Toyota Marks Path to Freedom

For Toyota, the path to freedom this month isn’t an open road navigated by a high-powered vehicle. It’s the courageous, arduous journey made by one African American in a wooden crate.

Created by Saatchi & Saatchi to celebrate Black History Month, a new Toyota print ad tells the story of Henry Brown, a black man who in 1849 packed himself in a 3-foot-by-2-foot wooden crate for a 24-hour trip to freedom, traveling from Virginia to an anti-slavery office in Philadelphia.

The ad is running in such publications as Black Enterprise, American Visions and Jet.

The effort also highlights Toyota’s support of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, an interactive learning facility due to open in 2004 in Cincinnati.

“The goal is to pay tribute to black people who have made major achievements in the past, and for Toyota to publicize its support to African Americans,” said Scott Gilbert, CEO of Saatchi in Torrance, Calif.

The commitment to diversity is not new for Toyota, said Gilbert, pointing to past efforts that have included African American pioneers such as Garrett Morgan, inventor of the automated traffic signal.

While the budget for this effort could not be determined, the car maker spends an estimated $7 million annually on diversity advertising through Saatchi. Overall, the Toyota account is budgeted at roughly $530 million annually. (The Torrance agency also works with Toyota dealer associations as well as the main Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. account.)

In recognizing Black History Month, the agency sought to tell a story rather than put together what Saatchi senior account executive Paul Goncalves called an “obligatory ad” announcing Toyota’s support of the freedom center.

Notably absent from the work is any depiction of a Toyota car or any plug for the automaker beyond its name and logo and a note about its sponsorship of the center. The idea, said Goncalves, was to keep the focus on Black History Month.

The main illustration in the ad is a wooden crate along with a smaller image depicting Brown emerging from it. The accompanying text recounts his journey.

Although the ad was initially slated to appear only in February, the run was extended through the end of the year, based on reaction from African Americans.