Garfield's AdReview

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For nearly four decades, mankind has been haunted by three perplexing questions:

Is there indeed an elusive Higgs boson that gives mass to other subatomic particles?

How does Larry King get women?

What is there about Toyota advertising that sells cars?

That last one is a real poser. We are talking about many, many years of people jumping in the air under the influence of some sort of feeling, something we always supposed to be between euphoria and the shingles. How this translated to the Camry dominating sedan sales for a generation is simply inexplicable.

We therefore assume a logical flaw in the question itself, which presumes that Toyota advertising has stimulated sales. Not likely. More probable is that the cars sold themselves on the strength of their superior engineering, palatable design, unsurpassed manufacturing quality and resale value.

The function of the advertising was simply to be there. To exist. To trigger the elusive Higgs-boson mechanism that all advertising, good or bad, triggers: giving weight to a brand name and conferring on it certain consumer presumptions of distribution, quality and customer satisfaction. The rest relied on the intrinsic qualities of the product.

Three years ago, however, something strange happened. Toyota Motor Sales USA for the first time permitted Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, to do some leaping of its own and to break with insipid tradition. The agency's work, especially for Celica, was superb, offering a reason for optimism at the news of the latest campaign, designed to propel the brand into the future. "Moving forward" is the tagline.

Get it? Moving forward, like a car...or like a car owner's life ... or like an ambitious industrial company.

Alas, in terms of advertising merit, this campaign is a giant leap backward. The music is gorgeous, but the accompanying vignettes say very little about the people who inhabit them, and nothing whatsoever about the Toyota brand.

The campaign opens with an anthem, in which a single Toyota wheel rolls all over America, passing attractive Americans living their lives. The wheel lingers to check out the scene, then just propels itself forward, like the blobby balloons in "The Prisoner." It looks like a Saturn commercial that was rejected on the grounds of creepiness.

Another spot is an undeniably adorable slice of life, featuring a young man driving a Camry, an older man seated next to him and a young woman, presumably the driver's girlfriend, in the back. There is total nervous silence until the driver finally speaks: "If I had known you were an attorney, Mr. Johnson, I would not have made that lawyer joke."

It's a great moment. It just has nothing to do with cars. And a second spot, with the same group, is even sillier, based on the threadbare joke of the girlfriend's dad calling the kid by the wrong first name.

Yeah, the idea is to generate some human emotion that can be converted to the experience of Toyota ownership, but ain't no conversion happening here. Numbness: oh, what a feeling.

Bob Garfield's book, "And Now, a Few Words from Me" is now out in paperback from McGraw-Hill.

Toyota

Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles

Ad Review Rating 2 stars

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