CAMRY MAY RIDE NEW ADS TO NO. 1;TOYOTA'S $50 MIL CAMPAIGN COULD HELP PUSH CAR TO TOP SPOT IN U.S.

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Toyota Motor Sales USA may be in position for its $50 million-plus ad campaign that starts this week to turn the Camry into the nation's No. 1 seller.

Toyota's cable, network and spot TV campaign opens with a sweeping buy Sept. 26 on NBC's coveted Thursday prime-time block. Toyota produced five 30-second spots for its new models, each focusing on a different theme: the car's safety, performance, interior, quietness and "Americanization," playing up how the Japanese model is assembled in the U.S.

PRINT ADS IN OCT. ISSUES

A print blitz in 76 magazines, including four-page ads and spreads, starts in October issues. Ads appear Sept. 27 in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.

Saatchi & Saatchi/Pacific, Torrance, Calif., created the TV and print ads and a direct mail effort.

Toyota knows the risks of tinkering with a winning formula. "So much is riding on this car," said J. Davis "Dave" Illingworth, Toyota division's senior VP-general manager.

Mr. Illingworth said the campaign will be similar in scope to the launch of the 1995 Avalon sedan. Ads use the theme "Better than ever," assuming both Camry and non-Camry owners have positive feelings about a family sedan that Toyota and, privately, some rivals refer to as the "gold standard."

`SHOULDN'T ANNOY CUSTOMER'

"What we decided was that we should let the product tell the story," Mr. Illingworth said. "We should be very simple and clear and direct about what we have to say, and we should not annoy the customer by overpromising them. ... We're giving them a good, solid reason why they should consider this product."

A year ago, Ford Motor Co. replaced the No. 1-selling Taurus with a controversial new design at a higher price, and it has scrambled since to keep the top spot.

With its '96 model, the Camry-in the fifth year of its product cycle-had its best year ever in sales, close behind Taurus and the Honda Accord.

The new Camry offers Toyota its first and best shot to be No. 1, though industry analysts say Toyota may not have production capacity to make that happen even if Camry demand is there.

In a 1996 survey of what family sedan shoppers were considering six months before purchase, Camry ranked No. 1-displacing Taurus, which held the spot for five years. The poll was conducted by auto consultancy CNW Marketing/Research.

Camry ranks at the top in owner loyalty among Toyota models, with current owners indicating stronger intentions to buy a Camry than Taurus and Accord owners show for their cars, according to research company AutoPacific.

"That just adds to the tension of why you are changing," said Mr. Illingworth. "It puts more pressure on the new model that you get it right."

43% BOUGHT TOYOTA

In 1996, 43% of Camry owners shopping for a new car ended up with a Toyota. With the new Camry, Mr. Illingworth thinks Toyota can raise that in a few years to nearly 60%.

One of Camry's new features is a price cut averaging $899, or 4.4%. But Toyota promotes price only in a "value" spot created for dealer associations.

"Our dealers and the local [Toyota Dealer Associations] will carry the pricing story," Mr. Illingworth said.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo.

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