Waltrip Returns in Saatchi Q&A for Tundra

LOS ANGELES Two spots in the series of Toyota Tundra ads from Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi featuring Nascar racer Darryl Waltrip break tonight on The Late Show with Letterman in anticipation of Sunday’s Daytona 500 competition, the agency said.

Following the Waltrip-signature series established when Toyota joined the Nascar truck series in 2004, both spots feature questions from Waltrip fans and the driver’s comically illustrated fantasy answers. The ads were produced by Saatchi’s Richard Bendetti, directed by MJZ principal Rocky Morton, edited by Rick Lawley and shot by Sal Totino.

In “Born to Race,” a fan in the Nascar stands asks Waltrip what he’d be doing if he weren’t racing. Contemplating the answer, Waltrip is shown careening through urban streets as a cab, bus and ambulance driver, panicking his passengers as he calmly whistles. A Nascar-series Tundra makes the final shots.

“From Darryl’s perspective, he’s not out to scare anyone,” said Max Godsil, creative director (copy) at the Torrance, Calif., shop. “In his warped mind, he thinks he’s doing the jobs better by getting the passengers to their destinations faster.”

In “Hollywood,” a female fan suggests that Waltrip might be “going Hollywood” with his new found celebrity. Waltrip answers by crashing a movie premiere, using the Tundra to muscle sedans out of the way, then stepping onto the red carpet decked in racing gear.

“The beauty of Nascar celebrities is that they’re the real deal, from humble beginnings,” said Greg Braun, creative director (art) at Saatchi. “We cast Darryl as a Robin Hood sticking up for the average guy, rejecting the fake and shallow. He wouldn’t be caught dead driving a Hummer with gold rims or on Cribs.”

Braun said the Waltrip series has elevated the popularity of the brand as well as the driver. Earlier spots in the series in which Waltrip has, for example, driven through houses and jumped ramps with boats in tow, have tested at 73 percent recall, triple that of a typical Toyota spot. “It’s had an amazing impact,” Braun said. “Obviously, they are resonating beyond the hard-core racing fans.” The “Dear Darryl” theme has caught on in cartoons created independent of the agency, he added.

Godsil said the spots will also run during the Daytona 500, where AOL will be polling audiences about their favorite commercials, like USA Today‘s annual Super Bowl survey. Godsil said the Tundra Nascar spots are “making people feel that Toyota belongs in the sport.”

Torrance-based Toyota more than doubled its spending on Tundra, from $45 million in 2003 to $95 million in 2004, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. As a percentage of Toyota’s $685 million ad budget in 2004, Tundra’s portion has now doubled to 14 percent. Total industry expenditures advertising light trucks have in recent years topped $4 billion.