Toyota’s Got Game and ‘Mobisodes’

LOS ANGELES Toyota Motor Sales launches its new youth-oriented economy nameplate Yaris today with an integrated campaign from Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi.

The effort includes traditional media plus “mobisodes” (video clips that play over high-speed mobile phones) and interactive banner ad games allowing multiple players to control dueling Yaris models.

Both Saatchi’s commercials and seven 10-second mobisodes, which build to a two-minute grand finale, were created through the agency by a London-based digital media boutique, Tokyo Plastic. The mobisodes, which sponsor original content back-story downloads for the Fox television show Prison Break, feature cartoonish Yaris fights with Matrix-like machinery. The battles are set against clean white backgrounds, a computer-animated look reminiscent of Pixar’s Luxo Jr. short.

“In this entire campaign, creative and media blur the line,” said David Murphy, president of Saatchi in Torrance, Calif. “Anyone who says TV is dead, hold the phone: There’s your TV.”

In one spot touting the Yaris’ 40 mpg fuel economy, a menacing tarantula machine made up of gas-pump spigots withers before the vehicle, which runs it over, sucks up its pool of petroleum “blood,” belches and zooms off.

“This new franchise for Toyota brings more youth into the brand,” said Murphy. “Toyota wants a third of the sales to be to people under 30 years old. And for the Yaris to have true youth credentials, the behavior of the brand is even more important than what the brand says about itself.” In other words, Murphy explained, Yaris has to “show up on the streets, on line, in the customer’s world.”

The launch budget was undisclosed. Toyota spent $780 million advertising in 2005, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Saatchi executive creative director Harvey Marco hired Peter Kang from Arc Worldwide in February for the sort of computer-generated sound-and-picture gestalt represented by the campaign.

Kang, named director of interactive and emerging technology, founded the interactive development company Kioken and developed game content, landing on the board of the Evolution video game tournaments, of which Yaris is now the title sponsor.

Kang was instrumental, Marco said, in developing the campaign’s numerous game connections, mobisodes and other cutting-edge elements.

“The work should not just be cool,” Kang said, “but meaningful and relevant. We’re out to be part of the popular culture. It’s not marketing but shifting and influence popular culture, to contribute, not clutter.”

Kang said the Yaris launch “kick starts Toyota’s gaming strategy.” The title sponsorship (“Evolution . . . powered by Yaris”) of the Evolution Fighting Championships in July and August, which Kang said is the largest console fighting tournament in the country, is Toyota’s first foray into tourney gaming. Toyota is putting up a $20,000 cash prize for a contest at DigiPen, a video game development school, for the best Yaris cell phone game.

To clearly distinguish and prevent cannibalization between Yaris and Toyota’s other youth brand, Scion, Saatchi creatives met with the Scion division as well as its agency, Attic in San Francisco. “We see the Scion as more urban and street, and personalization and customization,” Marco said. “The creative positions Yaris as not being highbrow, or overtly cool—it’s not clubby. We’re showcasing design, simplicity and practicality.”

Marco said he and Kang presented their work to Scion in an informal roundtable forum, “drawing a line in the sand. We’re creating a voice for this particular vehicle that resonates with everyone in a youthful way,” said Marco. “It’s aesthetically pleasing design within reach. And the distinctive media approaches are a big differentiator.”