Toyota Taps Droga5 to Lay Groundwork for Hydrogen-Fuel-Cell Vehicle

Agency Parks First Auto Brand on Its Roster

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Droga5 New York is going new places -- namely, automotive. Fresh off Toyota's announcement earlier this week about the consumer release of its Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle in Japan, U.S. and Europe in 2015, the automaker has tapped the New York agency for creative on the car's pre-launch campaign.

The partnership parks the first auto marketer on the roster of the New York agency, which, over the last few years, has dramatically expanded its client base across categories, adding big marketers like Prudential, Google-owned Motorola, Kraft and more recently, Reckitt Benckiser's Airwick and Clearasil as well as Georgia-Pacific's Quilted Northern and Dixie.

Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, is the Toyota brand's agency of record, but Kimberley Gardiner, director-digital marketing strategy for Toyota Motor Sales USA, said that for the FCV, a new category unto itself, the marketer was looking to other agencies to "explore breakthrough ideas" in the digital and social space. The relationship with Droga5 took root earlier this year around the time of CES, when the brand was hoping to create a web-centric hub related to the new vehicle.

"We approached Droga5 to give us some ideas, and they came back with something that blew us out of the water," she said. "It ended up being a full campaign pre-launch proposal."

The partnership with Toyota is a reunion of sorts for Droga5 Creative Chairman David Droga, who has a long history with the brand, having worked on Toyota at his previous gigs at Saatchi & Saatchi in Asia and London.

"The opportunity was very much in our wheelhouse," he said. "If you get a call from Toyota asking, 'Do you want to help launch the new generation of vehicles?,' that's about as juicy an opportunity as you can get, so we took that very seriously, and here we are. It's very validating to have a chance to work with a brand like this."

Ms. Gardiner couldn't disclose specific details about the campaign, but did say "almost everyone at Toyota who saw the work -- the strategy, the approach, the creative insight and ultimately the creative itself -- were incredibly impressed. It takes our tagline 'Let's Go Places' somewhere everyone is incredibly excited about. It puts a stake in the ground."

There's also no word on whether the campaign directly addresses Tesla, a brand that could be seen as one of the FCV's main competitors. Tesla founder Elon Musk has been a vocal opponent of the technology, calling fuel cells "fool cells."

Ms. Gardiner said, "I think what you'll find from the campaign is that it's very insightful to the fact that there's a whole range of different transportation options here today and coming tomorrow. The point of view we're taking is to really say, with confidence, that this will be one of many different technologies. It's all about consumer choice, painting a broader picture, not about one versus another."

Ms. Gardiner said that the FCV pre-launch will begin in the coming months, rolling out initially in the U.S. in digital and non-traditional media. It will last longer than for other cars -- about 12-18 months compared with the usual three months for new vehicles -- a strategy she said more closely mirrors what the brand did when launching the Prius more than 15 years ago.

"It's taking us that long to really make sure we take the time to build the market, educate consumers and build out the dealer network -- which will be very small because of infrastructure." The new vehicles will only be able to fuel up in select cities in California and on the East Coast.

As for the extent of the relationship with Droga5, Mr. Gardiner said, "all we have defined so far is that we're looking for a partner to help us build a pre-launch effort around the vehicle. It is not a project, not a quick 'one and done, thank you very much.' This is really about creating momentum and excitement leading to the vehicle's release in the marketplace."

Saatchi L.A. remains "absolutely our core partner" and are behind the "vast majority of work Toyota does and they're an integral part of brand," she said. "For this effort, we wanted to try something different, explore other options. It was more about that than anything else."

Toyota Motor Corp. ranked No. 9 on Ad Age's List of 100 Leading National Advertisers this year, and the Toyota brand spent $947 million in measured media in 2013, according to Kantar Media.

In February of this year, Ad Age sibling publication Automotive News reported that the automaker was re-aligning its marketing by product, rather than discipline. "My desire was to have more of a brand focus on every vehicle, where every product team was in charge, from strategy and launch, through life cycle to minor changes," said Toyota VP-Marketing Jack Hollis at the time.

"Marketing at Toyota is going through a tremendous effort of recalibrating and aligning around product more tightly, really looking at talent and how we work with new partners like this," said Ms. Gardiner. "Embracing innovation, a brand new Toyota--something that's exciting and inspiring--that's kind of a new filter for how we look at work."