Saatchi Helps Toyota Gain Ground

LOS ANGELES Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi is representing, for the first time, the nation’s second best-selling car and truck manufacturer.

Last week’s year-end figures confirmed that Toyota Motor Sales had predictably moved ahead of Ford Motor Co. in 2007 with 2.291 million unit sales, compared to Ford’s 2.087 million, per Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif. General Motors still eclipses both, with the nation’s No. 1 brand, Chevrolet, alone topping 2.250 million units.

Kurt Ritter, the ex-GM executive who came to Saatchi & Saatchi’s Torrance, Calif., office in 2003 as CEO said that the entire industry, Toyota included, had been “a little over-optimistic about what the year would yield.”

“Having come from the domestic side, I can tell you there has never been an explicit goal of passing Ford or becoming No. 1,” Ritter said. “Toyota’s success is based on its partnership with dealers and its focus on the customer; it is the result of all the decisions it has made over the course of time.”

Still, Ritter added that Toyota did “exceptionally well with the launch of Tundra.”

At an estimated $300 million in 2007, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, the launch of Toyota’s first full-size truck was the largest marketing campaign in the company’s history. Though it fell shy of Toyota’s ambitious internal sales goal of 200,000, according to sources, the Tundra sold more than 197,000 units, per Car Concepts.

“The product itself was superior,” Ritter said, “and gave the agency the opportunity to tell a story in a truthful and compelling way. We responded to the opportunity and understood the essence of the product and the business objectives. In the end that produced results.”

Ritter said that the agency is well positioned for 2008’s biggest marketing efforts, the relaunch of Sequoia and Corolla, which would take the vehicles “from one generation to another without skipping a beat.”

“Everyone here is inspired about the future,” he added. “Strategically we’re in a much better position, especially with our significant growth in interactive. We’ve broken the barrier of nontraditional/traditional and we’re philosophically aligned as one creative department under [executive creative director] Harvey [Marco].”