Toyota 4Runner gets $45M push

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Toyota Motor Sales USA is taking to a new extreme the rugged sports approach favored by SUV marketers-it's centering its integrated-marketing effort on scaling Mount Everest.

Estimated at $45 million, the program introducing the fourth generation of Toyota's 4Runner sport utility includes ads featuring Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach its summit; a promotion giving away a climbing expedition to the mountain's peak, and deals with two TV networks to carry hours of programming tied to the promotion.

Steve Sturm, VP-marketing at Toyota Division, said he challenged his ad agency, Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, to create an execution that would break through the clutter of SUV advertising. "Everybody has done every potential SUV execution," he said. "How do we define what we believe is a brand leader in the segment?"

Steve Rabosky, chief creative officer at Saatchi, said the Everest idea germinated in early strategy sessions with Toyota Motor Sales' chief operating officer Jim Press, who stressed the 2003 4Runner would reclaim its "king of the mountain" status among SUVs. Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts helped seal the deal. He lives in New Zealand, a few miles away from his friend Sir Edmund Hillary, 82, the first man to reach Everest's summit 49 years ago.

Paul Silverman, management director at Saatchi, led the team both to New Zealand and China for the three 4Runner TV commercials. The spots, directed by Sam Bayer with Chinese production company Salon Films, break Oct. 15. The effort shows the 2003 4Runner going through its paces at Everest, while also showcasing the locals and colorful regional background music.

Toyota will also be the presenting sponsor of "Global Extremes-Mount Everest. 4Runners of Adventure," a contest seeking candidates to climb the peak. Outdoor Life Network will run ads during its programming and in magazines calling for entries; the cable network will also gather a panel of experts and its judges will sift through more than 500 amateur contenders who send video applications. The aim is to pick 50 for the first trial in Utah.

OLN will run more than 25 hours of programming on the trials and the Everest climb of the four finalists. Walt Disney Co.'s ABC will broadcast three, one-hour shows on the trials and devote an hour of prime-time coverage to the Everest climb next May as part of the 50th anniversary of Sir Hillary's ascent.

Tom Healey, a partner with consultancy J.D. Power & Associates, said the 4Runner launch is an outstanding blend of reality TV and extreme sports.

Toyota's SUV lineup, begun with the Land Cruiser, has expanded since 4Runner arrived in the 1985 model year, followed by the RAV4 in 1996 and the Highlander and Sequoia in 2001.

The marketer expects to sell roughly 80,000 4Runners this year, including the outgoing model, which had its redesign for the 1996 model year. Next year, Toyota expects to sell about 110,000 4Runners, Mr. Sturm said. The target is 25-to-49-year olds, 60% male, with median annual household incomes of $60,000.

In contrast, the 2003 Highlander is positioned as an on-road family vehicle in a Saatchi commercial spoofing a cowboy movie. It honors the life of "Eddie Blodgett," a family man heralded with a western-style tribute song while doing his Saturday chores in the SUV.

broad effort

Other SUV marketers have tried similar promotion deals, but none are as broad as Toyota's.

Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division teamed up with News Corp.'s Fox for a one-hour "No Boundaries" outdoors show that ran on Sunday afternoons in summer 2000. The show's name played off the automaker's sport utility ad tag. WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Detroit, developed the strategy and coordinated the effort, in which Ford got three minutes of advertising.

Ford Motor Co.'s Land Rover created the global G4 Challenge, which starts in New York next March. Most ads this year are aimed at recruiting contestants from 16 countries, said Garrett Bailey, marketing manager overseeing the U.S. push. Athletes will participate in urban and remote driving and sporting events, including kayaking and mountain biking. Land Rover broke online ads on U.S. outdoor sites last week from WPP's Y&R Cos. recruiting contestants. Mr. Bailey said a TV broadcast deal is in the works but hasn't been finalized.

Nissan North America's Nissan Xterra is name sponsor of the USA Championship event. Last year, the triathlon of swimming, biking and hiking was broadcast on syndicated TV. This year, the event will be the subject of a one-hour syndicated broadcast. Nissan, which got the name of its Xterra SUV from the original event, the Xterra America Tour, gets ad time during the broadcast. Nissan had its vehicles on display at the finals, which wrapped up in Lake Tahoe yesterday. During the regional trials, Xterra owners are invited to show off their SUVs and can win prizes for their modified or souped-up Xterras.

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