their salads.

For Camry, the best-selling car in the U.S., the spot called “Ladies’ Man” humorously shows how the sedan has all the attributes a woman wants: commitment, family values, loyalty, etc. Another touts the “bestselling” claim.

A new Avalon spot dramatically shows how the luxury sedan’s vehicle skid control helps drivers navigate wet roads successfully. A poignant commercial for the Sienna minivan features real kids talking about being in accidents.

Ads for Toyota’s new sport utility vehicles, including the eight-passenger Sequoia, will break later this year and early 2001.