advertising and other stuff. no, really.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What’s up with Toyota advertising?

Anyone else want to punch Nathan James in the head? Yeah, I know he’s a kid and violence is a bad thing, but you secretly want to. Toyota is a smart car deserving a consistent message. Post-recall though, they seem to be all over the place. Punny. Safe. More Puns. Serious. Feel good. Tech. Which is it?

They’re one brand that confuses me the most right now. I’ve never had a product I liked so much that I use that also has as many different ad campaigns. Now with the Nathan James work, they seem to be insulting the audience. Coming out of one of the worst recalls an automaker has had to suffer through, the brand had a duty to rebuild trust. As such, it ran the PR damage control playbook to perfection with a series of safety spots, followed up by the everything’s back to normal Swagger wagon campaign.

“I am with Joe. Why would any reasonable PR person produce such a horrid example of indulgence and self centeredness as a marketing tool. I am so embarassed to drive my Highlander given the arrogance of this campaign. It perpetuates a narrow and selfish view of a child who shows not only immense disrespect for his parents but more so, allows them to create a lame lack of regard for Highlander customers. Everytime I see this commercial, I cringe. Shame on you, Toyota!” – mac19211

That’s but one response to Nathan. It’s not that every direction is a fail, I just don’t know where their overall focus is. I could do without cute wordplay, but the general execution on most of the campaign directions is solid, so that’s not it. Glaring omission in some of the helmet to helmet safety work aside, their Ideas For Good is a nice approach for consumers to consider.

It’s too bad it’s being used to deflect attention from the recall – I would have liked to have seen this work before that went down. But I get it. You want people to think you’re safe. I know it’s incredibly difficult for any agency to be given a brand that killed people and told here, help save, protect and regrow it.*

For a brand that got a reality check though, it feels like they may be overcompensating by trying to come off as real a little too much.

Toyota’s ads never talked down to viewers the way they seem to now. Tiny Football League has urban slang the Swagger family would be proud of. When Nathan comes out with “Mad style”  though, aren’t kids supposed to have better rhymes than their unhip parents?

Sure each model has its own voice, and the Highlander doesn’t speak for the entire brand. Except, it does.

All models or products in a portfolio have a responsibility to support the overall brand, and in ways that aren’t condescending. Was Swagger cute? Yes. Nobody had owned the minivan as suburban hop before, and they pulled it off. But context is everything and my problem was that it was too soon coming out of the recall.

How do you pretend everything’s okay when cars are in the shop?

It may not be realistic to expect that every model adopt a more somber note just because Camry and Lexus took a beating, but why not tone things down a little until the storm passes. Toyota as an auto was and is dependable for me (2004 Camry with 176,000+ miles so far), and I’ll likely buy another, no thanks to the ads.

I could do without so much of the believing their own hype thing.

*Saatchi and Saatchi probably took on the brunt of the work here, but they also had partner agencies helping out.


Anonymous said...

I love the commercials, I think Nathan James is adorable and their angle - it's a hip minivan - is well executed. It's hilarious. But then again, I'm not taking their commercials as seriously as you are. I just think their advertising is extremely entertaining and commend them for that. :)

mtlb said...

It’s not just me anon. Lot of those comments aren’t showing James much love. ;-p

Anonymous said...

I find this newly released string of commercials absolutely disgusting and in very poor taste. I can't belive that Toyota would support/condone children publicly disrespecting thier parents with descrptions such as "lame". I still support the American values of respecting your parents and not striking children except on the bottom side and this kid truely deserves to get a good paddling. His next challenge should be to shut up or walk. Toyota leadership has let us down again by ever approving these ads to be released. C'mon folks, let's accept the challenge of being parents, your kids will repect you far more for being thier parent than tying to be one of thier "buddies". Love and respect go a long way together!