Toyota Readies Series for Mobile Phones

NEW YORK Toyota is spending more than $10 million to create and promote a comedy series designed specifically for multimedia mobile phones. The effort will feature the 2007 Camry, and the program’s creators claim it’s the first branded entertainment series created for the video-phone medium.

In what’s believed to be another first, Toyota is also buying spots on broadcast and cable TV (including Fox, ABC and BET) that showcase the new Camry and promote the comedy series. The ads and the series share some of the same cast members.

Publicis-owned Burrell Communications created the ads and worked with several Los Angeles-based companies, including Fun Little Movies, a mobile phone content producer and distributor, branded entertainment firm Nanmade Entertainment and producer Alturas Films. Filmmaker Malcolm Lee, working with Alturas, directed the comedy series.

The series is targeted at young urban influencers that the carmaker hopes will pass along the mobile episodes to a wider audience. The Camry is displayed prominently in the series, which even highlights some of the car’s new features. But Brad Gillingham, CEO of Fun Little Movies, said the messaging is subtle and the focus is on entertaining.

“The target market is young connecteds,” said Gillingham. “They use technology as a way of empowering themselves, so if they perceive that this is nothing but a commercial, the game is up right there. They will tune out. The whole premise of this is to entertain,” and to associate the Camry brand with a good time, he said. “Comedy is the best way to do that. It’s the most viral form of content.”

The mobile series itself is said to be one of the first original programs created specifically for video-enabled phones and sponsored by a major advertiser.

The series, called The Pool, will debut Aug. 9 and be accessible to about 1 million users of Sprint/Nextel video-enabled phones. It’s part of the broader market campaign for the 2007 Camry.

Each show in the mobile phone series (technically, they aren’t “mobisodes,” a term that was trademarked by Fox when it created one-minute episodes of 24 for the video cell phone market) is two-minutes long. Ten episodes are planned for the series.

Distributor FLM will also provide Toyota with detailed metrics on how the series is consumed, said Gillingham, noting that “we can track how many times a particular piece of video is displayed” on the mobile phones.

Creating content for video phones is still a fledging business. The two most talked about examples are Fox’s spinoffs of 24 and Prison Break. But as more consumers buy video phones, the market for original mobile video series is expected to grow. “It’s one of the directions that the business is heading toward as we all look for unique ways to position products in the marketplace,” said Nancy Galen, who heads Nanmade Entertainment.

Galen’s company has a distribution deal for original content with FLM. She reached out to Burrell and the two companies jointly came up with the creative content for the series, she said. Burrell of Chicago and Atlanta did not return calls for comment.