Toyota's first foray into the American market was the Toyopet, an unattractive, slow-moving vehicle that the marketer withdrew in 1961; Toyota returned to the U.S. market in 1965 with the Corona. The Corona was marketed first via a network of 65 dealers, all in the Los Angeles market. Toyota's first U.S. campaign debuted on the West Coast in regional editions of national magazines. By purchasing space in regional editions of national magazines, Toyota achieved as much prominence on the West Coast as its U.S.-based rivals while paying only a fraction of the price they did.
Due to financial constraints, Toyota formed its first dealer ad association in 1965, with the company and dealerships splitting media costs. Toyota spent the bulk of its $5,000 TV production budget on one commercial from Clinton E. Frank Inc., which ran for eight months in both 30- and 60-second versions. In 1968, Clinton E. Frank achieved a first in import advertising in the U.S. when it went after the Detroit automakers in two new spots, "Helicopter" and "Ferryboat." The campaign was seen as a major departure for import car advertising.
First U.S. crisis
Toyota faced its first U.S. crisis 1971, when the government added a 10% surcharge to the price of imported products. For five years, Toyota had been positioned as a low-price economy car that offered American style and additional features at no extra cost. Now the company had to re-establish itself as a low-price, high-value option for the U.S. consumer at a time when Ford's Pinto and Chevrolet's Vega could be had for hundreds of dollars less than the price of imported cars. Toyota's dealers decided against making head-on comparison claims against the competition. Instead, they continued to advertise Toyota as a quality product and an outstanding value.
Toyota added newspapers to its mix in 1971. Toyota's top 45 markets were the recipients of large newspaper ads in big-circulation publications. The markets accounted for 75% of Toyota's overall sales.
In January 1972, Toyota launched an ad campaign to assure U.S. consumers that Toyotas could still be purchased at the same market price. By this time, the company had 910 dealers selling the Corolla, Corona and Corona Mark II marques, plus Crown model sedans, station wagons and trucks.
In 1973, a TV spot for Corona (from Clinton E. Frank) leapt 2,000 years into the future to a stark 41st-century museum and a museum guide escorting a group through an exhibit of artifacts from the 20th century. The central exhibit: a Toyota Corona four-door sedan apparently floating on a circle of light.
The guide explained that 20th-century humans spent large amounts of something called "money" to worship their giant idol "car." However, he added, some people spent only small amounts since they believed they could get all the room they needed from a Toyota Corona. The guide called the Toyota worshipers "the most intelligent classes and probably the aristocracy."
Another spot, run in the same markets a few months later, showed a Toyota truck pulling a procession of competitors—Chevrolet Luv, Datsun, Mazda and a Ford Courier—up an incline. The tagline: "Of course we don't expect you to try this."
In 1974, the automaker extended the "price and value" theme that had carried it to record car sales the year before and featured it as part of a summer campaign. Advertising advised prospective buyers to "See how much car your money can buy from Toyota." That phrase preceded the basic theme adopted companywide for 1974, "Small car specialists for 40 years" (a neat mathematical trick considering the company was founded in 1937).
The 13-week campaign (from Clinton E. Frank) was the largest summer ad campaign in Toyota's 16 years in the U.S. market and the longest such sustained TV campaign ever scheduled by the automaker. In 1975, Toyota's advertising, by then handled by Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, continued to use its "Oh what a feeling" tag started in 1975.
"Who could ask for anything more?"
When Toyota introduced "Who could ask for anything more?" almost 10 years later—a tagline created by DFS at a time when Toyota wanted to build more emotional appeal—the company said its previous slogan ("Small car specialists for 40 years") was the best-recalled ad theme of any importer. Toyota made the change to broaden its image from that of a strictly small car manufacturer to that of a full-line marketer.
In 1985, after switching its account to Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, the automaker retained the image of the jumping man that had punctuated, "Oh what a feeling," believing it was too valuable an icon to discard.
But after two years "Who could ask for anything more?" had not succeeded in translating a high level of emotion about Toyota ownership into increased sales so, in typical Toyota fashion, the campaign was modified. In 1987, the company added "Toyota quality" to the slogan as it sought to emphasize what had made Toyota successful. A year later, the company revised the campaign again, adding the subtheme, "My Toyota—I love it."
TV advertising continued Toyota's consumer-oriented appeals, including a spot from DFS showing Old Saint Nick, who shed his sleigh for a Tercel four-wheel-drive wagon to get around in snowy weather. The Tercel, originally introduced in late 1979, was termed the "Official car of Santa Claus." One-word headlines for print ads saw "Hot" describe Supra, "Reborn" for Corolla and "Lots" for Camry.
A 1988 TV spot from DFS Dorland (a later incarnation of DFS following a merger) for Corolla showed the car on a screen in a movie theater, then driving through the screen down the aisle of the theater while the audience gasped. The voice-over said, "Toyota Corolla—new for 1988. Dramatic new looks that will stun you. Performance that will surprise you. And value that is legendary." The next year the automaker introduced the Lexus, its entry into the luxury car market.
In October 1994, Toyota unveiled new TV spots and print ads for the redesigned Celica that showed parts of the car at first, followed by the Celica bursting onto the screen in a surreal environment created on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. The Camry was also the recipient of new tango-theme TV campaign from Saatchi using catchy phrases such as "Table for two" and "Two to tango" to emphasize its new two-door car.
In 1997, in an effort to boost Toyota's overall brand image and establish an emotional bond with consumers, the company unveiled a new slogan, "Every day." It featured the song "Everyday People" by Sly & the Family Stone. The automaker also introduced its electric-gasoline hybrid Prius overseas.
In 1999, Toyota introduced the subcompact Echo and its LX 450 sport-utility vehicle; Team Once, El Segundo, Calif., won a Gold Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival for work for Lexus in 2001. Also in 2001, Toyota named Burrell Communications Group, Chicago, as its first African-American agency of record.
In December 2002, Toyota announced its first multimillion-dollar tie-in movie deal with Warner Bros. for "Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines," to be released in June 2003. Spending was estimated at $15 million. Earlier that year, the Lexus Division did a smaller marketing deal with "Minority Report."
To attract Generation Y auto buyers, Toyota introduced two models of its new Scion sub-brand in June 2003 in California. Attik, San Francisco, handled advertising, but the automaker also partnered with events specialists to win awareness and create a buzz for the new nameplate. Toyota rolled Scion out nationally in two phases in 2004 and added a third model. by spring 2004. Toyota said it was running out of scions in several markets as it aimed to sell 75,000 units that year.
In 2003, Toyota was the No. 10 U.S. advertiser, with U.S. ad spending of $1.7 billion, up 8.4% over the year earlier, on North American sales of $52.3 billion and North American operating income of $3.5 billion.