Category Archives: Toyota

Toyota spills social media to build target list

Clever. Toyota has released an iPhone app and microsite encouraging you to “drive with a glass of water,” in this case a virtual glass inside your phone that will spill water based on how aggressively you gas your car. At face value it encourages consumers to learn to drive more cautiously to save up to 10% of their fuel consumption. The app also self-identifies any consumers who are worried about efficient transportation, dare we say for future non-social-media targeting with ads for Priuses? Run the app, and Toyota now has your phone number; the company can do a reverse append to get your mailing address, and is potentially collecting data on how far and fast you drive. Next week, check your mail.

What we like about this campaign is it combines the fleeting interest of social media and mobile apps — where most apps become unused after 48 hours — with a hook that tags potential customers for future remarketing elsewhere. If that sounds Orwellian, please don’t buy anything at retail stores, because they’ve been reusing your data for nearly a century.

Via Branislav Peric.

The manification of Toyota

It’s a shame Toyota is getting drawn and quartered over its stuck-pedals-or-sliding-brakes complaints because we’ve been admiring its new campaign for the revised Sienna minivan. Minivans, as you know, are the Great Compromise of automobile purchases, the harbinger of mid-life crises, the acknowledgement that a man has moved beyond the age of hot dating to P-whipped marriage to schlepping children with sippy cups to the local park and you better stop fighting in the back seat or no TV for a week! dialogue. You don’t have to put on the red dress tonight, Roxanne, because you won’t be caught dead with a guy in an egg-shaped hunk of sheet metal.

Toyota’s redrawn 2010 Sienna steps away from prior feminine-hygiene-packaging allusions. Sure, it is nowhere near as manly as Ford’s Flex — which hides its vanness with a Mini-on-steroids facade and a grill fresh off a Mach 3 razorblade — but from ads to brochures, Toyota is crowing this is a minivan that dads can drive. The Sienna’s top designer allegedly loves sports cars; the SE model option includes a dropped suspension and aggressive tuning; the dashboard has a Nike-inspired swoosh inlay either in wood or some fake form of carbon fiber (the swoop is actually a psychological device to give both front-seat passengers the illusion that they own 60% of the forward visual space). And banner ads online, which retarget you aggressively if you visit, proclaim “Daddy Likes.”

It’s a clever combination of product design and ad communications to appeal to two demos at the same time, men and women — and in a recession, both males and females in a household have to agree before shelling out $30k for a family bus. Toyota is obviously pushing the van because it is one of the few models not involved in its current massive recalls. If Toyota can put the brakes on consumers’ safety concerns, sales may suddenly accelerate.

Web appliancification: Why new cars have old GPS

To understand the future of the web, look at the dashboard of this 2010 Toyota 4Runner. It’s sweet. Studly. And it has an old, outmoded GPS system.

For years the 4Runner has been one of Consumer Reports’ top-rated SUVs, so when Toyota redesigned it recently manly men were intrigued. It has strong lines, influenced by the blocky FJ Cruiser, and some clever improvements such as an overhead console allowing quick tweaks to 4-wheel-drive traction.

The new electrical network

And this is the challenge of the modern Internet. The 4Runner has an old GPS model with a flat 2-D map that shows your pinpoint crawling across it. No 3-D images of the roads looming ahead such as you’ll find in modern $100 units from TomTom or free from Google on a Droid cell phone. This little design problem is endemic across all auto brands, even among the upscale BMWs and Jaguars, because automakers fill their production pipelines years in advance of a car getting to market. When this car was actually sketched back in say 2006, the GPS system was state of the art. Now, in 2010, we have a brand new SUV with technology years behind the curve.

We call this web appliancification — or the constant improvements in devices that plug into global information systems. The Internet was once a vast wilderness that could only be accessed with a specialized device called a “web browser,” but now it’s turning into an information electrical grid, where you can plug in any device and it will work in a device-specific way. Josh Bernoff over at Ad Age calls it the “Splinternet” and suggests that after a golden age of 15 years in which we all used one window to get online, we’re now approaching an era with splinters of connectivity working on gadgets that have incompatible formats. This is true both from a hardware perspective — cell phones, smart phones, tablets, laptops, netbooks, GPS units, and web-based appliances — and in content ecosystems.

The ecosystem battle is most interesting because this is where the big money lies — including the billions of dollars in advertising spent each year chasing ecosystem audiences. The Apple iPad doesn’t play Flash video formats, because Steve Jobs wants you to buy video through his iTunes store — an ecosystem for music and now books and film. The Kindle is tied into Amazon’s competing ecosystem. Hulu wants to own TV viewers, Twitter your future connections, Facebook your past friends, Netflix your film entertainment, Google your commercial searches, Microsoft your work tools, Rupert Murdoch your paid news. In essence, the 1990s “portal” strategy in which content producers fought to find ways to lock in their customers is back, alive and well.

This pressure of micronetworks vying to control your online life has created a new brand rush of content positioning. Why has Google launched a cell phone? Because it wants to lock in audiences in the emerging mobile channel. Consumers have only so many modes — entertainment, news, work, friends. There can only be a few leaders for each modality. The challenge for marketers is as devices continue to shift, our connections to these new online portals mutate quickly too. It’s very hard to maintain market leadership in an information ecosystem when the gadgets that hold the keys keep transforming. The risk for your business is no matter how solid your product, like Toyota, your information appeal to consumers may get left on the road behind.

Nice pitch. I don’t believe you.

One of the arrogant beliefs within ad agencies, including sometimes our own, is the thought that with the right branding, creative and media plan we can influence anyone in our target audience to buy a product. What that belief misses is the power of consumer prejudice.

Gallup, for instance, just reported wild doubts among the American population over how credible news media is. This should give marketers pause, because “news journalism” (with the exception of a few cable networks) is supposedly an even-handed, objective presentation of facts to the world. Only 45% of Americans say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in news media, and the numbers slide further among the well-educated and conservatives (for advertisers, read that as “higher income, desirable customers”).

Brands face the same trust challenge

Decades ago Toyota realized it couldn’t possibly overcome its customers’ inherent bias. Toyota was a mid-market brand, and it would never attract luxury car buyers. Rather than fight the perception trap, Toyota created the Lexus … to wild success. And more recently Toyota launched the downmarket Scion brand targeting hip youths who wouldn’t be caught dead in a stale Camry.

Prejudice is an ugly word, but everyone has it, because we carry our worldviews around with us and make judgments about actions based on our past experiences. If you were burned by a stove as a child, you didn’t touch it again. When you buy a product and it fits a mold, you put it into that box, and don’t believe it fits somewhere else. Psychologists call this “heuristics,” mental shortcuts humans make to comprehend a world awash in too much information. Your cave-people ancestors didn’t think carefully whether to run when a lion attacked; a flash judgment told them to bolt, saving genes for you. Prejudice and snap logic are the reasons why healthcare reform in the U.S. may fail; health care is enormously complex, people have had bad experiences with paperwork and government bureaucracy in the past, so it is more simple mentally to just shout “NO!” than to try to process a nuanced, and potentially beneficial, reform logic.

It’s worth a discussion with your marketing team. How far can you push the brand message to be credible, given your target audience’s preconceptions? And when do you decide you need to become radically new to reach prospects who will never believe your old brand story?

The doctor placebo effect

A new study finds nearly half of doctors in the United States regularly prescribe placebos — pills that do nothing but make you psychologically feel better. It’s kicked off an ethics debate over whether the mental health benefits outweigh the nuance of a doc outright lying to a patient.

Which makes us think of most product and service marketing. People tend to buy things (or, this fall, vote for candidates) that they believe will please them — and consumers use preconceptions to judge the value of their choices. The vast majority of advertising is designed to create a placebo-type artificial reality around a product. Is a Lexus with leather seats really better than a Toyota with leather seats, if 90% of the parts in the vehicles are the same? Somehow the brand badge on front makes people feel better about the purchase.

Bottled water, vitamins, gas stations, coffee, supermarkets, leather jackets, men’s suits, toothpaste, personal computers, non-smart cell phones, consulting groups, hospitals — the list of commodities differentiated only by our expectations is long.

Setting expectations is more important in marketing than meeting them. You can order shoes from after reading about their incredible customer service — which is true — but you’ll probably end up with a shipping box containing shoes. The reality of true service or product differentiation is almost non-existent … but if you believe it exists, you’ll feel better.

Photo: Brendan Adkins

Well, at least he drives a Prius

This spring a series of fake Prius ads began flooding the web, showing naughty drivers dumping bodies or making out with daughters or picking up prostitutes. We hear art director David Krulik had something to do with it.

But we wonder, are all these “fake” ads really so fake? Toyota is no stranger to edgy; its Scion brand, with help from ATTIK, launched the creepy Little Deviants campaign last year in which X-faced demons lopped the heads off sheep people. Creative director Simon Needham was quoted as saying the spots were “bound to entertain.” Silly us. Our kids saw it before bedtime and thought it was people killing each other.

There is a growing undercurrent of rule-breaking in advertising in which ads with sex, nudity, violence or shocking material are released, but somehow absolved from any formal affiliation with the product. J.C. Penney’s stripping teens come to mind. Are advertisers really not behind this? Or are people pulling strings behind the scenes to get a second standard of risqué messaging out, certain to get noticed?

And advertisers: If you aren’t involved, wake up. This new fake channel seems to work.

Tx David Griner for the catch; the demon-lop-headed campaign was for Scion, of course, and not Prius. We corrected it above.

Marketing lag, or why it’s now safe to buy a Ford

Buddy of ours is shopping for a pickup. First words out of our mouth were: Buy a Toyota. Cause we all know American cars are crap. Like those Ford Explorers that tend to roll over and almost killed two friends of ours in a snow storm or those 7.5 million GM A-Cars that had gas tanks placed dangerously between the rear axle and back bumper perhaps to save costs, ready to rupture if the bumper got tapped …

But wait. We’re wrong! Consumer Reports has just announced Ford SUVs are climbing up the charts in quality, and now greatly outpace those fancy European models. All that bad press Ford and other U.S. automakers got years ago is still stuck in our minds … but CR has recommended not one but six Ford models (Edge, Expedition, Explorer, Explorer Sport Trac, F-150, and Taurus X). Egad!

This is the problem with marketing. CMOs and marketing managers tend to change companies every two years, and when they come in fresh, they immediately launch NEW! IMPROVED! marketing messages trying to establish a name for themselves. But consumers remember. Ford, for one, faces an uphill battle in convincing anyone it can match Toyota in quality — yet Consumer Reports notes that several Ford models are now better than the giant Toyota Tundra 4WD V8.

You can’t change history, but if you work in marketing or advertising, you have to recognize it. While operations works on tomorrow’s quality control, here are a few things to address in your messaging to consumers today:

– What marcom went out in the past 10 years?
– What PR — good or horrible — did your company create in the same period?
– How will prospective customers remember those marketing messages and PR debacles?
– Is your current brand message building upon that history realistically?
– Are you gradually migrating your customer base to a new awareness?
– Or, are you making promises that are wildly out of sync with where you’ve been?

Just a thought. P.S. Be sure to buckle up.

(Note to lawyers: See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, the debate that Ford may have inflated tire pressures unsafely low to mask high center of gravity here, and the infamous 1973 Edward Ivey “value analysis” memo for GM here.)